Monday, October 27, 2008

Marechera as Magus.


In 1987, The journal Zambezia (from the University of Zimbabwe) included an article by Marechera on the African writer and the European novel. Marechera was never modest about his reading: The Black Insider reads almost as a catalogue of the author’s readings. The eclectic inclusions within this journal, however, are interesting because they suggest some directions taken by Marechera’s mind amongst the labyrinth of fiction.

The article begins with an interesting question:

“If I am looking at something, and I am conscious of myself looking, does that affect what I see?”

Marechera does not answer the questions that he poses. The answer, however, is “Yes”. And it is this self-consciousness that characterises his fiction and the way that he looks. In some ways, Marechera is the voyeur more interested in how he watches than what he watched. For as he says, fiction is a matter of "optics". Given this view-point, it is surprising that Marechera does not mention the master of the nouveau roman, Robbe-Grillet and the novel Le Voyeur (1955). Instead, Marechera refers to the main disciple of Robbe-Grillet in English, John Fowles. And to one novel in particular: The Magus. By the time that Marechera wrote and published The House of Hunger (1978), Fowles’ star was truly in the ascendant. In fact, all of his significant work had been published. It is noteworthy therefore that Marechera singles out one novel, The Magus, and why he does so should not be overlooked. Fowles’ novel is a descendant of The Satyricon (the bawdy element in literature) and of the “expansive” psychological trend in the modern novel. Following Bakhtin, Marechera adds Fowles to the “carnival” tradition of literature.

Like the central character in The Magus, Nicholas Urfe, Marechera was fascinated by the spectacle of violence and inquisition. What Fowles read into the magus metaphor (magus, magician, adept, deception, illusion, reality, interrogator and interpreter), Marechera unravelled and re-incarnated as the African shaman. And the writer, for Marechera, consequently became a voyeuristic vampire like creature, a being that consumes his/her art, his/her blood.

At the close of his reflections (from 1986), Marechera states that Ginsberg’s Howl rang in his ears as he wrote The House of Hunger. The outsider parallel is made through this reference, but more importantly Marechera is drawing upon The Magus image within Ginsberg, and his capacity as a poet to mix sex, terror, psychological disturbances and create a dark form of creativity…a disruptive creativity that came from the interrogation of the heart and the tricks of the mind.

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