- Paperback: 209 pages
- Publisher: Seal Press; 1ST edition (1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1580050638
- ISBN-13: 978-1580050630
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 87 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,252,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Nervous Conditions Paperback – 1989
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Nyasha's character resonated most with me: I, too, feel frustrated by what seems to be an obvious oppressive reality around me as well as the extreme deprivation that can encourage oppressed people to appear complicit. Additionally, most of the other characters also helped open my eyes to the ways that I have failed to understand why people with situations different from my own can seem complicit in their own subordination. The discussion of how gender plays out also may be eye-opening for those with little clarity on the violence that seeming innocuous hierarchies produce (e.g. even "good" people can enact said violence). I plan on reading the sequel, although I've heard it's not as good.
I also recommend this book to:
-Any person who doesn't understand the severity of the violence of colonization on those who have been colonized (e.g. people who aren't part of a colonized group, people who firmly believe today's racism is "less bad" than yesterday's)
-Those who don't see why people in the African diaspora are often concerned with what often is written off as mere "identity politics" (as opposed to a legitimate sense of loss)
-Any person who is having a hard time understanding how "nice" and "good" people are still among the hands that enact violence against colonized peoples
-Any person who is having a hard time understanding how a "minority" can be among the hands that enact violence against (their own) colonized people (e.g. people who firmly believe in a rigid category of "sell-outs")
Both Shani Mootoo's " Cereus Blooms at Midnight"(CBAM) published in 1996 and Arundhati Roy's "God of Small Things"(GOST) published in 1997 explore the theme of characters seeking to define themselves outside the traditional patterns of repression encountered universally by women in post-colonial society. This striking similiarity in the subject and themes of NC,CBAM and GOST makes for an interesting comparison. Ketu Katrak in an essay titled "Decolonizing Culture" warns against judgement,
"One finds(1)little theoretical production of post colonial writers given the serious attention it deserves, or that it is dismissed as not theoretical enough by western standards; (2) the increasing phenomenon of using postcolonial texts as raw material for the theory producers and consumers of Western Academia; (3) theoretical production as an end in itself, confined to the consumption of other theorists who speak the same priveliged language in which obscurity is regularly mistaken for profundity. A near hedgemony is being established in contemporary theory that can with impunity ignore or exclude post-colonial writers essays, interviews and other cultural productions while endlessly discussing concepts of the 'other' of 'difference and so on" (239cr)
It is with this warning against classification that a parallel can be drawn between the three novels and a unity of message defined in the texts.
All three novels place Western education at the forefront of the story. By portraying abuse at the hands of the mimic-man (Bahbi) the contradiction between the value of western knowledge and the system of repression it represents is drawn. The patriarchal figure of Babamakura in NC is reconstituted in the figures of Chandin in CBAM and Papachi in GOST. Placing the mimic-man into a political context Frantz Fanon exhorts his "comrades" in the "Wretched of the Earth", "Let us not lose time in useless lament or sickening mimicry. Let us leave this Europe which never stops talking of man yet massacres him at every one of it's street corners, at every corner in the world."(WE235)
By portraying characters that have broken away from societal norms and found happiness the authors of CBAM and GOST confirm the possibility of an alternative to the cycle of female oppression that NC challenges but does not defeat. Vivian May describes CBAM's interpretation of transcendence by it's characters as,"an alternative epistemology and economy of being that rely upon notions of love and desire which do not uphold the dysfunctional family of empire"(dislocate) By choosing a lifestyle that is outside of the normal structure of social roles for its protagonists Mootoo and Roy have offered an alternative to Dangarembga's vision for hers. In NC Tambudzai explains herself when she says," I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologising for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling."(NC1) With this apology Tambudzai includes the readers in the story emphasising the importance of the subject. Tambudzai goes on to say,"my story is not after all about death, but about my escape and Lucia's: about my mother's and Maiguru's entrapment and about Nyasha's rebellion."(NC1) NC's portrayal of the hoplessness of Tambudzai's mother and her aunt Maiguru are contrasted against the achievements of Tambudzai and Lucia but also tempered by the agony of Nyasha. CBAM also offers its interpretation of how a person can break free from the opression of cultural norms. Mr Tyler, an effeminate man, finds freedom by working in a field where he is the only male, he says,"I was, after all, the only Lantanacamaran man ever to train in the field of nursing."