Harris, Wilson 1921-

views updated

Wilson Harris 1921-

(Full name Theodore Wilson Harris; also published under the pseudonym Kona Waruk.) Guyanese poet, novelist, essayist, lecturer, critic, and novella writer.


A respected and prolific writer, Harris defies narrative convention and recognizable genre categories in works that blur the boundaries between external reality and internal states of mind. Critics note that his complex and highly imaginative works interweave conventional plot with experimental fictional elements often described as poetic, mystical, and surrealistic. His frequent use of symbolism is drawn from a rich cultural history of Amerindian folk legend, classical mythology, Christian iconography and allegory, Jungian psychoanalytic theory, and English literature. Harris is also acknowledged as an important literary and cultural critic.


Harris was born in 1921 in New Amsterdam, British Guiana (now Guyana), of Amerindian, African, and English descent. His father was an insurance agent. In 1934 Harris enrolled in Queen's College in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. After graduating in 1939, he studied land surveying the geomorphology until 1942, when he began working as a government surveyor and leading expeditions into the Amazonian forest in the interior of Guyana. His familiarity with the geography and cultural diversity of Guyana has contributed to the content and themes of many of his novels. In 1959 he moved to London and began to focus on fiction writing. His first novel, Palace of the Peacock, was published in 1960. During the 1970s and 1980s, Harris lectured as a guest or visitor at many colleges and universities throughout the world, including the State University of New York at Buffalo, Yale University, the University of California, and the University of Texas at Austin, as well as Mysore University in India and the University of Aarhus in Denmark. Harris also served as writer-in-residence at many colleges and universities, including the University of West Indies, University of Toronto, and Newcastle University, Australia. Harris won the Guyana National Prize for Fiction in 1987 and 2002. He lives in England with his wife, the Scottish writer Margaret Burns.


One of Harris's best-known works, The Guyana Quartet (1985), is comprised of his first four novels: Palace of the Peacock, The Far Journey of Oudin (1961), The Whole Armour (1962), and The Secret Ladder (1963). In this series, the landscape, history, and culture of Guyana become symbols for the landscape of the mind. In Palace of the Peacock, the unnamed narrator and his brother, Donne, begin a journey through Guyana and ultimately experience a type of rebirth. The Far Journey of Oudin is set in an East Indian community in Guyana and recounts the complex history of Oudin, a recently deceased man who emerges as the hero of the story. A servant, Oudin flees with Beti to save her from the unwanted advances of another man. After she becomes pregnant, she and Oudin sign a contract to give up the child after it is born. After Oudin's death, it is revealed that Beti had swallowed the contract in order to keep her child. The Whole Armour focuses on Magda, a prostitute in a brothel, and her son Cristo, who is accused of murder, flees the authorities, and is eventually caught and sentenced to death. The Whole Armour utilizes a more realistic narrative, eschewing the blurring of dream-states and reality that characterizes Palace of the Peacock. The Secret Ladder also features a realistic plot. The story revolves around Russell Fenwick, a government surveyor who is sent to a remote village to carry out an assignment and becomes involved in the cultural and political struggles of the ethnically diverse population. Heartland (1964) includes characters from Palace of the Peacock and is regarded as a sequel to The Guyana Quartet.

Set in Georgetown, Guyana, and the Amazonian rainforest, The Eye of the Scarecrow (1965) is one of Harris's most unconventional narratives. Eschewing conventional linear narration for a series of dreamlike images and memories, the narrator recounts a quest with a character called L— in search of a mythical four-gated city. The Waiting Room (1967) achieves even greater degrees of abstraction, narrative fragmentation, and metaphorical meaning than Harris's previous novels. After she dies in an explosion, Susan Forrestal's diary is found among the debris. The diary discusses Susan's memories of a former lover who disappeared into the forest years earlier. In Ascent to Omai (1970), Victor embarks on a quest in the jungle to seek a land claim made by his father, Adam. In the jungle, Victor is bitten by a tarantula and enters a realm of unconscious childhood memories. In Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness (1977), da Silva is a painter living in London. The narrative, which emerges from da Silva's paintings, addresses the theme of redemption through love. In this work, Harris makes use of strong metaphorical allusions and striking visual imagery. The Tree of the Sun (1978) serves as a sequel to Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness. Comprised of Carnival (1985), The Infinite Rehearsal (1987), and The Four Banks of the River of Space (1990), The Carnival Trilogy (1993) is often compared to Homer's Odyssey.

Resurrection at Sorrow Hill (1993) is set in an insane asylum where the inmates believe they are such historical figures as Montezuma, Leonardo da Vinci, Socrates, Buddha, and Karl Marx. Jonestown (1996) focuses on two fictional survivors of the Jonestown massacre, which took place in Guyana in 1978. The narrative interweaves elements from the incident with the historical fall of the ancient Mayan culture in pre-Columbian South America. The historical context of The Dark Jester (2001) is the conquest of the Incas by the Spanish in 1532. The narrator, known as the Dreamer, engages in extended philosophical conversations with a mysterious figure called the Dark Jester. Harris's surrealistic novel The Mask of the Beggar (2003) does not feature a conventional plot or named characters; instead Harris utilizes a statue and an artist to function as narrators in a dreamlike exploration of classical and Amerindian mythology and several thematic concerns. In Harris's The Ghost of Memory (2006), he once again abandons traditional narrative to comment on the universal human preoccupation with violence and destruction. When a South American man is mistaken for a terrorist and is shot in the back by a policeman, he finds himself assuming the form of a figure in a painting in a spacious gallery. After examining the other paintings, he realizes that they all are victims of violence. The novel ends when a man, Columbus, enters the gallery and defaces a sculpture that the narrator feels has similarities to native art. Reviewers find the novel a cogent commentary on the destructive impulse of colonialism.


Harris's fiction has received a mixed critical reaction. Some critics note that Harris's abstract, experimental narratives are difficult to read and note that his work is dense, complex, and opaque. They have faulted his nonlinear plotlines and his preference for internal perceptions over external realities. Other critics have derided Harris's characterizations, viewing them as fragmented and unconventional. Many commentators, however, have asserted that although reading his work is challenging, it is ultimately rewarding. They have commended the ultimately positive worldview expressed in his fiction and his literary criticism as well as the wide array of cultural and literary references and recurring symbols and metaphors in his work. Harris has also been lauded for his exploration of the themes of conquest and colonization and the struggles of colonized peoples, as well as for his skillful use of Guyanese history and geography as a metaphor for the landscape of the mind. Commenting on his nonfiction, several reviewers have noted that Harris's essays push the boundaries of traditional literary criticism, just as his fiction pushes the limits of the novel genre. Several detractors have judged Harris's essays incompre- hensible, but others have contended that his vision is important in examining issues such as colonialism, multiculturalism, and the possibility for a truly global literature.


