Front Matter
 An overview of the fiction
 Wilson Harris in the West Indian...
 The role of imagination in...
 Three structuring ideas in Wilson...
 Companions of the day and night...
 Da Silva da Silva's cultivated...
 Genesis of the clowns (1977)
 The tree of the sun (1978)
 Appendix: Three interviews with...
 Biographical sketch

Group Title: art of Wilson Harris /
Title: The art of Wilson Harris /
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00099502/00001
 Material Information
Title: The art of Wilson Harris /
Physical Description: v, 260 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Gilliland, Marion C., 1944-
Publication Date: 1982
Copyright Date: 1982
Subject: English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1982.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 244-259.
Statement of Responsibility: by Marion C. Gilliland.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00099502
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000334804
oclc - 09528881
notis - ABW4447


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Table of Contents
        Cover 1
        Cover 2
    Front Matter
        Front Matter 1
        Front Matter 2
        Front Matter 3
        Page 1
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        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
    An overview of the fiction
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
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    Wilson Harris in the West Indian context
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    The role of imagination in creativity
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    Three structuring ideas in Wilson Harris's fiction
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    Companions of the day and night (1975)
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
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    Da Silva da Silva's cultivated wilderness (1977)
        Page 134
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    Genesis of the clowns (1977)
        Page 155
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    The tree of the sun (1978)
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    Appendix: Three interviews with Wilson Harris
        Page 185
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    Biographical sketch
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Full Text






Copyright 1982


Marion Charlotte Gilliland


Wilson Harris, the Guyanese novelist, poet, and critic, was born on

24 March 1921 in New Amsterdam, British Guiara, of mixed Amerindian,

European, and African descent. He was educated at Queen's College,

Georgetown, British Guiana, where he studied land surveying from 1939 to

1942. After qualifying for practice, he led many survey parties into

the heart of the interior, into the rainforests of Guiana for mapping

and geomorphological studies. From 1955-1958 he was the Senior Surveyor

of Projects for the government of British Guiana and in 1959 he went to

live in London.

Before he left Guiana for England Harris published mostly poetry:

numerous individual pieces in a variety of publications and two full

volumes compiled later. Though several short stories and most of his

poems were published while he lived in Guiana, the bulk of his work has

been published since 1960 in England and includes fourteen novels, two

full collections of short stories and more than a dozen other stories,

six full or monograph-length studies, and numerous shorter critical and

theoretical essays. For a complete listing of Harris's novels, short

stories, critical essays, and other work, the reader is referred to the


Harris is increasingly recognized as a writer who creates new forms

in the novel while advocating a reconciliation among races and nations.

Speaking of nan's involvement in the quest for community, he has said:


It is this quest that nakes the imaginative artist profoundly
responsible and this kind of responsibility has nothing to do with
being a spokesman for a particular society. The world in which we
live today is so dangerous and so riddled with problems that what
is at stake is the birth or rebirth of community, in the most
genuine sense in which one could use that term.

It is Harris's coritment to the search for a renewed human

community, through imaginative rather than political means, which is the

central theme of his novels and the focus of this study. This commitment

has, naturally enough, given Harris international visibility, numerous

awards, and honors. Acong other distinctions, he has received grants

from the Arts Council of Great Britain (1968, 1970) and has served as a

delegate to the National Identity Conference in Brisbane (1968) and the

UNESCO Symposium on Caribbean Literature in Cuba (1968). He has been a

writer in residence at Scarborough College, University of Toronto,

Canada (1970); University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica (1970);

University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark (1973); and the University of

Newcastle, Australia (1979). He has held fellowships from Leeds

University in Caribbean Literature (1971), the Cuggenheim Foundation

(1973), the Henfield UlA (1974), and the Southern Writers' Fellowship

(1976). In addition, te has held a visiting lectureship to the

University of Mysore (1978) and was guest lecturer at Yale (1979).

For four years the University of Texas in Austin has asked him to be a

visiting professor (1972, 1980, 1981, and 1982) and in 1983 he will be

the Regent's Lecturer ac the University of California.

Harris's work is at the far end of the scale of social realism

which has been maintained as the major style of West Indian Fiction. He

deviates from the usual descriptive, realist type of Caribbean fiction,

using landscapes to create meanings and images that radiate outward in

widening circles from a central theme. One of the few West Indian

writers to actually live and work among Amerindians in the South

American interior, he uses his extensive personal experiences with both

indigenous peoples and local landscapes as the basis for most of his

characters and locations. Though these have shifted in the most recent

novels from the heartland of Guyana to Europe and even Mexico, the

characters still trace their genealogical and psychic roots to the

Guyanese interior.

In Harris's fiction characters may appear and disappear, become

interrelated in intricate patterns of social and family relationships,

and experience a breakdown of time and an explosion of space. A person

may turn into a place, a place into an aspiration; what begins as

flashback suddenly leaps forward into the future but returns either in

the present novel or another to bring together fragmented elements of

man and his landscape in a symbolic and imaginative fashion. Startling

the reader, Harris's novels open up new ways of seeing the world and

man's place in it both individually and collectively; men and landscapes

take on a universal significance.

As the appended bibliography indicates, Harris's work has been the

subject of a growing number of critical commentaries and interpretations.

