Sunday, March 01, 2009

Marechera's Love Sonnets. (7) Final.


Marechera’s introduction to the Amelia Sonnets (suggested by Flora Veit-Wild) contains this statement:

“Every act of love is a recapitulation of the whole history of human emotion.” (CM, p.167).

At a glance that suggests that love is a repeat (as in music). An individual act rehearses what has gone before. This is what Barthes senses in A Lover’s Discourse. Love is a repeat of certain tropes and a lover is at once bound to an individual series of emotions and a general series of recognitions: “I know that scene of language.” (ALD, p.4). If love binds the lover to the unique, it also binds him or her to a general history of love, factual as well as fictional. This double awareness is non-surprisingly double-edged. It raises the lover to a universal pattern of events (Leda and Zeus, Romeo and Juliet, Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, Cathy and Heathcliff) but also lowers the lover into a darker realm: many have been here before.

One of the problems with the Amelia Sonnets is that Marechera claims that they are different from the norm. They are “the record of a very tragic love affair”. (p.168). Tragic love affairs, however, are rather the norm…in real life…in virtual life. The tragic is the key of love in the “history of human emotion”. It isn’t the tragic that explains the unusual language of the Amelia Sonnets. In some ways, the matter might be helped if the reader knew something of the actual relationship behind these sonnets. So, Heine’s sonnets are rather self-willed, poetic poetry conjuring a walpurgisnacht that never really existed, except in the mind of Heine. They don’t seem to reflect any concerns of the Beloved or any shared despair. This desire for biography is a modern and rather debatable matter, however, for it isn’t really any part of the sonnet tradition. Little is known of Dante’s Beatrice. Michelangelo’s sonnets to Vittoria Colonna are not based on detailed facts. In fact, that is the point: she is the abstract Love of a gay poet. Abstraction makes her possible. Nothing is known of Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady”— no age, name, locality, family, social status etc! The one aspect that marks off the Amelia Sonnets from history is their mixed-racial nature…but this is of no interest to Marechera, as he specifies in no uncertain terms.

Ultimately, the Amelia Sonnets, seem to be contradictory. They invert the sonnet tradition. Language is pushed into dark graveyards, yet the ghost that remains isn’t that terrifying.

In Sonnet VII, Amelia, the workings are on show.

Lines 1-2 take a Petrarchan conceit. Love is fire and ice. This is cast as:
“A band of near-molten metal tightens/Around my iceblock head.”
Lines 2-3 pick up a Shakespearean image of Love and Time:
“The clock ticking/Hurls loneliness’ searing arrows.”
The adjective “searing” develops the earlier hot metal image. The traditional burning arrows of Eros brand the poet. Something, then, of a development from the sonnet tradition.
Lines 3-5 compares what remains, “dust”, to radioactivity. A wholly modern image enters the poem.
Lines 5-8 work through an oxymoron:
“the bright/Nightmare of daylight.
Lines 8-10 offer a Homeric image of the Avenger’s Chariot, turning the poet/lover into the victim hauled behind the chariot. The lover becomes the victim of militarism, patriarchy, his own power.
And the closing lines, 10-14, focus on a Love-War:Venus-Mars union (a conceit of much Renaissance poetry) wherein the sexual act is stripped to warfare. The penis becomes a “Gatling" gun, semen turns into “white-hot bullets”. And Amelia, spectral, in “luminous” nightdress, pounds the poet’s “bared chest”. Memory leaves the poet shaking to the “rhythm” of his “sobs”, emasculated, yet more human.

As in Michelangelo, rape and rapture are fused in the poem. Marechera focuses on how the brutal past is inseparable from the tender present. (He brings, as he said, the horror of the townships to the act of making love such that love becomes an attack on war and history). But the poem does not have what Susanne Langer termed “virtual memory”. The Poem, for all its clever ideas, doesn’t really image the darkness of the Nigredo, the Dark Night of the Soul, the alchemical battlefield of Death created by Love. In Sonnet VII, as in the whole sequence, there are moments of brilliance, yet Marechera does not really have the language to destroy the scenes of language (if that is possible) and create an antidote to the tradition of love poetry. Ultimately, the “recapitulation” that he seeks is not musical, but therapeutic, a healing voice: recapitulation as an encounter with the past such that healing takes place.

6 comments:

Id it is said...

"This desire for biography is a modern and rather debatable matter, however, for it isn’t really any part of the sonnet tradition." ...interesting thought.
I've read sonnets but can't claim mastery of the sonnet tradition; however, this focus on/obsession with biography has indeed grown in the past decade or so. Why is there a need to know of Shakespeare's 'dark lady', or Petrarch's love to understand their respective creations? The need wasn't felt in the past, but today there is this 'desire' to dig into the past of an artist to understand what he created. Do you think this is why 'revisionist' writings became a popular genre?

Question :
If Marechera "does not really have the language to destroy the scenes of language" then how does he create the 'healing voice' that facilitates the 'recapitulation'?

Eshuneutics said...

It is a curious fact, as you rightly say. In a time that has announced "the death of the author", the author/biographer has flourished. The whole cult of celebrity seems to have leapt from the Hydra's teeth-- a bit of hyperbole, sorry. Your question about Marechera is mine too. I wonder what the healing voice sounds like. It's not the therapist listening to the confession from the lavender couch.
I am aware that Marechera has deconstructed the love sonnet, but I don't see the purpose. It's an Orphic descent in search of Eurydice, but Eurydice doesn't seem to be that important. All that exists is semi-darkness. Donne's religious sonnets are far darker. Yet, that is because of the religious framing. Marechera's sonnets are a darkness without map. Not so much a traveller into Hell through the Dark Wood, as a strange orienteering exercise that re-orientates the imagination.

Id it is said...

"I wonder what the healing voice sounds like." In fact the voice that heals is also the voice that draws you close and gets you to drop your defenses. It's the voice you least suspect; one that having listened is yet non judgmental.

Eshuneutics said...

Therapy is the vital part of hermeticism. The healing voice ought to be plural: voices. I'm not sure what therapy sounds like for Marechera: I am prepared to accept that there is something that I do not hear in these sonnets, as if they operate at a pitch above my hearing; for the moment. Perhaps.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks, Andrew, for these fascinating posts on Marechera. I have not read anything by him beyond what's in your posts. His use of Plath is interesting. The unfaithful, raped dead white female body seems to be a figure for the European tradition (exemplified by the sonnet form here) as the poet wishes or needs to see it. I like what you said about Donne's sonnets being darker (than Marechera's) because of their religious frame. We're back to the problem Eliot identified: the attenuation of religious belief. For if we do not truly believe in heaven and hell, what value do these counters have on the table of our poems? For those of us who cannot accept Eliot's return to the religious fold, we are still left with the intolerable struggle.

Eshuneutics said...

I am one of those who doesn't accept Eliot's return, sadly, or joyously. I was pleased to know that the Marechera sequence of posts gave you inspiration.