Fetish [under the pseudonym Kona Waruk] (poetry) 1951

The Well and the Land (poetry) 1952

Eternity to Season: Poems of Separation and Reunion (poetry) 1954

Palace of the Peacock (novel) 1960

The Far Journey of Oudin (novel) 1961

The Whole Armour (novel) 1962

The Secret Ladder (novel) 1963

Heartland (novel) 1964

The Eye of the Scarecrow (novel) 1965

Tradition and the West Indian Novel (lectures) 1965

Tradition, the Writer, and Society (essays) 1967

The Waiting Room (novel) 1967

Tumatumari (novel) 1968

Ascent to Omai (novel) 1970

History, Fable, and Myth in the Caribbean and the Guianas (criticism) 1970

The Sleepers of Roraima (short stories) 1970

The Age of the Rainmakers (short stories) 1971

Black Marsden: A Tabula Rasa Comedy (novel) 1972

Fossil and Psyche (criticism) 1974

Companions of the Day and Night (novel) 1975

Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness and Genesis of the Clowns (novels) 1977

The Tree of the Sun (novel) 1978

Explorations: A Selection of Talks and Articles, 1966-1981 (essays and lectures) 1981

The Angel at the Gate (novel) 1982

The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural Imagination (essays) 1983

Carnival (novel) 1985

The Guyana Quartet [includes Palace of the Peacock; The Far Journey of Oudin; The Whole Armour; and The Far Journey of Oudin] (novels) 1985

The Infinite Rehearsal (novella) 1987

The Four Banks of the River of Space (novel) 1990

The Radical Imagination: Lectures and Talks from 1989-1991 (essays and lectures) 1992

The Carnival Trilogy [includes Carnival; The Infinite Rehearsal; and The Four Banks of the River of Space] (novels) 1993

Resurrection at Sorrow Hill (novel) 1993

Jonestown (novel) 1996

Selected Essays of Wilson Harris: The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination (essays) 1999

The Dark Jester (novel) 2001

The Mask of the Beggar (novel) 2003

The Ghost of Memory (novel) 2006


Mac Fenwick (essay date April 2001)

SOURCE: Fenwick, Mac. "Fenwick's Vision: Liberal Tyranny in The Guyana Quartet." ARIEL 32, no. 2 (April 2001): 45-66.

[In the following essay, Fenwick considers the four novels of The Guyana Quartet as an integrated whole, arguing that the novels question the liberal biases and assumptions that perpetuate imperialism.]

While the four novels of Wilson Harris's The Guyana Quartet, have all received much critical attention beyond the obvious similarities of their stylistic daring and shared imagery, very little consideration has been given to the Quartet as an integrated whole.1 When we do look at the novels as part of a single work, one of the first things that we notice is a repeating and circular narrative pattern as, in each novel, characters travel into the jungle where they encounter and are transformed by the ghosts of Guyana's brutal history. This recurring narrative pattern would seem to imply that these ghosts are somehow able to transcend, and perhaps even to redeem, the violent history of colonial oppression that they represent. In this manner, the Quartet would at first glance appear to reify these ghosts into representations of a transhistorical or ahistorical grace. However, in the final novel of the Quartet, The Secret Ladder, the reification of oppression and suffering that underlies such a view is examined as but the most gentled form of the imperialistic desire to understand human relationships according to the bipolar terms of (ruling/interpretative) subject and (ruled/interpreted) object. Through the limited understanding of the government surveyor Fenwick, Harris is able to explore the manner in which western liberalism—and its counterpart, literary realism—participate in and even perpetuate this imperialistic desire. It is in this manner that the Quartet presents one of the greatest challenges to contemporary criticism, insofar as it questions the liberal biases and assumptions that lie at the heart of so many of the pedagogical and critical institutions that seek to apprehend it.

A narrative pattern of encounter and redemption informs the whole of the Quartet. In the course of the novels, each of the peoples and cultural groups that contributed to the genesis of Guyana is invested with the power to transform the protagonists' journeys into quests for enlightenment and healing. In Palace of the Peacock, Donne's redemption begins with his encounter with the old Arawak woman whom he takes prisoner at the Mission. The latter half of Donne's journey to reclaim the labourers who have deserted his plantation is pursued in the presence of this old woman, who guides him and his crew upriver toward the protean Mariella. This woman is laden with figural meaning. She is explicitly figured as a representative of the indigenous peoples whose history and existence were very nearly erased by the colonization of Guyana: "She sat still as a bowing statue, the stillness and surrender of the American Indian of Guyana in reflective pose" (61). The woman also represents the Guyanese landscape itself: as Donne complains of the inconvenience that the desertion of his labour force has put him to, he "pointed across the wrinkled map of the Arawak woman's face in the vague direction of the Atlantic Ocean" (51). Furthermore, when the crew begin their journey beyond the jungle Mission where they have arrested her, they travel on a river that reflects and is reflected by the old woman: "Her crumpled bosom and river grew agitated with desire…. The ruffles in the water were her dress rolling and rising to embrace the crew" (62).

Finally, the Arawak woman is representative of the protean Mariella, who is herself all women to each of the men in the crew. Donne's mistress and murderer, Mariella is also the innocent virgin who awaits them at the end of their journey in the Palace of the Peacock; Da Silva has a vision in which he sees Mariella as his wife; and in the story of his escape into the jungle after murdering his mistress and her lover, Wishrop relates how he was healed by an old Arawak woman.2 As they near the end of their journey, this old woman begins the transformation of their quest from one guided by the imperialist desire for conquest, to one of understanding and redemption. It is the old woman who leads the pilot Vigilance on his visionary journey up the cliff face: "The Arawak woman pointed and Vigilance, straining his mind from the volcanic precipice where he clung, looked and saw the blue ring of Pentecostal fire in God's eye as it wheeled around him above the dreaming memory and prison of life until it melted where neither wound nor witch stood" (91). Guided by the woman, Vigilance foreshadows the vision of the community of humanity that is vouchsafed his captain at the novel's conclusion, when Donne realizes that "the truth was they had all come home at last to the compassion of the nameless unflinching folk" (110). It is only in this final moment of union with the fleeing Arawaks that Donne is fully "healed" of his desire for power and control over the savannah.

In The Far Journey of Oudin, Oudin's and Beti's flight from her uncle Mohammed and the tyrannical money-lender Ram is marked by their encounters with the ghostly twins of the dead Hassan and Kaiser. These figures act as reminders of indentured East Indian labourers, as well as of the victims of neo-imperialism. The first person whom Oudin and Beti meet after crossing the river at the edge of the jungle is the old fisherman whom Mohammed has sent to find them, and who is the now-dead Hassan's twin. Instead of doing as he was bid by Mohammed, the fisherman helps Oudin and Beti to escape, explaining that he wants "to relinquish every part in murderation and death" (209). Having turned against Mohammed, the old man becomes for Oudin "an image of transparency through whom he looked across the river and into the distance, as into a timeless womb," and the basket of fish that lies beside him becomes "the first shell and hurdle and offering of repentance and sacrifice [Oudin] must accept in himself and must overcome, to be the forerunner of a new brilliancy and freedom" (210). Having begun their journey with guidance from one of Mohammed's victims, Oudin and Beti complete it as the prisoners of one of Ram's: the woodcutter who holds them captive, and whom Ram has deprived of his teaching position because of his radical politics (221), is also the twin of burned Kaiser. The Arawaks and the Caribs are represented not only by Palace's old Arawak woman, but also by the carnival-Carib ghosts of The Whole Armour. It is these figures from the past who give Cristo the skin of the jaguar, within which he feels as though he is "‘the last member, remaining behind, of the flying band. Every guilty body rolled in one. Vanquished as well as slave, rapist, Carib, monster, anything you want to think. Names give out’" (345). Cristo also mistakes his own reflection for the face of an escaped African slave (341), foreshadowing the emergence of Poseidon and his people in The Secret Ladder.

