Moki’s shadow comes from Mabanckou’s post-colonial novel Blue White Red and refers to Massala-Massala, a young man from Congo-Brazzaville who hopes to emigrate to Paris in order to become a sapuer. A shadow motif is present throughout the text and it can be read as a doubling gesture which complicates the issue of identity as it is experienced by young African migrants who live in a globalized world where the aftereffects of colonialism linger. Notably, a shadow is an insubstantial and thus inferior twin of the object which casts it. In this scenario, Moki is the object, someone who has ‘weight’ and occupies space, qualities M-M lacks. The fact that M-M also possesses additional false identities– Marcel, Georges– further undercuts his basic social being. Who is M-M really? What does it mean to be an African from the post-colony?
An obvious link between texts here would be the figure of Kurtz from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The Kurtz of Brussels, adored by his naive fiancee, the Intended, represents just one part of his schismatic identity. The Kurtz in Congo is a feverish and brutal colonizer, a dark twin symbolizing the inherent barbarism of Europes ‘civilizing mission.’ In this vein we could also consider Selver and Davidson from The Word for World is Forest as differing aspects of colonization. One seeks to destroy and consume while the other fights defensively to preserve Athshea.
INTO THE DARK CHAMBER: THE NOVELIST AND SOUTH AFRICA
Date: January 12, 1986, Sunday, Late City Final Edition Section 7; Page 13, Column 1; Book Review Desk Byline:By J. M. Coetzee; J. M. Coetzee, whose most recent novel is ”Life & Times of Michael K,” teaches at the University of Cape Town. Lead:
WHEN a colony is founded, wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in ”The Scarlet Letter,” ”among [ the ] earliest practical necessities [ is ] to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.” Prisons – Hawthorne called them the black flowers of civilized society – burgeon all over the face of South Africa. They may not be sketched or photographed, under threat of severe penalty. I have no idea whether laws against visual representations of prisons exist in other countries. Very likely they do. But in South Africa such laws have a particular symbolic appropriateness, as though it were decreed that the camera lens must shatter at the moment it is trained on certain sites; as though the passer-by shall have no means of confirming that what he saw – those buildings rising out of the sands in all their sprawl of gray monotony – was not a mirage or a bad dream.