Many of these studies inform this dissertation and are acknowledged in

future chapters. At this point two critics may be singled out for

particular notice. Not only are they outstanding for the quality and

quantity of their work, but their approaches highlight what is difficult

and unfamiliar about Harris's work. The first critic is Michael Gilkes,

who analyzes an alchemical theme in Harris's early work; and the second

is Hena Maes-Jelinek who explores a theme of breakdown and breakthrough.

In Wiilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel (1975), Cilkes points out

similarities in the writing of several of the best known Caribbean

authors who focus on what he conceives of as a common schizophrenia: a

"division of consciousness." Gilkes recognizes that the general

confusion of cultural and ethnic identities emerges, for example, in a

writer like Edgar Mittleholzer as an obsession with the genetic blemish

of his African ancestry and desire to win acceptance from his European

antecedents; or it appears in a writer like V.S. Naipaul, though of

unmixed East Indian ancestry, as a view of himself as a "cultural

mongrel, an inheritor of a 'rubbish heap' of broken cultures."2 Gilkes

believes that rather than deal with the divided consciousness as a

hopeless condition, Harris seeks a "new state of consciousness," which

will permit a new sensibility to be created through the cross-fertiliza-
tion of cultures and races, victors and victims.

Gilkes sees Harris's use of juxtapositions and wedding of opposites

to achieve unity as an expression of his interest in alchemy. While

many have thought of ancient alchemists as merely trying to turn base

metals into gold, to concoct an elixir vitae, a deeper response to this

activity centers on the concept of transubstantiation. Through a

mysterious transition from one state to another, a melting and refine-

ment, base elements could be converted into valuable ones by undergoing

a transitional process similar to the process in which Harris's

characters are involved. In the context of the Caribbean "melting pot"

of cultures and characters, the application of such alchemical processes

allows Harris, in Gilkes's view, to move toward a cultural fusion and

renewed possibilities, or, in my view, to move from "base" individual

cultural elements toward "refined" perspectives for all men.

Gilkes refers to Arthur Koestler, who sees a disassociation in

modern man arising out of a split between the old brain, which is the

seat of primitive emotional reflex, and the new brain which is the seat

of experimental reason. This brain split can be healed by an alchemical

process which transforms homo maniacus into a true homo sapiens. In his

own novels Harris shows how twentieth-century man can be healed in a

similar fashion through the alchemical transformation of a mind

programmed by ritual reflexes (the static inbuilt codes of history) into

a mind of open and unpredictable possibilities. Later, in the chapters

dealing with specific novels I shall discuss the tabulaa rasa" and

"healed mind" figures which are either the catalyst for, or result of,

this psychic alchemical process. These appear in Harris's fiction, for

example, as Idiot Nameless, Fool, and Black Marsden, who are either

capable of unravelling their own "historic garments" or of helping

someone else, like Goodrich, learn to unravel his. They provide the

catalyst for potential change and increasingly positive growth in the

last four novels: Companions of the Day and Night, Da Silva da Silva's

Cultivated Wilderness, Genesis of the Clowns, and The Tree of the Sun.

Gilkes's focus on an alchemical theme is particularly appropriate

to Harris's novels since, in "History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean

and Guianas" (1970), Harris himself discusses the stages of the

alchemical process and compares the elements to Caribbean literary

elements. Harris compares the bush-baby syndrome to what C.G. Jung

calls the puer aeternus, the immortal or archetypal child of dreams.5

Looking at this "immortal child of dreams" in alchenical terms, he

discusses the three stages of the process: the first is nigredo or

blackness, the massa confuse, unknown territory or undiscovered realm;


the second is albedo or whiteness, an inner perspective or illumination,

or the dawn of a new consciousness; the third is the cauda pavonis,

colors of the peacock, the variable possibilities of fulfilment we can

never totally realize. Harris's use of the alchemical process has been

expertly discussed by Gilkes and becomes increasingly clear as Harris's

reader progresses from The Palace of the Peacock (1960) with its readily

apparent use of the cauda pavonis colors and symbolism, through the body

of Harris's work all the way to the less obvious, but equally important,

use of characters, like Black Marsden, who incorporate several of the

elements into a single, multifaceted personality. This multifaceted

personality is so important to Harris's novels that it will provide a

basic motif for discussion of Harris's work in the second part of this


In his essay "The Native Phenomenon" (1971), Harris discusses the

frontiers of the alchemical imagination as a means to move beyond an

opus contra natural into an opus contra ritual. He believes a new

definition of community is needed but not a jettisoning of ritual since

it belongs to the memory of a group. Ritual needs to be used as an

"ironic bias," that is, as something which unravels self-deceptions

within self-revelation and allows man to see through the various

"dogmatic proprietors" of the world into the play of contrasting

structures and anti-structures to a drama of consciousness which lies

beyond those limitations. Through an alchemical process of imagination

man can "digest contrasting spaces" and tones, avoid the temptation to

commit himself to a conservative bias or entrapping stasis, and "digest

as well as liberate contrasting figures" in order to give full play to

community and the creative imagination. There can be no such thing as


too much creativity for that wculd imply a state of perfection, of


Many of Harris's unusual terms, such as "dogmatic proprietors,"

"ironic bias," or "digestion of contrasting spaces" are difficult to

understand and they will be discussed at greater length in Chapters 3

and 4 on Harris's style and vocabulary. At the moment I wish merely to

introduce some of Harris's basic themes, goals, and terms in order to

provide the basic structure for more detailed discussion to follow. For

example, closely related to the idea of digesting contrasting spaces is

the theme of understanding and coming to terms with indigenous peoples.