In each case, the transformation and redemption of the traveler's journey into the jungle is initiated by his or her encounter with one or more of the peoples from within the history of Guyana. The notable, and pointed, exclusion in this pattern is the European conquerors, whose role in this history Harris explores through the dual figure of the Donne/Fenwick pairing. Neither of these characters acts as a catalyst for change and redemption in others, but is himself redeemed by his encounter with the ghostly denizens of the jungle. As Cristo comes to realise through his experiences, the white, European rulers of Guyana "‘are our problem child after all, that we're hundreds of years older than they dream to be. And why? Because we have begun to see ourselves in the earliest grass-roots, in the first tiny seed of spring’" (333). This pattern would seem to imply that the Quartet as a whole is constructed around the binary division of oppressor and oppressed, with the latter term being privileged over the former. Harris's deployment of the Amerindians throughout the Quartet, for example, has led to at least one critic's accusation of Harris's "stereotyping" approach to the old Arawak woman of Palace of the Peacock (Robinson 148-55). It would appear, however, that Harris is well aware of the emblematic status that he accords the aboriginal peoples in this novel. In the narration of Wishrop's story, after Wishrop has murdered his wife and her lover and fled into the jungle, he encounters and then kills, "the inevitable Arawak woman (this was the crew's ancestral embroidery and obsession) who nursed him to life" (57). Still, this killing echoes Cristo's encounter with the Arawak medicine men in The Whole Armour. Despite the fact that Wishrop is a murderer who greets the aboriginal presence with the renewal of violence, while Cristo is an innocent man who comes to accept his experiences with humility, both men are granted the grace and compassion of these ghosts in equal measure. This would seem to suggest that these figures exist in the novels as the sign of an indiscriminate and even transhistorical form of redemption. The Secret Ladder —the final novel of the Quartet —counteracts this stance by suggesting how the binary division of human communities into oppressor and oppressed is a limited form of understanding human relationships created and maintained by western liberalism and its counterpart, literary realism.

Fenwick is a hydrological surveyor who has been sent by the colonial government to take measurements on the Canje River in preparation for the construction of a flood basin. While there, he uncovers a hidden community made up of the descendants of escaped slaves who are going to be displaced by the project, and his discovery complicates the already strained relations between himself and the members of his crew. The Canje folk are led by the old man Poseidon, with whom Fenwick has several meetings in his attempt to resolve the situation as the Canje folk become increasingly rebellious and even violent. What makes Fenwick unique among the characters of the Quartet, is that from the very beginning of his experiences, he has a profound sense of the visionary potential of his journey into the heartland:

He liked to think of all the rivers of Guyana as the curious rungs in a ladder on which one sets one's musing foot again and again, to climb into both the past and the future of the continent of mystery.


Despite this heartfelt desire to understand, Fenwick is unable to prevent the escalating violence of the Canje folk's rebellion. Unlike Donne in Palace of the Peacock, he never has a visionary moment of the "sacramental distance" between self and other (101). Nor does he feel that he truly possesses and is possessed by the landscape as are Beti and Oudin in The Far Journey of Oudin, and Cristo in The Whole Armour. His final vision extends only so far as the realization that he is only at the beginning of knowledge, and that in order to achieve understanding he must begin his journey again. What is more significant—and all too frequently ignored—is that his story ends with the death of Poseidon and the destruction of the Canje community.

Despite his inability to avert disaster, Fenwick has received surprisingly sympathetic treatment from the novel's critics. Most critical treatments gloss over or brush aside entirely the destruction of the Canje community and concentrate instead upon Fenwick's presumed "moral victory." Gregory Shaw sees Fenwick's seven day quest for "de-creation" as an instance of the Romantic ideal of the imagination triumphant over "the tyranny of visible forms" (149). Hena Maes-Jelinek claims that Fenwick "not only grasps the full meaning of his country's past but realises that such understanding can give rise to a genuinely new conception of man and society" (Naked 9). Michael Gilkes sees Fenwick's final stance as the achievement of a narrating voice that is "an instrument and voice for a Universal Intelligence, and his art reflects both an Orphic and Promethean quest [for authentic Being]" (94). This uniformly-positive reaction to Fenwick is perhaps explained, at least in part, by the automatic sympathy felt by western-liberal critics and readers for one of their own: a liberal intellectual (frequently taken as an autobiographical representation of the author), attempting to understand a society and a culture alien to his usual experience. For most critics, Fenwick's liberal agenda is a laudable one and his failure to forge an understanding with Poseidon is simply the tragic result of circumstances that are beyond his control. The concrete effects of Fenwick's project are ignored and he becomes a kind of liberal hero, unable to avert disaster, but at least feeling deeply about it.

Such a stance as this amounts to an unreflective valorization of liberalism. It ignores Harris's own warning that "to attempt to arrive at another absolute theory, another absolute description … is to succumb to further fallacy and apparently incorrigible tragedy" ("Imagination" 194-95). By citing the supposed impossibility of Fenwick's situation—the "apparently incorrigible tragedy"—in their defense of Fenwick's role in the destruction of the Canje folk, these critics "succumb to the fallacy" of making Fenwick's (and presumably their own) liberalism an "absolute theory." It is to ignore the possibility that what dooms the Canje community is not only historical necessity, but also Fenwick's inability to transcend the liberal-realist interpretation of his relationship to Poseidon according to the binary logic of (ruling/interpretative) subject and (ruled/interpreted) object.

Harris's wariness of liberal thought is apparent in his response to Achebe's now-infamous attack on Heart of Darkness in which Achebe calls Conrad "a bloody racist," and argues that the novella is wholly unredeemable of the racist attitudes that motivate both it and the critical work done on it. Harris argues that there is a redemptive value in the work's presentation of liberalism, insofar as it allows us to see how—through the parodic undercutting of Kurtz's liberal manifesto by his scrawled postscript to "exterminate all the brutes"—"there is a dignity in liberal pretensions until liberalism, whether black or white, unmasks itself to reveal inordinate ambitions for power where one least suspects it to exist" ("Frontier" 135). According to Harris, Conrad's intuitive imagination brings him to the frontier of a new and parodic vision with(in) which to contest the biases of liberal thought, without actually being able to "cross" that frontier. The reason for this failure is Conrad's dependence upon the novel-form that he inherited, which, Harris argues, "was conditioned by a homogeneous cultural logic to promote a governing principle that would sustain all parties, all characterization, in endeavouring to identify natural justice, natural conscience behind the activity of a culture" (135). Fenwick reacts to the dilemma that he confronts upon the Canje River by searching for such a "natural justice" or "natural conscience" with which to regulate or order his relationship with Poseidon, at the expense of regarding the particular and specific cultural activity of Poseidon and the people whom the old man represents. In this respect, Fenwick's attempts to understand Poseidon lead to the kind of "ego-fixation" that Harris describes in this paper as proceeding from "the logic of manmade symmetry or absolute control of diversity, the logic of benign or liberal order" (136). It is the liberal desire for order and symmetry within human relations, and within the institutions that regulate these relations, that covers over the radically intuitive "creativity and dialogue with others through and beyond institutions" (136) that escapes Fenwick throughout.

