Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Marecheran Postmodernism: Mocking the Bad Joke of "African Modernity"

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Marecheran Postmodernism: Mocking the Bad Joke of "African Modernity"

Article excerpt


This discussion begins by setting up a critique of the modernisation project of the West as closely entwined with territorial expansionism and the development of racial arrogance--with reference to a range of theorists. The role of modernism (in literature) is recognised as simultaneously an exposure of territorial and racial power factors at work in the European modernisation project, and as (to some extent) complicit in them. The text used here to exemplify the paradoxical role of European modernism is Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Since Marechera in carnivalesque fashion parodies Conrad's novella in the opening pages of his novel Black Sunlight, discussing this text introduces the topic of Marechera's particular kind of postmodernism with its focus on the modernisation project, in the African context, as a form of betrayal. The rest of the essay examines The Black Insider--a novel of debate in which the displacement of African intellectuals is addressed in a similar style of grotesque mockery blended with lamentation--and (briefly) The House of Hunger--where Kafkaesque perspectives are used to effect cultural-political analysis of a colonised society. The essay concludes by citing Gertrude Stein's sarcastic exposure of the type of art that supports Western complacency and power validation. Notes illustrate and expand a number of the arguments in the essay.


In hierdie stuk word eerstens kritiese kommentaar uitgespreek op die Westerse modernisasieprojek; 'n projek wat gelees word as nou verstrengel met territoriale uitbreiding en die ontwikkeling van rasse-arrogansie--met verwysing na 'n reeks teoretici. Die rol van die modernisme (in letterkunde) word herken as gelyktydig 'n blootstelling van die territoriale en rasse-magsfaktore van die modernisasieprojek en as (in 'n mate) vasgevang daardeur. Die teks wat hier gebruik word om die dubbelslagtige rol van Europese modernisme te illustreer is Heart of Darkness van Joseph Conrad. Omdat Marechera Conrad se novelle op karnavalagtige manier parodieer in die openingsbladsye van sy roman Black Sunlight, introduseer die bespreking van laasgenoemde teks die onderwerp van Marechera se eiesoortige tipe postmodernisme--war fokus op die modernisasieprojek, binne die Afrika-konteks, as 'n vorm van verraad. Die res van die artikel ondersoek The Black Insider--'n roman as debat, waarin die verplasing van Afrika-intellektuele aangespreek word in 'n soortgelyke styl van groteske spot, vermeng met beklaging--asook (kortliks) House of Hunger--waarin Kafka-aanse perspektiewe gebruik word om 'n kultureel-politiese analise van 'n gekoloniseerde samelewing te bewerkstellig. Die artikel sluit af met 'n aanhaling van Gertrude Stein waarin sy die tipe kunswerk wat Westerse self-genoegsaamheid en magsvalidasie ondersteun, beskryf. Notas illustreer en verbreed 'n aantal van die argumente in hierdie artikel.


   When the other speaks, he or she becomes another subject,
   which must be consciously registered as a problem by the
   imperial or metropolitan subject.

   (Fredric Jameson, "Modernism and Imperialism")

If I may add one more generalisation to those that have been broadly accepted concerning the European Enlightenment, it would be this: that the pronouncements on colonised peoples and phenotypes made by the most authoritative thinkers of the Aufklarung are characterised by an almost uniformly complacent, confident solemnity. Perhaps such authoritative racial arrogance is the inevitable expression of European internal consolidation and external expansionism. To illustrate the point, here are some examples:

   The superabundance of the iron particles, which are present in all
   human blood, and which are precipitated in the reticular substance
   through evaporation of the acids of phosphorus (which makes all
   Negroes stink) cause the blackness that shines through the
   superficial skin; and the high iron content of the blood seems also
   necessary in order to forestall a slackening of all parts. … 
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