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Review of Reading Marechera


By Tiro Sebina

Reading Marechera. Grant Hamilton (Ed.). James Currey/Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2013. Pp. 196. ISBN. 978 1 84701 062 9 (pb). £19.99.

The ten essays in this compilation, together with the introduction by the editor, scrupulously elucidate Dambudzo Marechera’s audacious writing. The contributors are scholars based in places as far apart as Hong Kong, Finland, Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. These samples of astute readings show that Marechera’s writing, produced in the late 1970s and 1980s, retains contemporary resonance and continues to elicit exciting critical responses from scholars. Any review of Marechera’s work is fraught with challenges because of the nature of the writer and the controversy he always generated. Reviewing a volume of disparate essays on the writer is even more daunting. For this reason I have chosen to deal with each essay separately and briefly.

Tinashe Mushakavanhu’s essay entitled ‘A Brotherhood of Misfits’ is a good beginning. This chapter registers similarity between Dambudzo Marechera and the English Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. It makes a case that the work of the two writers bears traits of literary anarchism. Mushakavanhu begins with a touching personal account of his own encounter with Marechera’s writing in a rural school library in Zimbabwe. The account illustrates how Marechera’s work can generate lasting motivation, challenge and prospects for the serious student of literature. The essay contains many perceptive observations that would benefit from further elaboration. It seems the author had limited space to render adequate treatment of the works and the packed life-stories of the two writers.

Anias Mutekwa reads Marechera’s Mindblast in the light of the political philosophy of anarchism. She sees Marechera’s work as committed to finding ways in which individuals can assume responsibility for their lives and live as they wish and not according to the dictates of state. To Mutekwa Mindblast jolts the reader into realising that liberation involves re-designing oneself away from the prescriptions of the state. The author is at pains to situate Marechera’s work within the dicey protocols of postmodern anarchism.

Anna-Leena Toivanen’s essay mounts vindication of Marechera’s use of grotesque aesthetics in his novella, House of Hunger. The piece marshals the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Achille Mbembe to stage a detailed explication of the grotesque images and symbols that pervade the novella. The essay validates Marechera’s use of the battered, mutilated and brutally abused body, with its orifices, secretions and odours, as a gender-specific and intimate way of articulating the tensions between hope and despair. To Toivanen, Marechera’s vision eschews redemptive readings and puts premium on the ‘disillusioned condition of postcolonial complicity.’

Grant Hamilton’s essay appropriates the ideas of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze to explain the implication of the ‘stain’ as a leitmotif in Marechera’s work. To him, the ‘stain’ functions to prompt us to strive to keep our perspectives fresh, assiduously rethinking the past and the present in order to revitalise the future.

Bill Ashcroft’s essay reads Marechera’s work as tallying with Mikhail Bakhtin’s conception of menippean satire. He demonstrates how Marechera uses the narrative space availed by menippean satire to expose the malaise of colonialism and to enhance the possibilities of an imaginary that transcends colonialism and its insidious aftermath. He points out that Marechera’s writing continues to have a profound impact in the development of African writing.

David Huddart considers Marechera’s The Black Insider alongside Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, with reference to Jacques Derrida’s work. He reads the two works as examples of life-writing that show that re-forging viable identities entails taking imaginative leaps into futures without comforting certainty.

Mark P. Williams establishes a connection between three radical texts: Marechera’s Black Sunlight, British Marxist fantasy novelist China Melville’s The Scar (2002) and African-American performance artist Darius James’s Negrophobia: An Urban Parable (1992). He takes the three works as instances of aesthetic positions that set agendas, which go beyond the managerial propensities of the dominant ideologies of globalisation.

Madhlozi Moyo offers a spirited apologia for Marechera’s recourse to classical allusions in order to address topical issues such as abuse of power and censorship.

Memory Chirere’s piece draws attention to Marechera’s satirical playlet written mainly in Shona. He considers Marechera’s own attempts to come to grips with the language question in the context of the debates about the appropriate language of African literature which began at the 1962 Kampala conference.

Perhaps the most sobering essay in Reading Marechera is poet Eddie Tay’s, who proposes that to do justice to Marechera’s autogenic writing the reader might have to resist the compulsion to churn out hasty and therefore injudicious assessments. To Tay, Marechera’s work is calculated to frustrate rushed consumption; readers might need to pause before succumbing to the obligation of squeezing convenient meaning out of it. The interpretative hiatus may allow the emergence of fresh and unencumbered readings.

Reading Marechera not only gives a sense of the historical context, conditions and circumstances that produced Marechera’s writing but also places the work alongside the melange of classical and contemporary literary traditions and modes of perceptions that the writer fused into the tumult of his work. These essays accentuate the egalitarian verve, the scepticism of orthodoxies and the resourceful dissent that distinguish Marechera’s writing. The comprehensive footnotes and bibliography can only be a huge bonus to students of Marechera and modern African writing.

Reviewed by: Tiro Sebina, University of Botswana.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 75 (Winter 2013/14), pp. 110-112]

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