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mind blasting discussion of Marechera's Mindblast
April 24, 2013
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
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
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 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.
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
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.
quarrel with a person today and tomorrow he would be back to the
same person, asking for help. His negotiating skills were amazing,”
“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,”
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.
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’
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