In The Womb of Space, Harris pursues his formulation of liberalism as subsisting upon the subject-object divide, arguing that:

within the hubris of the sovereign strait-jacket that has long dominated imperial civilisation, we lack a profound, cross-cultural anthropology of imaginative acts, myth, culture, science through which to break the insensibility of "object-function" that regiments (or divides) intelligence and creativity until a distinction between the two is virtually lacking.


The subject-object split upon which liberalism depends, and that Harris argues Conrad's novella dramatizes, is here configured as regimenting the distinction between "intelligence and creativity." Rather than acknowledging the radically disruptive ability of creativity to bring to light the "profound, cross-cultural" nature of existence, the "sovereign strait-jacket" of liberalism renders the relationship of creativity and intelligence according to the terms of ruler/ruled, thus domesticating creativity and making it the servant or slave of intelligence. Western liberalism—the base and well-spring of what Harris here calls "Imperial civilisation"—is thus willingly blind to the kind of realizations that would shake its certainties. Harris argues that it is Conrad's inability to "cross" this frontier that demonstrates how liberalism is no antidote to the desire for tyrannical control and is, in fact, part of the same binary logic of victim and victimizer as is imperial tyranny. When we read Ladder from the perspective of Harris's critique of liberalism, it is easy to see how Fenwick perceives the world according to the bipolar logic of "good guys and bad buys, racist guys and liberal guys," established and maintained by what Harris identifies as liberalism's partner and bastion, literary realism ("Frontier" 135).

Harris argues that literary realism, the birth of which coincided and co-operated with the consolidation of class and vested interest in Europe,

rests more or less on the self-sufficient individual—on elements of "persuasion" … rather than "dialogue" or "dialectic" … The novel of persuasion rests on grounds of apparent common sense…. The tension which emerges is the tension of individuals—great or small—on an accepted plane of society we are persuaded has an inevitable existence. There is an element of freedom in this method nevertheless, an apparent range of choices, but I believe myself that this freedom—in the convention which distinguishes it, however liberal this may appear—is an illusion.

          (Tradition 29)

Realism is explicitly connected in this passage to (western) liberalism and to the ruling classes' attempts to normalize not only the western self but also the social structures that support it. Stephen Slemon has argued that Harris criticizes realism as being intimately bound up with what Slemon calls the "dream of imperialism," by which he means those attempts by colonizing states and individuals to normalize the western self and western social structures as the only "real" ones (Slemon 74-75). Slemon has argued that Harris's aesthetic opens a space between the positivism of twentieth-century Anglo-American realism, which denies the role of imagination in constructing (postcolonial) reality, and the skepticism of postmodernism, which claims imagination is wholly responsible for creating reality. Slemon concludes that Harris's novels "negotiate" in this manner between authoritarian truth-claims and nihilism (72-78). For Harris, to contest the normalizing claims of imperialism is to contest the normalizing reality-claims of literary realism, and vice versa: "The imperium is the fountainhead of colonialism, it is governed by extreme ideology or by extreme materialism, its bastion is realism [sic]" ("On the Beach" 335). The Secret Ladder demonstrates how even in its most gentled and liberal form, the "realistic" insistence on the absolute-subject/absolute-object split participates in the imperialistic desire to understand the world in the bipolar terms of ruler and ruled, oppressor and oppressed. As Harris explains in "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands," "the liberal homogeneity of a culture becomes the readymade cornerstone upon which to construct an order of conquest" (136).

It is this appeal by liberalism to the "realistic" ideal of the self-sufficient character and absolute self that hamstrings Fenwick. He remains throughout the narrative committed to the liberal ideals of rational "man-to-man" communication, and to the necessity of hierarchical models of authority based on (imperious) notions of individual responsibility. Fenwick thus interprets Poseidon—according to the terms of both western liberalism and literary realism—as an absolute object, with Fenwick himself acting as the absolute (liberal/rational) interpretative subject. Critics who see Fenwick as a liberal hero mimic this perceptual error. When, in an interview with Michael Fabre, Harris is asked about the first meeting between Poseidon and Fenwick, he does not mirror his critics by concentrating on what Fenwick thinks of, or tries to discover in, the meeting (in fact, Fabre has to prompt Harris to talk about Fenwick). He concentrates instead on what Poseidon sees: "He sees [Fenwick and Bryant] clearly but he does not see the boat: they are standing on the water. You realise that image more profoundly only if you realise what water means to Poseidon" (3-4).3 Instead of exploring the perspective of the liberal intellectual coming face to face with the enigmatic sign of his own liberal guilt, Harris places himself fully within the perspective offered by the other looking back from within a hybrid history of conquest and suffering. Having adopted Poseidon's view of Fenwick, Harris claims that the surveyor "is a tyrant … [and] is moved deeply when he [Fenwick] realises this" (3-4). Fenwick's tyranny is his own paternalistic desire to take responsibility both for those over whom he has been given authority (his crew), and those whom he has metaphorized into absolute objects and idols of suffering (Poseidon).

Fenwick's first perceptions of Poseidon are as a symbolic object seen through the web of rumour and legend:

He had occasionally glimpsed an ancient presence passing on the river before his camp but had never properly seen it or actually addressed it. Rumour had created a tortuous and labyrinthine genealogy for Poseidon, the oldest inhabitant of the Canje. His grandfather had been a runaway African slave who had succeeded in evading capture and had turned into a wild cannibal man in the swamps…. Now everyone saw him as the black king of history whose sovereignty over the past was a fluid crown of possession and dispossession.


Fenwick's perception of Poseidon as "the black king of history" has the effect of distancing the two men, by interpreting their relationship from within the confines of a model that stresses the hierarchical ordering of absolute selves. As Harris explains: "Fenwick was not able … to see him clearly: Poseidon was not a transparency; he had written in to him a combination of animal motifs, related in part to the annunciation of humanity" (Fabre 6). Even as he realises the importance of this old man—whose voice is never actually recorded in the novel (like the old Arawak woman's in Palace of the Peacock )—Fenwick finds conversation with him a "bewildering dichotomy." Despite his keen awareness of his "ignorance" and "failure of comprehension," Fenwick remains unable to understand what it is about "the apparition of Poseidon" that so "moved and disturbed" him (373). Fenwick's failed understanding of the old man is thrown into high relief by Bryant's success. Poseidon finds "a ready natural ear in Bryant" (371), who, contrary to Fenwick's view of the old man as an "ancient presence" or a "king," regards him as his own grandfather (375). Bryant's relationship with Poseidon is the intuitive understanding of descendant and ancestor: a fact emphasized by their both feeling as though they have known one another before (376). Whereas Fenwick's perceptions of Poseidon characterize the old man as a thing in need of interpretation—Fenwick is upset that he "had never properly seen it or actually addressed it" (see above)—Bryant sympathizes with the old man's plight (375, 397). Bryant seeks only a recognition of their common ancestry: "‘I want him to accept me like a lost son’" (398).

