Home » Arts & Culture » Probing Marechera’s Literary Universe

“READING Marechera” (2013), edited by Grant Hamilton, is more than just a handbook in understanding the brutal, intoxicating and nakedly unhinged profane use of language that characterised Dambudzo Marechera’s literary outpouring.

What makes this book overwhelmingly enchanting and powerful is the effect that it has on the reader owing to its array of contributors who daringly express their aftermaths encounters with a writer so much despised by those with pretentious moral sensibilities and much avowed by those who celebrated his seemingly emancipatory radical individualism.

The array of contributors mostly drawn from Zimbabwe, typify the growing appreciation in terms of variance in opinions regarding the self-personified avant-garde of African literature. More than just an enigmatic writer, Marechera was many things to different people with no one denying the fact that he was refreshingly different, “the doppelganger that, until he appeared African literature had not seen”.

So bizarre are some of the attributes accorded to this literary genius with others who have never read any text written by him claiming that he also authored some mathematics textbooks.

But in prodding through “Reading Marechera” one encounters more than just sycophantic renditions of bamboozled disciples. The contributors, without exception, are all nakedly honest in their encounters with different facets stitched together in the construction of an artist who refused to be caged by any literary conventions.

The 10 contributors to this rich and must read for all Marechera aficionados and foes alike include Bill Ashcroft, a professor at the University of New South Wales Australia, the versatile and affable Memory Chirere – literature lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe Grant Hamilton – assistant professor with the department of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and David Huddart who is an associate professor at the same institution.

Others include Madlozi Moyo – a classics lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe Tinashe Mushakavanhu, who is an assistant lecturer at Kent University Anias Mutekwa – a lecturer at Midlands State University Eddie Tay (Chinese University of Hong Kong) Anna-Leena Toivanen – a researcher at University of Eastern Finland and Mark P. Williams – journalist and researcher living in New Zealand.

As illustrated by Hamilton in the introduction, Tinashe Mushakavanu’s take titled “A Brotherhood of Misfits” draws between the life and work of Percy Bysshe Shelly and Marechera.

Mushakavanhu posits that the two share more than an anarchic sense of humour that sees them both try to burn the Oxford College and that in their episodes of “madness” they reveal a political mind that has the capacity to see the most vital structures and energies of society.

“Marechera and Shelly’s lives and writings provide for the blueprint of a psychology of anarchism. They had unstable childhoods, uneasy relationships with parents, and it is their reaction to the family that makes them question and appreciate the psychologically undergirding structures of social and political power,” writes Mushakavanhu.

He concludes his essay by saying that the outrage of radicals like Marechera and Shelly stems not from finely honed political or economic theory but are products of a ferment of anger and resentment conjured up by poverty and corruption.

On the other hand, Mutekwa’s essay adds to the significant of how anarchist thought in Marechera’s writing and how this was used to blow his reader’s minds. Mutekwa positions Marechera as an intellectual anarchist of the avant-garde and a monster of the intellectual order.

Mutekwa argues that Marechera was not a typical post-colonial exilic writer, was neither a “heretic”, “the man who betrayed Africa” nor even a simple “dissident”.

“As an individual he accepted the multiple influences that had impacted on his upbringing, and used them to critique what he saw as a failing State. In this way, “Mindblast” shows Marechera was not simply an “intellectual anarchist”.

It is with no doubt that this collection while not claiming to be an end-all to the study of Marechera, it clearly gives an extraordinary breadth and quality of thought that the author brought to his writing.

In reviewing the “House of Hunger” novella, Anna Leena-Toivanen and Bill Hamilton points to the fact that Marechera draws his ideas from Mikhail Bakhtin and thinks of the grotesque images so much prevalent in the Zimbabwean author as a form of resistance to both the colonial order and its anti-colonial, nationalist sequel.

Pursuing the same thread Bill Ashcroft also touches on the difficult stylistics at play in Marechera’s writing and how he was much influenced by Bakhtin in concluding that ‘it is no longer necessary to speak of the African novel or the European novel: there is only the menippean novel.’

Under the title Black but not Fanon, David Huddart questions the autobiographical nature if Marechera’s writing seeing clear parallels between the author’s constant return to his own life and the way in which important Martiniquan thinker Frantz Fanon rendered his own revolutionary psychopathology of colonisation. Huddart turns to the ‘Black Insider’ to show the stress that both writers place in the infinite possibility of the future.

Reinforcing Marechera’s refusal to be categorised as an African writer, Mark Williams focuses on the ‘Black Sunlight’ in the same line with provocative contemporary writers like British Marxist fantasy novelist China Mieville and American performance artist and writer Darius James. He sees all these writers as part of an internationalist avant-garde with the ability to write across differentiation, assimilation, genre, and cultural traditions.

Madlozi Moyo attributes Marechera’s universal appeal to Marechera’s constant recourse to ancient Mediterranean allusions reinforcing the idea that Western literary antiquity has a wisdom to which the contemporary world still remains deaf.

Interestingly, Memory Chirere highlights the significance of one play in Flora Veit-Wild’s posthumous collection of Marechera’s writing, Scrapiron Blues called ‘The Servants Ball’, which is the only example we have of Marechera writing in his indigenous Shona language. The play ignites the debate on why Marechera abandoned using his own language in favour of English. The book ends with Eddie Tay’s reflection on Marechera’s poetry. Tay says that while he does not deny the positive political potential of reading Marechera’s work, he urges readers to learn to be silent in front of the tree-poem-artifact that is Marechera, who read his poems with the belief that they would be disavowed:

‘I am the luggage no one will claim’ He said his text must be left alone, to be unused, unproductive and unclaimed. He says readers have to learn to stop reading productively so as to preserve the various other possibilities of his poetry, possibilities we have to learn to read.

It is with no doubt that this collection while not claiming to be an end-all to the study of Marechera, it clearly gives an extraordinary breadth and quality of thought that the author brought to his writing.

Source : The Herald