Though a common response has been to view native populations as second

class citizens, or at least not of great importance, these "natives"

have, in Harris's view, a sophistication of their own equal in its way

to that of their more "civilized" counterparts.

"Native" for Harris is not at all a pejorative term nor does it

refer simply to people of a particular locale. For him it refers to one

whose resources are so deep that they embrace, however obscurely, many

contradictions; a "native" is, in fact, a universal man. In this sense

Harris sees Karl Marx as a profoundly "native" phenomenon; so too are

Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Amos Tutola, Wale Soyinka, Denis

Williams and Alejo Carpentier, for they are not merely local ornaments

of a given class or prejudice. Harris believes that if Caribbean

writers are to move toward being "native," to go beyond being merely

local historians, they must develop a new philosophy of history which

relates to the arts of the imagination.

Through involvement with Caribbean "natives," through digestion of

"contrasting figures" which separate men, Harris believes man can come


to a more profound understanding of human nature. Such an understanding

requires an involvement with the aboriginal facts of conquest, with

essentially human or natural facts involving sometimes catastrophic

changes. Harris believes that the conquest of aboriginal populations

remains like a ruin of psychological premises, an expression of cultural

biases in the midst of the Caribbean mind that could serve as a gateway

for a new philosophy of history and anthropology.

Harris believes that if a community is to create a living future it

must begin to penetrate and unravel its biases in order to bring into

play a complex wholeness. This wholeness will be, in his words:

"inhabited by other confessing parts that may have once masqueraded

themselves as monolithic absolutes or monolithic codes of behavior" in

whatever land they originated. Through a sort of alchemical process

modern man can break down these biases, these monolithic codes of

behavior, and move toward a community of Man.

Harris uses language imaginatively to enhance our vision rather

than cerebrally to convey intellectual meaning, and, as Michael Gilkes

has claimed: "by applying the open-ended scale of myth and archetype

Harris discovers possibilities for the novel which are virtually

endless."10 Yet it is the alchemical model that is the main theme of

Gilkes's analysis, the theme that guides the reader through the

complexity of Harris's symbols and metaphors, and the initially

confusing structures of his novels, to a fuller understanding of the

belief in a unity of mankind which forms the basis of Harris's fiction.

In the works of Hena Maes-Jelinek a rather different, though

complementary, perspective appears. At the heart of Harris's work, she

believes, lie the images of breakdown and breakthrough. Ivan Van

Sertina expresses her theory as follows: "the breakdown is a grave,

almost fatal crisis within man; the breakthrough is the almost

miraculous salvage and renewal of wholeness from fragmentation and


Maes-Jelinek feels that Harris, unlike other novelists, avoids

creating a given or recognizable picture of man and his society because

such would merely confirm a given, "static," world view instead of

modifying or deepening that view. Through her studies she shows that

when Harris evokes a configuration which can be recognized as a particular

society he does so only to show that it must be broken down and a new
vision created. As Ivan Van Sertima usefully glosses her argument:

Man, standing on the apparently secure floor of the given world
(world of accepted values, rigid assumptions, ideologies, faiths,
frozen reflexes), suddenly sees fissures opening up in that floor
through which he falls, spinning blindly at first in what appears
to be a void (ground of the world's night) but where in fact he
begins to see with a profound and penetrating clarity buried roots
of being (eclipsed selves, eclipsed potentials, eclipsed
perspectives) and resensing and recovery of which stays his fall
and enables him to retrieve a foothold on the breaking and broken

In Maes-Jelinek's own words:

[Harris] has never ceased to insist on the 'digestion of
contrasting spaces' but he does not optimistically believe that they
can be easily 'liberated.' They are part of man's nature (like
good and evil) and of the physical world and can never be
eradicated. But underlying those contrasts and struggles within
man, between men and indeed among all forms of being in the
universe, there is a harmony capable of emerging through the most
solid walls (physical and mental) as Carroll's song (in Palace of
the Peacock) emerges through the waterfall.14

Maes-Jelinek believes that Harris takes on the role of historian

and philosopher in a world in which the historian's view is usually

trapped by the "unbroken" individual. Harris's new novel form, his

breaking and broken individuals, demonstrate a new way of recording

history through the language of a vision or drama of consciousness. She

explains that one of the ways that Harris breaks down the barriers

between individuals and societies is through his free borrowing from

various cultures. Harris never denies the specific character and

experience of any cultural group, but his writing is meant to awaken

men's sensibility and imagination to the real nature of their involvement

in the world and to teach them to reject static ways. Though man,

Maes-Jelinek says, cannot help being imprisoned within time and history

he can achieve partial liberation by tending toward an "other," providing

this other is not then allowed to become an absolute.15

Harris's novels usually deal with both inner and outer worlds, in

both of which he discovers and describes polarized conditions. In the

outer world there is a confrontation between victor and victim,

oppressor and oppressed, which results in psychic deformation on both

sides of the confrontation. Harris's novels describe not only the

conflicts but the potential inherent in man for breaking through static

ways of being and creating the possibility for rebirth. Gilkes,

Maes-Jelinek, and this author agree that Harris seeks in his novels the

fluid mode of expression which will allow him to express what he sees as

the duality of life and the reciprocity necessary between existing poles

of the world.