Fenwick's interpretation of his relationship with Poseidon emerges most clearly in the letter to his mother. In this letter, Fenwick explains that "I have come across the Grand Old Man of our history, my father's history in particular (I doubt very much whether you would care for him now. He has fallen into strange ways.)" Instead of seeing in this figure an image of his grandfather ("my father's history")—as does Bryant—Fenwick immediately gives him an upper-case title and endows the old man with an iconic status. He goes on to say, "I wish I could truly grasp the importance of this meeting. If I do not—if my generation do not—leviathan will swallow us all. It isn't a question of fear—it's a question of going in unashamed to come out of the womb again" (384). Fenwick is not an abusive tyrant like Donne. He is a well-intentioned man who earnestly desires to do what is best for everyone involved: "To misconceive the African, I believe, if I may use such an expression as misconceive, at this stage, is to misunderstand and exploit him mercilessly and oneself as well" (385). Fenwick is excruciatingly close to Donne's vision atop the waterfall. He understands the connection between failed understanding and exploitation, not only of the other, but also of the self. However, the only way that Fenwick attempts to understand Poseidon's rebellion is within the context of the supposedly larger political concerns of Guyana (384-85). By attempting to interpret what Poseidon and the rebellion "mean" in this manner, Fenwick approaches the old man as an icon of history ("the Grand Old Man of our history") rather than as an ancestor. This idolization of Poseidon is the inevitable result of Fenwick's commitment to the liberal, rationalized model of authority that he wields over his men—and that the colonial regime wields over Guyana.

Fenwick's view of authority, and of how it works and is maintained, blinds him to the possibility of any kind of relationship with Poseidon other than the one established by the liberal-rational norms to which he is accustomed. Bryant tries to make Fenwick understand the kind of intuitive bond that Poseidon and he share, but Fenwick just cannot see it:

"What you say is utter nonsense," [Fenwick] cried. "You shout of freedom but with every word you ignore the inescapable problem of authority. And without understanding the depth of authority you can't begin to understand the depth of freedom. I want to tell you again—as I tried to tell you yesterday—that I know, as well as you do, we've all been punishing and exploiting him," he pointed at Poseidon, "exploiting him, robbing him."


In this exchange, Fenwick never addresses a word to Poseidon, but instead points to him as to a sign of his liberal guilt for the imperialistic past of which his government service is a continuation. Shocked by "the inadequacy of words, the sententious politics, the conceit, the cliché" Fenwick falls silent and begins a silent monologue on the nature of "the depth of authority":

"Yes, I confess I owe allegiance to him because of his condition, allegiance of an important kind, that of conscience, of the rebirth of humanity…. It is the kind a man gives to a god. But surely this does not mean I must reduce myself to his trapped condition, become even less human than he, a mere symbol and nothing more, in order to worship him! …

"He teaches us the terrifying depth of our human allegiance, our guilt in the face of humanity, our subservience to the human condition. But he cannot force us, surely, to make an idol of this present degrading form—crawl on our bellies in order to make ourselves less than he is, tie ourselves into knots in order to enslave ourselves deeper than he is …"


The possibility of mutuality between Poseidon and himself does not apparently occur to Fenwick. Instead, the only new relationship that he can imagine forging with the old man is one in which their roles are reversed and Fenwick becomes "less than he is" and even "enslaved." He sees their relationship as one that is governed and defined by the relation of "symbol" to "idol," in which one of them must, necessarily, remain within the "trapped condition" of a "worshipper." Fenwick's liberal model of authority, as Harris writes, "polarizes the world dreadfully" into "oppressor and oppressed." Fenwick has so naturalized this model that he is, as Harris puts it in another context, "no longer in a position to understand who the oppressor is, how he relates to one, who the oppressed is, how the oppressed relates to one" ("Literacy" 25-26). In other words, Fenwick is so dedicated to understanding himself and Poseidon as oppressor and oppressed, ruler and ruled, that he cannot conceive of their relationship in any other, newer way—all they can do is change places within an immutably hierarchical structure. Bryant, the nominal "grandson" feels only sympathy with and love for Poseidon: "‘Poor old devil! He don't really understand what you stand for at all’" (397). He is thus able to enter into the kind of intuitive apprehension of self and other that characterizes Donne's final, and essentially anti-realistic, vision of the Palace of the Peacock. Fenwick, married to his own cultural biases and constructions of authority, is unable to move beyond the "Plain wholesome understanding of history and facts and possibilities" that divide them. In a very real sense, Fenwick's perceptions of Poseidon occupy the same "frontier" space as does Conrad's Heart of Darkness, in which the only way Africa and Europe can meet is amid the horror of Kurtz's wounded psyche.

Like Conrad's text, Fenwick remains unable to move beyond these biases, locked instead within the bipolar terms of the liberal dilemma. Finding Bryant of no use in "dealing" with Poseidon and the growing rebellion, Fenwick turns to his servant Jordan. The issue of his own authority and responsibility is of consuming importance to Fenwick, and how best to maintain his control over the crew is the primary topic of conversation between himself and his servant. Jordan cautions Fenwick against showing too much "sympathy" to his men—who are beginning to sympathize with the Canje folk—instead advocating a stern hand and the maintenance of strict "control" (422-25). In the end, Jordan suggests sending for the police to put down the rebellion (426). Fenwick, horrified by the idea, instead decides to "reason" with the people of the Canje, claiming that, "Once they follow precisely the nature of what's happening they'll turn reasonable" (431). Within the space of these few short pages, Harris expertly dramatizes the dual nature of liberal authority: appeals to a "universal" reason, backed by the ever-present thought and threat of coercive force. At the end of his conversation with Jordan, Fenwick decides that he wants to talk to the members of his crew "man to man" (431), hoping that this kind of meeting will restore his authority without having to resort to openly authoritarian, and even violent, tactics.

In an interview with Slemon, Harris takes up the topic of "genuine authority." Linking authority and authorality, Harris explains that

There can be no genuine authority, no mutual authority, without visualising the capacity of inner space to relate to motifs of landscape/sea-scape/sky-scape etc. (outer space) in such a way that a transformation begins to occur in an apparently incorrigible divide between "object" and "subject."


The kind of "genuine authority" that Harris here describes arises at several points throughout the Quartet, most notably in Donne's final vision atop the waterfall. In this moment, the divide between self and other, Donne and the landscape ("inner space to motifs of landscape/sea-scape/sky-scape") is dissolved within and by the dreaming, anti-realistic language of the narrator. In The Secret Ladder, however, Fenwick's inability to forsake the liberal ideal of the absolute self blinds him to the kind of radical understanding achieved by Donne in Palace of the Peacock.

