Registered under the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe

24 April 2013

A mind blasting discussion of Marechera's Mindblast

By Beaven Tapureta


A moving spirit: Dambudzo Marechera(1952-1987)

Every time writers meet to discuss a particular aspect of the late legendary writer Dambudzo Marechera's work, the discussion naturally ends up being a kaleidoscope revealing more about the author’s inseparable lifestyle and works.
Marechera becomes alive at most of these meetings as his works and bits and pieces of his life are re-captured by his living contemporaries and put under passionate scrutiny.
This was evident at the Spanish Embassy’s monthly book club meeting to discuss one of Marechera’s books Mindblast (College Press, 1984). The discussion, held last week at the Embassy’s Cultural Center, was led by writer and Marechera scholar Tinashe Mushakavanhu who was clad for the occasion in a black T-shirt with the legend ‘Dambudzo’.
Mushakavanhu said he first came into contact with Mindblast at high school during the 90’s when the country was reeling under economic, political and social unrest. He then proceeded to study Marechera at university in London.
In Mindblast, Mushakavanhu said Marechera addresses our past, present and future while he (Marechera) also regarded his life as a form of expression or way of communicating beyond the act of writing. The personae in Mindblast, and other Marechera’s works, constantly scrutinize the world around them, said Mushakavanhu.
Mindblast was first rejected by Zimbabwe Publishing House when renowned author Charles Mungoshi was serving as ZPH editor. 
After Marechera’s death, Mungoshi in a tribute to his best friend titled ‘Dambudzo you are still Alive’ stated some of the reasons behind the rejection. He said, “…And then you brought me Mindblast, all the material that finally was published under the collective title Mindblast. And again I was worried because, while the stuff was good, I knew I couldn’t persuade my publishers to publish it. One, because of the well-known reputation you had made for yourself which my colleagues in the publishing house did not feel was commercially profitable. Two, I thought if the book was difficult for me to understand – who is going to buy it? Dambudzo, I felt you were not communicating to the people. I was still thinking a lot about the people, you know.”
Mindblast was later accepted by College Press in 1984 when Stanley Nyamfukudza, another writer of Marechera generation, was its editor.
Mushakavanhu said Mindblast, particularly the ‘From the Journal’ section, was Marechera’s literary diary of ‘being home and not being home’ as he saw his coming back to Zimbabwe as a second exile from London.
‘From the Journal’ captures Marechera’s life in Harare whereupon returning from exile in London, he found himself marooned by his own people and found himself wandering in streets, park benches and nightclubs with the only things that he called his own, the portable typewriter and books.
“Marechera carried his typewriter like a snail carries its shell and guarded it like a patriotic vigilante. The typewriter was the only thing he incessantly declared ownership of and it became a metaphor for his yearning,” said Mushakavanhu.
The characters in Mindblast, Mushakavanhu also noted, are drifters, perennial job-seekers and prostitutes, and yet Marechera addresses important issues through these characters.
The ‘From the Journal’ section, he said, among other issues bemoans the lack of literary infrastructure in Zimbabwe in Marechera’s time and even today.
Mushakavanhu said as a young person, he was excited when he went to university where he read Zimbabwean history written by black Zimbabweans. In the last few years, more foreigners were coming into the country to write more about Zimbabwe. He said this is also evident in the local literary criticism which has only been written by a countable number of Zimbabweans and this, he said, was because we have ‘a lazy generation of intellectuals’.
“I found it frustrating to find out when I was studying in Europe that there were people who thought that I was ‘not qualified’ to speak about Zimbabwean literature because they already knew people considered to be experts of our literature, foreigners at that. But I was there, a passionate Zimbabwean literary person,” said Mushakavanhu.
A question was asked if it would have been different if Marechera was still alive.
“He would have been subdued at some point and perhaps quoted widely. If he had not existed, we would have invented him because Marechera is necessary in order to engage in discourse,” said Mushakavanhu.
Virginia Phiri and Memory Chirere, both renowned writers, saw Marechera as an enterprising person.
“In the 70’s, no one would get into Germany without a passport but Marechera was the only person who went there without one when he was invited to read his works. He pitched up in Berlin, to the amazement of many, to read his work. We lost him. He was just a person of his own,” said Phiri.
Chirere said although Marechera was an extreme individual, much thought should also focus on the role of ‘others’ in his life. He gave examples of the role of ‘others’ who lived with Marechera.
Chirere said according to the history of Mindblast, Marechera never intended to bring it out as it is today but ‘others’ encouraged him to put the pieces together. It was also ‘others’ particularly Stanley Nyamfukudza and Chenjerai Hove who were behind the book’s acceptance by College Press, he said.
He also said that when Marechera was awarded a scholarship to study in London, it was again ‘others’ who helped him financially. The House of Hunger, the most popular of Marechera’s books, is in its present form because of ‘others’ who encouraged Marechera to bring in other pieces together, said Chirere. Marechera initially intended to publish the collection under the title At the Head of the Stream.
Other instances in which others took a role in Marechera’s life were when he was invited to Berlin and when he came back to Zimbabwe.  Chirere said Marechera’s return to Zimbabwe had something to do with ‘others’ who wanted to shoot a film of his return.
“Marechera would quarrel with a person today and tomorrow he would be back to the same person, asking for help. His negotiating skills were amazing,” Chirere said.
“Is he then his own man or he is always being made by ‘others’ because he was talented? There is no single project he does by himself,” said Chirere.
Marechera’s relationship with women also came under spotlight during open discussion. Mushakavanhu conceded that most of the people who like Marechera are men and he quoted one female Zimbabwean writer who at some point three years ago described Marechera as a sexist and she sparked heated debate.
Mushakavanhu said there were women who sought Marechera, gave him accommodation and after a few days they would let him slip back into the streets. He said maybe the women did something that made Marechera angry and therefore he projected that anger in his writings.
“Who would know the truth that his mother was a prostitute or not? Marechera could have been projecting that anger,” said Mushakavanhu.
Eresina Hwede, a writer, said when she bought The Black Insider (1990, Baobab Books) at the ZIBF sometime back and flipped through the first few pages, she put the book aside because she could not grasp a thing.
“To be honest, did Marechera ever think anyone would understand him?” asked Hwede.
There was laughter in the house when Mushakavanhu responded to Hwede’s question with a quote from Marechera, that said, “I am astonished at the audience’s ignorance. I did not expect such a low cultural level among you. Those who do not understand my work are simply illiterate, one must learn.”
Hwede’s problem with understanding Marechera’s works is with many readers who have oftentimes described his works as incomprehensible and therefore esoteric.
Marechera’s biographer Flora Veit-Wild, writing about his language in 1987, said, “With a highly unusual choice of words and their contextual associations, through the juxtaposition of opposites to the point of paradox, through the combination of the contradictory, he created unexpected, inspired, shocking images of great intensity.” (From an essay titled ‘Words as Bullets’, 1987)
Incomprehensibility runs through most of Marechera’s works and in the case of Mindblast, it has been said that Marechera wanted to ‘blow the minds’ of the people of Zimbabwe.
Jerry Zondo, a writer and friend of Marechera, brought up a curious issue when he said that the ‘enfant terrible of African literature’ lost many works while at college because he would not put his name on some of the poems/scripts.
This could be an area of interest for many scholars and researchers and with it also comes the issue of editorial changes seemingly being made in some of the editions of Marechera’s works that are being published today.
Zondo closed the discussion by reading the popular poem titled ‘The Bar-Stool Edible Worm’ in Mindblast.

Acknowledgement: Picture of Charles Mungoshi and Dambudzo Marechera used courtesy of Ernst Schade


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