(CBAM6) Being a male in a female dominated career Mr Tyler becomes a symbol for female repression as he struggles to understand his place in society. Otoh, Mr.Tyler's friend and love interest also has found a place outside of the traditional Patriarchal and Imperial confinements of the story. Describing Otoh's change from woman to man Mootoo writes,"The transformation was flawless. Hours of mind-dulling exercises streamlined Ambrosia into an angular, hard-bodied creature and tampered with the flow of whatever hormonal juices defined him."(CBAM110) Alternately in GOST, the twins, Rahel and Estha also offer an idea of how to overcome entrenched societal strictures. Describing Estha's reaction on being reunited with his twin sister Roy writes,"It had been quiet in Estha's head until Rahel came."(GOST16) Explaining the space occupied by Rahel in society Roy comments,"Rahel grew up without a brief...Without anybody who would pay her dowry and therefore without an obligatory husband looming on her horizon."(GOST18) Freed from the patterns of Patriarchal repression Rahel and Estha live outside of the dominant culture,"So as long as she wasnt noisy about it, she remained free to make her own inquiries:...Into life and how it ought to be lived."(GOST18)
In answering the ambiguous ending to Dangarembga's NC Mootoo and Roy have employed the technique of "Magic-Realism" to offer an alternative narrative to overcoming the repression of "double colonization".Vivian May explains the use of supernatural events among post-colonial writers,"They see an imaginary space as offering opportunities to remember identities and histories differently."(dislocate) Using magical and unreal events CBAM and GOST allow the reader to imagine a different reality, one that transcends normality and gives the reader the confidence to embrace a future that is optomistic and hopeful. Bahbi in his forward to "The Wretched of the Earth" says of the idea of using fantastical imagery and situations,"It is Fanon's great contribution to our understanding of ethical judgement and political experience to insistently frame his reflections on violence, de-colonization, national consciousness, and humanism in terms of the psycho-affective realm--the body, dreams, psychic inversions and displacement , phantasmatic political identifications."(WExix) Answering NC with the use of psycho-affectivity both CBAM and GOST draw from the teachings of Fanon in an attempt at,"an engagement with(or resistance to) a given reality..."(WExix)
Foremost of the themes of psycho-affectivity and magic realism used in CBAM is the setting of the story on the mythical island of Lantanamacara. By setting the story in a place that is not part of the known reality of the reader Mootoo provides the necessary backdrop for an escape from the accepted patterns of repression and control. Another more subtle note of magic realism occurs in the character of Otto. Born as a woman but living life as a man, his feminine qualities are supressed along with the memory of the community of his early years of life as a female."So flawless was the transformation that even the nurse and doctor who attended the birth, on seeing him later, marvelled at their carelessness in having declared him a girl.(CBAM110) The inability of the people of Lantanamacara to remember that Otoh had originally been a female is one of several premises that would be hard to accept outside of a world colored by psycho-affectivity.
GOST also offers its own magic realism in the setting of the abandoned home of Kari Saipu. Populated by the ghost of a white man who has "gone native" Roy compares the ghost to William Conrad's Kurtz in "The Heart of Darkness". Later the house becomes the reason for the death of Sophie Mol in her attempt to cross the river as well as the scene of Velutha's savage beating at the hands of the police. Explaining the place of the house in the story Roy writes,"Nobody went to Kari Saipu's house anymore. Vellya Paapen claimed to be the last human being to set eyes on it. He asaid that it was haunted. He had told the twins the story of his encounter with Kari Saipu's ghost."(GOS189) Including the supernatural within the story GOST also engages the reader to think beyond the known and consider situations and outcomes outside of the normal human experience.
Answering the questions left by NC, CBAM and GOST offer an avenue of understanding to how women can break free from oppression. Using the themes of magic realism, gender variance and love without restrictions Mootoo and Roy have provided an alternate vision to the issues brooched by NC. By depicting characters of ambigous sexual orientation Mootoo enlarges the scope of oppression by voicing the concerns of those outside of traditional sexual relationships. Roy, in her investigation into the "Love Laws" comments that they control,"Who should be loved, and how. And how much."(GOST33) Offering another interpretation of how women are repressed in the control of their ability to love, GOST answers to NC with an additional aspect of female repression. Apparent in both the novel CBAM and GOST is the portrayal of relationships that are anathema to the judeo-christian tradition. Characters who have chosen relationships in direct opposition to religious dogma and found happiness is a direct refutation of a third oppressive structure that is unaddressed in NC.
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This is quite a difficult book to get into.Read more