Michael Gilkes describes Palace of the Peacock as "an inner quest for wholeness … a Grail-quest or bildungsroman" (43), and most critics have, like Gilkes, interpreted Donne's terminal vision atop the waterfall as a metaphorical moment of intense self-fulfillment, and as the successful achievement of the quest for a unified self.4 The conclusion of Donne's journey is not, however, characterized by the unity of personal fulfillment, but by fragmentation and loss. Having suffered in his journey the catastrophic loss of his crew, Donne comes face to face with the "nothingness" that is "the ruling function of hell" (101). Donne's perception of the nothingness or hell of his "false sense of home" leads, ultimately, to an interpretation of the nothingness of the self: "Donne knew he was truly blind now at last. He saw nothing…. He trembled as he saw himself inwardly melting into nothingness and into the body of his death." This interpretation of his own nothingness is what leads to understanding:

it was the unflinching clarity with which he looked into himself and saw that all his life he had loved no one but himself…. He had entered the endless void of himself…. It was his blindness that made him see his own nothingness and imagination constructed beyond his reach.


Through this realization, he comes to a full sense of the "distance" that lies between self and other, and of the (re)generative potentialities that reside within, not the individual's own (re)constituted wholeness, but within the imaginatively-conceived possibility of entering into and embracing the dialogic space between self and other, subject and object. Donne does not find himself in the Palace, but in what Ian Adam calls "the privileged [dreaming] voice of the narrator" which itself "partakes of the voiceless dreaming of the folk" (94, 96-97). What Donne achieves is thus the dialogic language of the intuitive imagination.

The ideal of the absolute self is here replaced by a different vision of the individual—the individual who negates individuality and the self who denies selfishness, through an acceptance of the dialogue and differences that exist between subject and object. Whatever sense of wholeness that can be said to exist at the conclusion of Palace of the Peacock is explicitly not centred upon the individual, but upon "the one muse and one undying soul" that unites humanity: "One was what I am in the music—buoyed and supported above dreams by the undivided soul and anima in the universe from whom the word of dance and creation first came" (116). Victor J. Ramraj has argued that at the conclusion of his journey, Donne becomes the narrator-artist of the novel, and that he "comes to realise that as an artist he must accept that he is the sum total of all the diverse antithetical experiences and impulses that coexist tensely but creatively in his psyche" (47). In this respect, Donne takes up the role, not just of the artist, but of the antirealistic West Indian artist.

For Harris, realism finds its antithesis in West Indian art. Unlike the apparently homogenous cultures and societies in wealthy Euro-American nations, the heterogeneity of, and tensions within, the historical genesis of West Indian culture(s) remains readily apparent. Harris claims that because of these tensions, instead of "the self-sufficient character" promulgated by realism, West Indian art concerns itself with "the fulfilment of character" by exploring the "subtle links, the series of subtle and nebulous links which are latent within [the West Indian individual], the latent ground of old and new personalities" (Tradition 28).5 It is precisely these sorts of "nebulous links" that arise in the concluding vision of Palace of the Peacock, and that come, finally, to redeem Donne's quest for control. Harris argues that instead of consolidating an illusory totality of character and self within a realistic narrative, West Indian artists—as inherently cross-cultural beings—attempt to interpret in their art the hybrid and dialogic nature of West Indian reality. He goes on to claim that in the realist novel, to question the monolithic totality of the self-sufficient individual is to question the "inevitable existence" or "apparent common sense" of the society that gives the "consolidated" character meaning. Harris believes that Euro-American realists are blinded to the hybridity of their culture(s) by the apparent permanence of their societies: "In the prosperous and comparatively stable societies of the West—insulated from world poverty and hunger—there is bound to be a self-defensive plastering over [of catastrophic change by] the middle-of-the-road hero who begins to bask in his classless Utopia and to look for comic scapegoats which will relieve him of a deeper theme of responsibility" (Explorations 16). Harris also decries (writing, prophetically, in 1981) "the best-seller obsession in consumer societies" that "hand in hand with the inflation that threatens minority arts may so determine and deaden taste that it becomes an unwitting authoritarian parallel to political monoliths in other so-called socialist areas of the world" (Explorations 113). By turning his back on literary realism, Harris turns his back upon imperialism, neo-imperialism, and global capitalism, as well as upon authoritarian western-popular taste and the endless play of what he calls a "a postmodernism that is bereft of depth or of an appreciation of the life of the intuitive imagination" ("Fabric" 186).

The transformation of Donne into an anti-realistic West Indian artist-narrator is begun in the middle section of Palace of the Peacock as he and his crew proceed upriver beyond the Mission. This section of the novel centers on the changing relationship between the riverboat's crew and the old Arawak woman whom they have taken prisoner (48). As the (simultaneous) representative of the Arawaks, the landscape, and of Mariella (see above 1-2) the old woman would seem to be an over-determined metaphor for the oppressed landscape and peoples of Guyana. But to interpret the old woman in this manner is to ignore both the mode in which she operates throughout this middle section of the novel, as well as the effect that she has on the crew by the end of it. The crew begins its journey with her by interpreting her in the ways that I have described. Just as they seek to possess the land and to rule the people, so too have they arrested this woman whom they interpret as the representation of both. Their metaphorization of her enables the illusion that they are in control of what she represents, and that they can possess that which she signifies. However, as they proceed upriver, Donne and the crew enter "the grip of the straits of memory," wherein they are "transformed by the awesome spectacle of a voiceless soundless motion" that the river and the woman, reflecting one another, offer them. Instead of metaphorically representing the peoples and landscape that they wish to rule, the old woman begins in this section to refer the crew's attention to the socio-historical context which they share with the indigenous peoples: "They saw the naked unequivocal flowing peril and beauty and soul of the pursuer and the pursued all together, and they knew that they would perish if they dreamed to turn back" (62). From an "arrested" metaphor for the suffering "Other," she becomes a metonym of the colonial history that both "pursuer and pursued" share.6 Instead of defeated acquiescence, or even defiance, the old woman presents an image of the "labour and sweat" of a people whose "true manner" is "an unearthly pointlessness" that allows for "the negation of every threat of conquest and of fear—every shade of persecution wherein was drawn and mingled the pursued and the pursuer alike, separate and yet one and the same person" (61-62). Eventually, of course, she escapes their attempts to imprison her altogether as she disappears into Vigilance's dreaming ascent of the cliff-face. The old woman has removed herself from the bipolar opposition of oppressor and oppressed, and the escape that she offers Donne at the waterfall is made through the "mingling" of the two sides of the linear-historical conflict between "pursuer and pursued." It is this "mingling" of identity that proves anathema to Fenwick's understanding. This failure of imagination is dramatised within The Secret Ladder by an incident that is the antithetical rehearsal of Donne's transformation atop the waterfall.