Maes-Jelinek sees the early novels moving from the breakdown of a

character, his state of loss and deprivation, to a fiction where the

protagonist/narrator is himself an artist, like Harris, who seeks some

breakthrough which will allow him to cone to a more complete under-

standing of himself and his world. The earliest novels (Palace of the

Peacock, Secret Ladder, and Whole Armour), trace the breakdown of the

character in the course of the novel, whereas the middle novels (The Eve

of the Scarecrow, The Waiting Room, Tumatumari, and Ascent to Omai)

begin with the already broken figure. As I will show in Part Two of

this study, the latest novels (Companions of the Day and Night, Da Silva

da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness, Genesis of the Clowns, and The Tree of

the Sun) have narrators who have themselves undergone an earlier process

of disintegration but are, at the time of the novel, well on the way to

psychic understanding and re-integration.

The earlier breakdown suffered by these characters benefits them,

for their initial state of weakness or emptiness no longer imprisons

them within a given or final world view. Each character becomes a

medium, a "vicarious hollow" in which the past re-enacts itself. After

the breakdown the characters are able to reach greater understanding of

themselves and their fellow men. As I shall argue in the discussion of

Harris's last four novels, when a character's broken memory yields a

fragmented version of events, this fragmentation gradually allows for

greater possibilities of psychic re-integration through an interpretation

of events different from the first, confining one. The past becomes the

main topic of these novels and is subject to the same crumbling and

reshaping as the psyche of the character who relives it. Forms and

characters are no longer rigid, they interpenetrate one another, create

new forms in the process, and allow for a more positive restructuring.

Maes-Jelinek points out that a character's mode of perception is

often shattered by some catastrophe (a plane crash, a death), which also

shatters self-created barriers; even time itself breaks down.

The character, however, is at once the instrument and the object of
his exploration, and his changing mode of apprehension usually
brings about a breaking apart of his rigid and self-contained world
and makes possible his insight into a deeper reality. So that


dismemberment, 'breaking down things in order to see through
things' becomes discovery, just as in the later novels the
diminished state of man (the scarecrow man) becomes a necessary
stage prior to a new growth in consciousness and imagination.

Harris pursues destruction of a character in order to fuse him with

the object of his quest, and creates a new framework for the world and

the character. The new framework, the result of "digestion of

contrasting spaces," is more flexible and capable of continual

modification. Only through this flexibility of vision can characters

avoid being caught in the stasis of the rest of the world, avoid

"conscripting time" or even causing stasis themselves, and avoid being

the "dogmatic proprietors" of static modes of thought and behavior.

Harris believes that only when characters are able to continue being

flexible will they be able to arrive at a true reconciliation of

opposites and give birth to Man rather than a broken individual.

While wholeness is tentatively reconstructed or approached in the
narrative through an accumulation of images, and perceived by the
protagonist in visionary moments, it is never actually attained.
The narratives trace the characters' oscillations between the
finite world and their vision of the 'infinite' as they grope
towards a metaphysical reality which both fascinates and terrifies

Harris insists that by processes of breaking down and breaking through

an individual may be capable of personal regeneration. Through the

individual lies social salvation, "but man must first come to terms with

himself and his environment before he can ever hope to change society."18

These themes of alchemy and breakdown/breakthrough, which serve as

unifying elements in the criticism of Gilkes and Maes-Jelinek, provide

extremely important keys to understanding Harris's work. The themes

have been greatly instrumental in providing the basis for this study,

which will seek further to illuminate that work and move beyond to a

careful analysis of the four novels Harris has written since Gilkes's


Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel (1975). Though these fine critics

have done a great deal to lay a firm foundation for any study of

Harris's novels, his continuously expanding vision and unique style are

so complex that any body of criticism must be incomplete. It would be

impossible for any single critic, and even so far for any group of

critics, to do complete justice to a complex vision and style composed

of Harris's degree of cultural eclecticism, his commitment to the

creative imagination, his pursuit of an integrated consciousness, and

his faith in man's ability to create that consciousness through

imaginative fiction rather than through social or political agencies.

The rapidly increasing body of work by and about Harris, as well as

his numerous honors and requests for his participation as a writer,

lecturer or delegate, indicates the growing need for wider understanding

and appreciation of his unique innovations and difficult literary style

and theory. In this dissertation I seek to facilitate that under-

standing. The following commentary consists of two parts. Part One,

"Contexts of Vision," characterizes Harris's fiction in terms of its

narrative range and content, its relations to other West Indian fiction,

and its distinctive stylistic techniques. Part Two, "Visionary Texts,"

narrows the focus to individual explications of Harris's four most

recent novels. Following Part Two is an Appendix composed of three

hitherto unpublished interviews with Harris. Of great interest in

themselves, these interviews provide basic materials for a discussion of

both his imaginative vision and the techniques whereby he seeks to

embody that vision in fiction.

