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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The sous-réel and postcolonial possibility in the writing of Dambudzo Marechera Baugh, Sylvanna Louise Davidson


The writing of Zimbabwean author Dambudzo Marechera still only has a small (though growing) body of criticism which surrounds it. Within current research, altogether too much space is devoted to the salaciousness of Marechera’s personal life, while less attention is given to his methods. My thesis uses postcolonial, psychoanalytical, and political literary theory in order to examine Marechera’s body of creative writing. Marechera was an African author of avant-garde fiction. I begin by situating his fiction within a longer genealogy of the avant-garde in Africa (a genealogy that is notably absent from European literary theories of the avant-garde). In this section, I look at novels written by Gabriel Okara, Ayi Kwei Armah, Bessie Head and K. Sello Duiker. I examine how their incorporation of their native tongue into English (Okara), their use of obscenity (Armah), and their explorations of mental illness (Head and Duiker), all coincide with Marechera’s writing practice. In my second chapter, I move into a deeper exploration of Marechera’s novellas, short stories and multi-modal works. Here I call upon postcolonial psychoanalysis (such as the work of Stefania Pandolfo), black scholarship on race and structures of power (specifically through Lindon Barrett), and existing Marechera scholarship. Primarily looking at his two short novels, House of Hunger and Black Sunlight, I examine how Marechera takes and adapts avant-garde strategies in order to create stories that capture Zimbabwean life at a particularly chaotic decolonial moment. I term his technique “sous-realism” because of his devotion to representing humanity at its most debased and visceral. His writing, which scrapes at the dark undersides of reality, is anti-authoritarian to its core. I argue that this devotion to anti- authoritarianism sets him apart from African social realists who used fiction as a tool for decolonization. Afraid of growing totalitarianism in the nations surrounding Zimbabwe, Marechera’s avant-garde poetics provided a crucial counterpoint to social realism.

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