Chiung, who had earlier borrowed Fenwick's hat and coat, is attacked by two Canje men for his attempted theft of their food, rehearsing both what Fenwick's research threatens to do to their community, and their subsequent rebellion. When Fenwick stumbles across the apparently lifeless image of himself on the stelling he reacts with horror at the sight: "‘It could be me lying here,’ Fenwick thought…. He wanted to dissociate himself from every vestige and ordination of self-parody, divine and human resemblances and conceits, every reminder of his own image…. He wanted to flee from the image of himself" (434). As Fenwick stands over his subordinate, horrified by the sight of his own double, Chiung awakens to the kind of understanding that Donne achieves atop the waterfall: "[Chiung] sounded as if he had changed places with his listeners and could see the shadow of himself (born with death) created in the dark pool of their eyes and striving to be understood" (443). Fenwick's rejection of his own doubling is his rejection of what Donne at the end of Palace of the Peacock finally comes to accept: those "subtle and nebulous links which are latent within" the West Indian artist, and that provide him with the imaginative capacity to construct a new vision of the human community and of his place within it. Whereas Donne accepts, and comes to be redeemed by, the dialogic nature of identity, Fenwick desires only to "dissociate" himself from the image of his own double. In fleeing "the image of himself" presented by his subordinate, Fenwick seeks to reaffirm the logic of the binary division between self and other, (ruling) subject and (ruled) object, enacted and supported by their hierarchical relationship.

What is more, Fenwick's moment of failed understanding on the stelling is the impetus for the final defeat of any hope that he and Poseidon might find a way to avoid the catastrophic destruction of the Canje community. When "the wild twins who had haunted Chiung and Fenwick and the crew that very night" (461) return to their camp, they mistakenly tell the Canje men that they have killed Fenwick, and they all flee in terror of the police. Poseidon himself has been accidentally killed during their absence by his nominal-grandson Bryant, thus making completely impossible any understanding between Fenwick (the government agent) and Poseidon (the representative of the Canje people). With the loss of their leader, and in despair of the retribution that they fear for Fenwick's supposed murder, the people of the Canje "turn sensible" and "yield all their holdings and moveable possessions to be vested in the state or in the grave" (463).

Fenwick's failure of understanding is the result of his adherence to the liberal ideals of rational "man-to-man" communication, and to the necessity of hierarchical models of authority based on (imperious) notions of individual responsibility. Fenwick's liberal-realist interpretation of his relationship with Poseidon—as the relation of an absolute oppressive/interpreting subject, to an absolute, oppressed/interpreted object—leaves him unable to think of Poseidon in any way other than as a rival authority figure. Poseidon is either someone to defeat (with reason of course) or someone to be defeated by. The possibility of mutuality or dialogue with Poseidon, through a dissolution of subject and object within the buried history that they both share—such as Donne achieves at the conclusion of his journey—just does not occur to Fenwick. Throughout, Poseidon remains an enigmatic riddle to Fenwick: a metaphorical image in need of interpretation, and an iconic, fetishized goal to be achieved. Fenwick's failure is, quite simply, a failure of the imagination.

The novel, and thus The Guyana Quartet, however, does not end on a despairing note. For even as the Canje folk forsake their claims to the land, Catalena Perez and Bryant have begun a journey into the heartland that is comparable to the journeys of Cristo and Sharon in The Whole Armour, and Oudin and Beti in The Far Journey of Oudin. After Poseidon has been killed, the Canje folk put Bryant and Catalena on trial for the death of their leader. What saves Catalena from rape and murder is, ironically, Fenwick's failed moment of transformation, for it is the return of the "wild twins" that interrupts their plans. Because Fenwick has loaned his hat and coat to Chiung, the men panic and scatter in the belief that they have killed the surveyor and not one of his workers. Thanks to Fenwick's small act of kindness, Bryant and Catalena are able to escape into the jungle, where, "Fenwick grew to believe they had put their foot and escaped upon another rung in the secret ladder. The land was the mystery in which he would never chart where they had vanished …" (463). At the conclusion of the novel, Fenwick finally realises that he is currently incapable of understanding that journey, or of following them into the jungle.

The Quartet as a whole is a stylistically- and imaginatively-educative journey away from realism and liberalism, and toward a newer, more radical and more intuitive kind of creative imagination and art. The Quartet therefore presents a difficult challenge to anyone who approaches it with an eye toward uncovering or formulating its meaning within the liberal biases of linear plot- and character-development. The circular nature of the whole, with a conclusion that explicitly looks back to the beginning, demands a correspondingly circular and processional interpretative strategy. The Secret Ladder concludes with Fenwick's awakening on the seventh day and the rising of the sun, with the refrain of his dream echoing in his mind: "in the end … the end … is our beginning" (464). We are directed to return to the very beginning of the Quartet, and to that other sunrise during which Donne is shot and killed by Mariella thus beginning the long journey of the Quartet as a whole. The Secret Ladder demonstrates the dangers inherent to the subject-object split within Western liberalism, insofar as the hierarchical natures of authority between absolute selves, as well as literary realism's insistence on the self-sufficient individual, both prove to be deterrents to true understanding.

At the same time, however, it is important to remember that liberalism also carries with it Fenwick's good intentions. In place of the desire to rule and overpower, which motivates Donne to undertake his journey, Fenwick desires understanding and communication. To take as an absolute position the novel's critique of liberalism is to ignore what differentiates Fenwick from Donne, and to deny the circularity of the Quartet. It is to reify a radical anti-liberalism, when it is just such an anti-liberal stance that motivates Donne to undertake his violent quest for possession at the beginning of Palace of the Peacock. To reify Donne's terminal vision as an image of the individual's ability to transcend a hybrid past and reality with a new vision of wholeness is to ignore his own apprehension of his-self's nothingness. To reify Fenwick as an image of liberalism's absolute failure is to deny the good intentions and high ideals that he represents and that save Catalena Perez and Bryant. It is only by accepting both of these representations—in all of their apparent contradictions, oppositions and irresolutions—that we will be able to appropriate the perspective of the Guyana Quartet in such a way that we can interpret it without reifying any one portion of it into an absolutist position.


1. In Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel, Michael Gilkes examines the four novels of the Quartet as variations on the theme of the "alchemical quest for wholeness" (28-94); Hena Maes-Jelinek also provides a novel-by-novel analysis of the Quartet but makes no attempt to link the four novels beyond pointing out the shared imagery (Harris 3-51); Mark McWatt examines the role of women in the Quartet (31-44); finally, W. J. Howard examines the Quartet as a work dedicated to revealing that Guyana is not historyless but as possessing "a history … of timeless moments" (60).

2. The multifaceted and ever-changing nature and identity of Mariella has been remarked upon extensively elsewhere, most fully in Maes-Jelinek, The Naked Design 34-36.

3. Fenwick's insistence upon seeing Poseidon as a representative of a "pure" African heritage is made the more remarkable given the cross-cultural possibilities opened by his very name. As the sea-god of Greek myth, Poseidon is the god of memory and of the buried past: he frequently returns to consciousness things that people have tried to forget, and he punishes those who forget their ancestral duties.