Given the difficulties of Harris's style, Chapter 1 of Part One

provides an overview of Harris's novels from the early Guiana Quartet to


his later more experimental and imaginative fiction. Although a summary

of plots and themes does injustice to the complexity of his fiction, at

the same tine it suggests the range and character of his concerns and

may prove useful to those readers who are new to Harris or who find his

techniques a formidable bar to their comprehension of the novels.

Following this overview, Chapter 2 seeks to identify Harris's particular

place in West Indian fiction through a discussion of such other major

writers of the region as V.S. Naipaul, George Lamming, and Edgar

Mittelholzer. Neither of these chapters makes much of a claim for

originality; both seek to provide informative contexts for the

discussions of style that follow. Chapter 3 considers key features of

Harris's style and vocabulary, while Chapter 4 examines his peculiar

uses of myth and his extensive reliance on certain image structures. In

these chapters, through a discussion of the fictional uses of

synchronicity, shamanism, and what Harris calls "the eye of the

scarecrow," I aim to go beyond existing criticism of Harris and to

prepare a context for the more detailed readings of Companions of the

Day and Night (1975), Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness (1977),

Genesis of the Clowns (1977), and The Tree of the Sun (1978) that follow

in Part Two.


Wilson Harris, "Shamanism," an interview with Michael Gilkes,
London, 7 July 1977. A complete transcript of this previously
unpublished interview is to be found in the appendix.

2 Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel, (London:
Longman Group, Ltd., 1975), p. xxiii.

Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel, p. xxvi.


Ivan Van Sertima, "Recreation of the Psyche," review of Wilson
Harris and the Caribbean Novel, by Michael Gilkes, Review '76, Fall
1976, p. 1.

Wilson Harris, "History, Eable, and Myth in the Caribbean and the
Guianas," Caribbean Quarterly, 16, No. 2 (1970), p. 20.

Wilson Harris, "The Native Phenomenon," in Conference on
Commonwealth Literature ed. Margaret Rutherford (Aarhus, Denmark:
Dangaroo Press, 1971), p. 148.

7 Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 25.

Wilson Harris, "The Native Phenomenon," p. 148.

"Confessing" in Harris's terms is being able to admit to bias and
with that admission comes the possibility for positive change.

10 Wilson Harris, "Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands," in
Explorations, ed. Hena Maes-Jelinek (Aarhus, Denmark: Dangaroo Press,
1981), p. 135.

Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel, p. 40.

12 Ivan Van Sertima, "The Novels of Wilson Harris--An Introduction,"
Review '74 (Spring 1974), pp. 1-2.

Hena Maes-Jelinek, The Naked Design: A Reading of Palace of the
Peacock, (Aarhus, Denmark: Dangaroo Press, 1976), p. 60.

14 Ivan Van Sertima, "The Novels of Wilson Harris," pp. 1-2.

15 Hena Maes-Jelinek, The Naked Design, p. 61.

16 Hena Maes-Jelinek, "Wilson Harris," in West Indian Literature,
ed. Bruce King (London: Macmillan, 1979), p. 181.

17 Hena Maes-Jelinek, The Naked Design, p. 13.

18 Hena Maes-Jelinek, "Wilson Harris," p. 191.



Written in language that is extremely dense and poetic, and

treating settings and subjects that are unusual, Harris's fourteen

novels resist easy categorical schemes. To be sure, they are all

uncommonly short, ranging from 71 to 156 pages in length, but their

brevity does not make then easy reading. On the contrary, Harris's

style is so compressed, his imagery often so unfamiliar, that the

attentive reader is likely to treat his novels, or large sections of

them, as he would treat difficult poetry. Precisely because Harris

invites microscopic analysis, however, one feels the need to step back

from his novels in an attempt to gain perspective, to see them whole, or

at least in larger terms. Here as elsewhere Michael Gilkes is helpful,

providing us in Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel with a breakdown

of the first ten novels into three groups. The first group, Gilkes

believes, deals with "The Journey Inwards" and comprises The Palace of

the Peacock (1960), The Far Journey of Oudin (1961), The Whole Armour

(1962), The Secret Ladder (1963). Moving beyond their own inner

struggles, the characters of the novels in the second group begin a

search for "An Art of Extremity" as found in Heartland (1964), The Eye

of the Scarecrow (1965), The Waiting Room (1967), and Tumatumari

(1968). Gilkes's third category is "The Expanding Vision" and includes


Ascent to Cmai (1970) and Black Marsden (1972) which lead into but are

distinct from the last four novels: Companions of the Day and Night

(1975), Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness (1977), Genesis of the

Clowns (1977), and The Tree of the Sun (1978).

Harris's first four novels, known as The Guiana Quartet, focus on

successive historical conquests and the victimization of various racial

groups by white post-Columbian conquerors. Though the novels have

primarily poor and uneducated characters, they trace the beginnings of

man's search for himself, a self which is without specific racial or

cultural ties and becomes representative of all men at all times. The

characters suffer psychic disintegration as they lose or break free of

restrictive historical and social patterns during their searches.

The plot of Palace of the Peacock (1960), centers on a journey made

in an open boat by Donne, a white creole rancher known for cruelty and

efficiency, his more sympathetic brother, and his racially mixed crew.

