"In This Wound of Life ...": Dystopias and Dystopian Tropes in Chenjerai Hove's Red Hills of Home

Article excerpt

Summary

This article is a reading of Chenjerai Hove's poetry volume Red Hills of Home (1985) as a dystopia. It locates this text within the context of the evolving postcolonial realities of the first decade of Zimbabwe's independence. It argues that the text is informed by a dystopian import and sensibility in which forlornness, hopelessness, angst, bewilderment, pain, and betrayal mark the lived experiences of the mainly subaltern subjects who people its world which is fragmented and framed by larger forces beyond their control, it further argues that Hove mainly employs the figure of a dystopian family, together with the technique of defamiliadsation, to represent not only an existential dystopia, but also a dystopian postcolonial society, and an equally dystopian civilisation. So, it is through dystopia that Hove is able to fashion out a metalanguage with which to critique various aspects of human life and existence, Zimbabwe's postcolonial conditions, and capitalist modernity. Because of Hove's nativist sensibilities, the Bantu philosophy of ubuntu, and Acholonu's motherism theory are employed to explore the ontological and gendered dimensions of the dystopian perspectives in this poetry volume.

Opsomming

Hierdie artikel interpreteer Chenjerai Hove se digbundel Red Hills of Home (1985) as 'n distopie. Die teks is gelee binne die konteks van die ontwikkelende postkoloniale werklikhede van die eerste dekade van Zimbabwe se onafhanklikwording. Ek voer aan dat die teks gevorm word deur 'n distopiese impak en bewustheid waar troosteloosheid, hopeloosheid, angs, verbystering, pyn en verraad kenmerkend is van die lewenservarings van die hoofsaaklik ondergeskikte mense wat sy gefragmenteerde wereld bewoon en omring is deur groter magte waaroor hulle geen beheer het nie. Verder voer ek aan dat Hove die beeld van 'n distopiese gesin--asook die tegniek van defamiliarisering--gebruik om nie slegs 'n eksistensiele distopie uit te beeld nie, maar ook 'n distopiese postkoloniale samelewing en 'n ewe distopiese beskawing. Dit is dus met behulp van distopie dat Hove 'n metataal skep waarmee hy die verskillende aspekte van die menslike leefwyse en bestaan, postkoloniale toestande in Zimbabwe en die kapitalistiese moderniteit ondersoek. As gevolg van Hove se nativistiese bewustheid, word die Bantoe-filosofie van ubuntu en Acholonu se moederisme-teorie aangewend om die ontologiese en vergenderde dimensies van die distopiese perspektiewe in sy digbundel te ondersoek.

Introduction

Literary dystopias are closely related to utopias. If anything, the dystopian emanates from the utopian in as far as it acts as its antithesis, so the existence of one presupposes the possibility of the other. As Booker (1994a: 3) puts it, "dystopian literature is specifically that literature which situates itself in direct opposition to utopian thought". The utopian represents the ideal, while the dystopian is the nightmarish, in more or less the same way that notions of heaven and hell, respectively, are cast in Christian cosmology. However, as Booker (1994a: 3) notes, notions of utopia and dystopia are relative: "what one person considers an ideal dream might be another person's nightmare". In colonial Zimbabwe, the best example of such a dystopia would be in Mutswairo's allegorical Shona novel Feso (1956) which was a critique of the colonial dispensation. The text makes visible the fact that the colony, for the coloniser, was largely imagined and lived as a veritable utopia, while for the colonised it was mainly quintessentially dystopian.

The term dystopian literature represents a broad range of literary works, and the notion of dystopia is understood differently by different people. For purposes of this article, Booker's observation is pertinent here:

Dystopian literature ... constitutes a critique of existing social conditions or political systems either through the critical examination of the utopian premises upon which those conditions and systems are based or through the imaginative extension of those conditions and systems into different contexts that more clearly reveal their flaws and contradictions. …