4. Sandra Drake interprets Donne's journey as "the attempt to find love and self-fulfillment" (49); Hena Maes-Jelinek characterizes all of Harris's novels as "successive stages in one unfinished quest" that achieves "a very momentary apotheosis … in Palace of the Peacock" ("Universal Imagination" 449). She elsewhere calls Palace of the Peacock "a dynamic quest for wholeness" in which the crew are representative of Donne's "inner territory, and it is from the recognition and gradual integration of those inner selves in the individual consciousness of Donne that the novel draws its significance" (Naked 11). Victor J. Ramraj calls Palace of the Peacock, "an allegorical bildungsroman" (47). Jack Ross goes so far as to place Palace of the Peacock among other traditional South American "quest novels" (455). Barbara J. Webb claims that Palace of the Peacock's "search for cultural and personal identity … is symbolically expressed in the quest motif of the legend of El Dorado" (61).

5. It is important to note that according to Harris, this imaginative mode is not isolated to the West Indies. In "Interior of the Novel" (Explorations), he makes a similar argument about African masks.

6. There is far more that could be said on the topic of the relationship between metaphor and me- tonymy within, not only Harris's depiction of the old Arawak woman in Palace of the Peacock, but in the Quartet as a whole. (I am in the process of undertaking just such an examination of this relationship.) For two exellent discussions of the relation of metaphor and metonymy within postcolonial texts, see Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back (51-59), and Homi K. Bhabha "Representation and the Colonial Text: A Critical Exploration of Some Forms of Mimeticism."

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa." Research in African Literatures 9.1 (1978): 1-15.

Adam, Ian. "Marginality and the Tradition: Earle Birney and Wilson Harris." Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 24.1 (1989): 88-102.

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back. London: Routledge, 1989.

Bhabha, Homi K. "Representation and the Colonial Text: A Critical Exploration of Some Forms of Mimeticism." The Theory of Reading. Ed. Frank Gloversmith. Sussex: Harvester, 1984. 94-120.

Drake, Sandra. Wilson Harris and the Modern Tradition: A New Architecture of the World. New York: Greenwood, 1986.

Fabre, Michael. "Interview With Wilson Harris." World Literature Written in English 22.1 (1983): 2-17.

Gilkes, Michael. Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel. London: Longman, 1975.

Harris, Wilson. Tradition, The Writer, and Society. London: New Beacon, 1967.

———. Explorations. Ed. Hena Maes-Jelinek. Denmark: Dangaroo, 1981.

———. "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands." Research in African Studies 12.1 (Spring 1981): 86-93.

———. The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural Imagination. Westport: Greenwood, 1983.

———. "On the Beach." Landfall 39.3 (1985): 335-41.

———. The Guyana Quartet. London: Faber, 1985.

———. "Literacy and the Imagination." The Literate Imagination. Ed. Michael Gilkes. London: MacMillan, 1989. 13-30.

———. "The Fabric of the Imagination." Third World Quarterly 12.1 (1990): 175-86.

———. "Imagination, Dead, Imagine: Bridging a Chasm." The Journal of Yale Criticism 7.1 (1994): 185-95.

Howard, W. J. "Wilson Harris's Guiana Quartet: From Personal Myth to National Identity." ARIEL 1.1 (1970): 46-60.

Maes-Jelinek, Hena. The Naked Design. Aarhus: Dangaroo, 1976.

———. Wilson Harris. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

———. "Seeking the Mystery of the ‘Universal Imagination’." International Literature in English: Essays on the Major Writers. Ed. Robert L. Ross. New York: Garland, 1991. 447-59.

McWatt, Mark. "The Madonna/Whore: Womb of Possibilities." The Literate Imagination. Ed. Michael Gilkes. London: Macmillan, 1989. 31-44.

Ramraj, Victor J. "Palace of the Peacock: A Portrait of the Artist." World Literature Written in English 22.1 (1983). 47-55.

Robinson, Jeffrey. "The Aboriginal Enigma: Heart of Darkness, Voss, and Palace of the Peacock." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 20.1 (1985): 148-55.

Ross, Jack. "Wilson Harris, Joseph Conrad, and the South American ‘Quest’ Novel." Landfall 46.4 (1992): 455-68.

Shaw, Gregory. "The Novelist as Shaman: Art and Dialectic in the Work of Wilson Harris." The Literate Imagination. Ed. Michael Gilkes. London: MacMillan, 1989. 141-51.

Slemon, Stephen. "Interview with Wilson Harris." ARIEL 19.3 (1988): 47-56.

———. "Wilson Harris and the ‘Subject’ of Realism." Wilson Harris: The Uncompromising Imagination. Ed. Hena Maes-Jelinek. Aarhus: Dangaroo, 1991. 70-82.

Webb, Barbara J. Myth and History in Caribbean Fiction: Alejo Carpentier, Wilson Harris, and Edouard Glissant. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1992.

Richard J. Lane (essay date 2006)

SOURCE: Lane, Richard J. "Introducing the Postcolonial Novel in English: Wilson Harris's Palace of the Peacock." In The Postcolonial Novel, pp. 1-17. Malden, Mass.: Polity Press, 2006.

[In the following essay, Lane provides a reading of Palace of the Peacock and investigates the way that the novel influenced the field of postcolonial literary studies.]

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.



Cribb, T. J. Review of Selected Essays of Wilson Harris, by Wilson Harris. Research in African Literatures 32, no. 1 (spring 2001): 140-41.

Finds Selected Essays a valuable gloss on Harris's more important essays and surveys the scope and significance of the collection.

Ghose, Zulfikar. Review of The Mask of the Beggar, by Wilson Harris. Review of Contemporary Fiction 24, no. 1 (spring 2004): 144-45.

Maintains that The Mask of the Beggar can be read as a recapitulation of what Harris "has been voicing (in that peculiarly personal rhythm of his prose) in all of his work, immersing the reader in dimensions of time and space that are dreamlike, unsettling, and yet profoundly real."

Highfield, Jonathan. "The Dreaming Quipucamayoq: Myth and Landscape in Wilson Harris' The Dark Jester." Atlantic Studies 1, no. 2 (2004): 196-209.

Argues that by reimagining history in The Dark Jester Harris challenges conventional colonialist conquest narratives and liberates the suffering and oppressed.

Mitchell, Keith. "All Our Yesterdays: Utopianism, Holocausts, and History in Wilson Harris's Jonestown." In Changing Currents: Transnational Caribbean Literaryand Cultural Criticism, edited by Emily Allen Williams and Melvin B. Rahming, pp. 223-46. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2006.

Views Jonestown as an allegory on the nature of evil and discusses Harris's aesthetic and the novel's philosophical design.

Additional coverage of Harris's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Black Writers, Eds. 2, 3; British Writers Supplement, Vol. 5; Concise Dictionary of World Literary Biography, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68; Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 16; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 22, 27, 69, 114; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 25, 159; Contemporary Novelists, Ed. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; Contemporary Poets, Eds. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 117; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Ed. 1; and Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2.

About this article

Harris, Wilson 1921-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article