On a superficial level the men search for Mariella which is, in typical

Harris fashion, simultaneously an old Indian woman and the Amerindian

settlement to which Donne's native work force has fled because of the

ill treatment they have suffered at his hands. Though the men are

described as individuals they are also closely related by both social

and blood ties, ties which imply the interrelatedness of all men. The

journey to the interior is literal and physically arduous as well as

metaphoric and psychologically arduous. One by one the men suffer a

series of misfortunes and die while struggling to get upriver, in

Guyana, and upriver, too, in the streams of their own consciousnesses.

They are struggling to reach into their own psychic interiors and come

to terms with their imaginative and previously suppressed inner beings.


Palace concludes as the last men die realizing they have always possessed

in themselves the elusive element they all pursued on the journey.

Not for the only time in Harris's fiction, one is reminded of T.S.

Eliot; here, of those lines near the end of "Little Gidding" (1943):

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.1

An even closer comparison may be (and has been) made with Conrad's

Heart of Darkness (1899). Like Conrad's novel, Palace of the Peacock

describes the inner quest of a relatively sophisticated man who moves

not only upstream into geographically unfamiliar and dangerous territory

but also makes a journey into himself. External events and elements of

the physical world become analogous to inner conflicts and psychic

barriers which must be overcome if the man is to find the unknown object

of his quest, a psychic integration and peace.

The motif of the inner struggle and journey is relatively common-

place in West Indian writing and many authors use the theme, yet if

authors like George Lamming and V.S. Naipaul suggest the need for an

internal quest, they do not, Harris believes, move beyond either

suggesting the need for greater understanding or parodying the conditions

which gave rise to the need. Harris deals with the issue of the quest

in literature in his essay "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness


In this context of parody it is possible, I think, to register a
foreboding about the ultimate esserce of Heart of Darkness and to
sense an exhaustion of spirit that froze Conrad's genius and made
it impossible for him to cross the frontier upon which his
intuitive imagination had arrived. . My view is that parody tends
to border upon nihilism, a fact all too clear in modern fiction and
drama. Parody is the flag of the death of god, the death of faith,
and without faith imaginative art tends to freeze and cultivate a
loss of soul. Perhaps god has been so conditioned by homogeneous
or tribal idols that freedom of spirit seems a chimera. When I
speak of the necessity for faith I am not referring therefore to
cults of idolatry but to a conviction written into the stars as
into one's blood that creation is a priceless gift beyond man-made
formula or calculation of Faustian will.
Conrad's despair is so marked that one is conscious of
infinite desolation within the very signals he intuitively erects
which bear upon a radical dialectic of form. His parody--like
Beckett's parody--remains formidable because it cuts to the bone
and heart of liberal complacency. But the transition beyond parody
which humanity needs neither Beckett nor Conrad fulfills.

Harris believes that through imaginative fiction it is possible to

move beyond this nihilism, away from mere parody, toward a form of

fiction that is capable of helping man free himself from static modes of

thought and life. In his discussion of Conrad's Heart of Darkness he

explains what he believes the novel's form and function are:

By form I mean the novel-form as a medium of consciousness which
has its deepest roots in an intuitive and much, much older self
than the historical ego or the historical conditions of ego-dignity
which bind us to a particular decade or generation or century.
The capacity of the intuitive self to breach the historical
ego is the life-giving and terrifying objectivity of imaginative
art that makes a painting or a poem or a piece of sculpture or a
fiction endure long beyond the artist's short lifetime, gives it
the strangest beauty or coherence-in-depth.3

It is this desire to transcend the immediate historical setting and

historical ego of man that leads Harris to create forms in the novel

which seek to move beyond those of Conrad and of other West Indians.

Harris attempts to express in his novels the archetypal elements of

man's psyche rather than those elements created by the immediate,

narrow, and deceptively homogeneous conditions of the historical moment.

He does this by deliberately creating "meaningful distortions of images"


which allow for a "profound, complex and searching dialogue between

confessing and confessional heterogeneous cultures that are no longer
monolithic." The major difference, then, between Harris and Conrad

(as Harris sees it) is that Conrad came to the "frontier" which depicted

the stresses created by what Harris calls "monolithic cultures" or

"static" cultures, but was unable to recognize the frontier or to move

beyond it in Heart of Darkness. Harris deliberately seeks not only to

pinpoint the static elements of cultures, but to advocate moving beyond

them by means of an imaginative literature.

Part of what Harris values in Conrad's writing is his use of

adjectives, the very use condemned by F.R. Leavis in The Great

Tradition. Harris not only sides with Conrad against Leavis; he finds

in the sensationalism Leavis disliked possibilities for imaginative


I would question Leavis's indictment of Conrad for an addiction to
the adjective. The fact of the matter is that the intuitive
archetypes of sensation and non-sensation by which Conrad was
tormented are not nouns. They are qualitative and infinite
variations of substance clothed in nouns. Nouns may reveal
paradoxically when qualified, that their emphasis on reality and
their inner meaning can change as they are inhabited by variable
psychic projections born of the mystery of creation. There is a
woodenness to wood, there is also a gaiety to wood when it is
stroked by shadow or light that turns 'wood' into a mask worn by
variable metaphysical bodies that alter the content within the
mask. The livingness of wood is the magic of carven shapes that
act in turn upon the perceiving eye and sculpt it into a window of

Throughout his novels Harris's nouns increasingly take on the

quality of the adjectives that clothe them and thus add multiple layers

of meaning. A word used in Palace will reappear in later novels and its

significance will grow with use. Just as Harris feels we must break

free from static modes of society and binding historical forces, he also

seeks to break free from many of the confines of language imposed by

historic literary forms. This struggle against nominalismm," as one

might express it, becomes increasingly evident in the course of the

novels as Harris's vision expands and his style evolves.

