Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: On Words

“Words are the waters which power the hydro-electricity of nations. Words are the chemicals that H20 human intercourse. Words are the rain of votes which made the harvest possible. Words are the thunderstorm when a nation is divided. Words are the water in a shattering glass when friends break into argument. Words are the acronym of a nuclear test site. Every single minute the world is deluged by boulders of words crushing down upon us over the cliff of the TV, the telephone, the telex, the post, the satellite, the radio, the advertisement, the billposter, the traffic sign, graffiti, etc. Everywhere you go, some shit word will collide with you on the wrong side of the road. You can’t even hide in yourself because your thoughts think of themselves in the words you have been taught to read and write. Even if you flee home and ountry, sanity and feeling, the priest and mourners, if any, will be muttering words over your coffin; the people you leave behind will be imagining you in their minds with words and signs. And there will be no silence in the cemetery because always there are burials and more burials of people asphyxiated by words. No wonder it is said,

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God.
And the Word was God,
All things were made by him;
And without him not any thing made
That was made.

“No wonder too it was said,

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the dust descend;
Dust into dust, and under dust, to lie
Sans wine, sans song, sans singer, and -
sans end!

“Suddenly the other side of the world is only an alphabet away. Existence itself becomes a description, our lives a mere pattern in the massive universal web of words. Fictions become more documentary than actual documentaries. The only certain thing about these world descriptions is the damage they do, the devastation they bring to the minds of men and children. You do not become a man by studying the species but his language. The winds of change have cooled our porridge and now we can take up our spoons and eat it. Go, good countrymen, have yourselves a ball.”

–Dambudzo Marechera, The Black Insider (1992; Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1999) 35-36.

I have added Everything Is Illuminated to my I-want-to-read list. I am tired of most Holocaust related “art” because I think it is created to assure Americans that they are virtuous and safe and that “evil” and “danger” were in the past. I make an exception for this because it is an entirely different kind of narrative with hilarious diction (or, “premium diction,” as the narrator, who speaks English as a third language, would surely say).

Axé.

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14 Comments

Filed under Poetry

14 responses to “Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: On Words

  1. The winds of change have cooled our porridge and now we can take up our spoons and eat it. Go, good countrymen, have yourselves a ball.”

    From Throne of Bayonets, p 55, CEMETERY OF MIND:

    Bayonet and sword hacking
    gutting, piercing the pagan
    With Christ’s mewling cry.

    “The people, regaining their History,
    As active participants,
    Will go forward in prosperity and
    Happiness.”
    Sweeney speaks:
    “Someone’s eaten my porridge.”

    The explorer’s distant drum
    Truned into heavy artillery;
    The settler’s placid houseboy
    Turned into deadly guerilla.

    “Not in my lifetime,” growled
    a certain blacksmith.

    Let time his deed trace on the teeming sands
    And with fierce voice and bouldered Word
    Proclaim to all, at Heroes Acre, the valiant Victory.

    It is Sweeney packing his bags
    It is Sweeney sneaking Down South
    Brow creased in thunder, thinking “Someone’s eaten my
    Porridge.”

  2. This is a beautiful post. And I agree with you about Holocaust-related “art.” I am frequently aware that my students cannnot recognize a present-day Hitler-like character (because the moustache is missing). I also have to remind them that slavery is not a thing of the past, either. How most Americans seem to love focusing smugly on irreparable “past” injustices without any ability to extrapolate.

  3. I loved Everything is Illuminated.

  4. Who is Sweeney? [I’m wondering: Eliot’s Sweeney?]

  5. But yes a figurative notion definitely derived from Eliot and reformulated to apply to Africa.

  6. Aha! You had a second comment which went I do not know where – I blinked and it was gone. It involved the adaptation – Sweeney as the white Rhodesian, “sneaking south,” MacMillan and the “winds of change sweeping through Africa” … I am trying to resurrect and/or reconstruct.

  7. and the country and its treasures as the porridge.

  8. And “the certain blacksmith” is Ian Smith as a kind of black shaman

  9. from google book results:

    Shamanism in Siberia – Google Books Resultby M. A. Czaplicka
    The blacksmiths are those who approach most nearly to the shaman in their … ‘The blacksmith and the shaman are of one nest’, says a proverb of the Kolyma …
    books.google.com.au/books?isbn=1605060607…

  10. There’s a DVD on the winds of change being sold and it says that McMillan’s speech was “infamous” and that these winds in Rhodesia / Zimbabwe we ill winds … so what is this DVD a partisan of, can one tell?

  11. Well the blacksmith (the magician, framed as Ian Smith) said that (see the poem above) there would never be black majority rule in a thousand years. So, from the point of view of some diehards of the Smith regime, the winds of change were blowing in the wrong direction. They hold that they were proven right by the kinds of abuses that Mugabe (dubbed Mugga-Bugga) is inflicting on his people. The game of the colonials was to play Britain as some kind of naif concerning the “real” nature of black Africans. You can see how Marechera mocks this perspective in the Shavian play he writes in TBI, when he has Smith pontificate about the blank faces, and others in the government remark about the fact that the black masses would now develop and “acquire characteristics”.

  12. But the play relates to the interim government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia (1979-1980) – which was really intended as a puppet government to mask colonial interests.

  13. This is *very* interesting.

    OT: I am adding to my list of things to read Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, for this reason:

    http://egarooo.blogspot.com/2008/02/gentlemen-and-professions.html

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