One method Harris uses to break from traditional novel techniques

appears in the second novel of the Quartet, The Far Journey of Oudin

(1961). Harris uses a protagonist, Oudin, who dies before the story

opens so the story takes place as a "flashback" in the mind of a dead

man. As a "dead" man's narrative it is freed from the usual constraints

of time imposed on living people and includes past, present and future

events. The other characters we meet are members of an East Indian

community in Berbice, a community harshly ruled by a cruel environment

and the moneylender Ram. Oudin has been hired by Ram to kidnap the

virgin Beti so that she may become Ram's bride and provide him with an

heir for the "kingdom" he has accumulated at the expense of the other,

uneducated and naive members of the community. The accumulation of

material possessions is virtually the only way these poor people believe

they can provide a buffer between themselves and the harsh, unrewarding

life of farming a difficult land, but Ram seeks to take away even the

meager physical comforts they manage to obtain. Though Oudin had

previously done Ram's dirty work, he balks when it comes to kidnapping

Beti and, rather than turn the young girl over to Ram, keeps her and

marries her himself. They live together for thirteen years during which

time Oudin, too, becomes indebted to the moneylender. At Oudin's death

Ram hopes to regain his hold over the community by acquiring as his

successor Oudin's unborn child as payment for his debt. Beti, sensing

the importance of the debit note she is unable to read, eats the note

and Ram is forced to offer her freedom in exchange for her unborn child.


Beti represents the common people who, uneducated and oppressed,

are unable to do more than barely survive in a harsh environment.

Oudin, who is more clever than Beti, and one of Harris's early examples

of the Doppleganger figure, is able to thwart Ram's attempts to rule the

community. Because Oudin is psychologically strong he withstands Ram's

various efforts and tricks and even in death succeeds in beating Ran.

Because Oudin's note is destroyed, Ram, who represents the forces of

tyranny and oppression, is unable to gain the complete power he has

sought. Though, like Beti, these early Harris characters are relatively

unaware of the significance of their actions or struggles, the attentive

reader understands the need for a new vision which will free men from

tyrannical authority, static and suppressive cultural elements, and

oppressive histories. Though the characters of The Far Journey of Oudin

were relatively unaware of the significance of their actions, the

characters from now on have a growing awareness of their importance.

Harris's third novel, The Whole Armour (1962), is set on the coast

of Guyana where the land is simultaneously eroded by the sea and enriched

by silt deposits of the rivers. The inhabitants exist precariously,

unwilling or unable to plant roots deep in the land and living helplessly

day by day between alternating seasons of drought and flood. Cristo,

the symbolically named protagonist, has been spurned by the community

because he is different and educated. Ironically, it is only through

him and later his son that a real future can become possible. When

Cristo is willing to accept his responsibility and even a burden of

guilt as a member of his community and work toward enlightenment and

improvement for all, he finds peace for himself and offers the example

for others to follow. Cristo journeys to the geographic and psychic


interior and confronts the aboriginal "folk" who live there. By virtue

of this journey, Cristo becomes an evcryrjan figure and (by implication

of his name) a Christ figure. Eventually he comes to terms with his

community, his environment and himself, but only when he is willing to

accept responsibility as a member of the community.

The last novel of the Quartet, The Secret Ladder (1963), centers on

Russell Fenwick, an educated, articulate and introspective land surveyor

leading a government hydrographic expedition into the interior to chart

the upper reaches of the Canje River. Like Donne's crew, Fenwick's is

composed of a motley assortment of men who represent the many races of

Guyana. During the seven days of the book's story, the men are all

subtly changed. The more sophisticated crew members increasingly

recognize not only the needs and fears of the men of their own survey

group, but the needs and even terror of the primitive negroes who

inhabit the interior. Through confrontation with the rebel Poseidon and

his followers, Fenwick and his men realize the misunderstanding which

has been created by the meeting of aboriginal and ancestral folk with

technological men and equipment. Fenwick is eventually able to come to

terms with the problem and to see that, instead of offering hydroelectric

power to move the country and its people toward improved life styles,

his technological advances threaten not only the style but the life of

the folk. Fenwick realizes that these folk have been greatly under-

estimated but must now be recognized. Only by an understanding and

appreciation of all the people, sophisticated men and those of the

interior, will any men be able to move forward.

The journey to the interior is continued in the next four novels

which Michael Gilkes groups as "An Art of Extremity." In Heartland


(1964), The Eye of the Scarecrow (1965), The Waiting Room (1967), and

Tumatumari (1968), the characters, who have already suffered a breakdown

at the opening of the novels, seek to escape their fragmented condition;

attempting to break through to more positive possibilities, they search

for freedom from the restrictions imposed by their earlier acceptance of

static, inflexible, social forms. In this group of novels, language

patterns reflect the broken nature of the characters. Characters and

time are telescoped in complex ways that anticipate the intricate

complexities of style found in Harris's most recent novels where time,

place, and characters are often so interwoven that meanings deepen and


Heartland (1964), the fifth novel, deals more explicitly with the

theme of guilt and responsibility than The Secret Ladder (1963). Though

it lacks the overt Christian symbolism of The Whole Armour (1962), man's

guilt, both literal and assumed, is the center of the main character's

attention. Zechariah Stevenson has been implicated in a financial

scandal involving his father's company; as a consequence, he goes into

self-imposed exile and attempts to vindicate himself by making good.

Like Fenwick in The Secret Ladder, Stevenson undergoes an initiation

into a new state of consciousness, suffers through a purgatorial process

of self-discovery, and eventually integrates his two opposing selves,

the imaginative and the technological.

The Eye of the Scarecrow (1965), which follows Heartland, is

related in setting and theme to the Guiana Quartet but represents a

break from the style and language patterns of the earlier novels. The

unnamed narrator describes apparently unconnected and arbitrary events

in hallucinatory images. Gradually the reader becomes aware of a theme

of reconstruction of sensibility that is created through the memory of

the narrator in flashbacks to childhood and historical events. These

flashbacks bring the narrator to an awareness of possibilities,

previously unconsidered, that in life there can be death, the death of

the unfeeling or unseeing existence; and in death there can be life, the

life of previously unsuspected potential, and even a return to life

after a physical death, as was the case in Palace and The Far Journey.

In Palace the entire crew of the boat died in an earlier expedition but

returned to relive and re-experience in order to learn from previous

errors or blindness. In The Far Journey the events of the story take

place after the death of Oudin, but his perspective is the key to

understanding the novel. In both novels death is a form of release for

the characters, release from the narrow confines imposed on vision by

the habits of a lifetime. In this way the narrator is able to uncover

inner spaces, rediscover buried or unconscious parts of the psyche, and

discover new and liberating meanings for events.

In The Waiting Room (1967), language, overlapping times, and

characters repeated from earlier novels become so entwined that it is

sometimes almost impossible to discern which character is speaking or at

what time. Like The Eye of the Scarecrow, The Waiting Room takes the

form of a disjointed diary or log-book kept by a person who has suffered

psychic breakdown and now moves toward reintegration. Susan Forrestal,

blind, and deserted by her lover, marries a man who is featureless, both

literally because of her blindness and metaphorically because of his

lack of distinguishing characteristics. No longer able to see the world

around her, Susan exists in the "waiting room" of her mind where she

creates such a complex world that it is difficult for the reader to


decide whether she, the lover, the husband, or even the physical

surroundings are real or merely imaginary. Though all the characters

learn from one other, it is the reader who comes to the fullest under-

standing of the interrelationships between the characters and their


Like Susan Forrestal, Prudence Solman of Tumatumari (1968) suffers

a series of traumas which lead her to reconsider the events of her life.

While the events of Susan's life were either seen in retrospect or

apparently created in her mind, Prudence both reconsiders and experiences

actual events. She has suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by the

recent decapitation of her husband in an accident as he rushed home to

be with her during childbirth. The child also dies and she fears her

husband's Amerindian mistress, Raka, who cares for her during this time.

She also unhappily remembers members of her family, particularly her

father whose carefully maintained mask of social respectability suddenly

fell away as he lay dying. This series of traumas makes Prudence

reconsider life and its meaning, and leads her to seek for some coherence

in her past, some explanation for the events. She creatively constructs

or reconstructs her own history and sees that she must free herself from

the "dead historical time" and build a life free from the errors,

one-sided attitudes, and false images created by her husband and her

father. In order to do this she must learn to see with the scarecrow

eye, the eye which sees through surface realities and appears to her on

the rock by the waterfall where her husband was killed. Once she is

able to see with this eye she can see through the biases which trapped

others and learn to accept Raka, learn to accept the "folk" as neither

her husband nor her father could do.


The first four Harris novels, the Guiana Quartet, focused on

characters who journey into themselves and the country seeking under-

standing as representative racial types. The next four novels dealt

with more individual characters who, in an effort to reach understanding,

went to extremes of psychic self-examination. In the next two novels,

Ascent to Omai (1970) and Black Marsden (1972), this psychic effort is

continued and expanded in an explosion of images and language. This

explosion reflects the disintegration of the character but also offers

the possibility of a reintegration into a better person. The more

complete and integrated personality is a major focus of the last four

Harris novels, which will be the subject of Chapters 5 through 8 of this


The disjointed speech and thought patterns found in Tumatumari

(1968) and The Waiting Room (1967) are continued and intensified in

Ascent to Omai (1970). Harris also continues the theme that modern man

must reconcile his technological self with his imaginative self, for

technology and invention, the novel declares, can enslave man, but

slavery can be overcome by means of the imaginative use of memory which

allows him to reinterpret his history and heritage and move toward

greater personal and community freedom. This move is begun by the

protagonist Victor who has made and lost a fortune in the diamond and

gold fields and, as the book opens, is climbing Omai Hill in search of

his dead father's old, abandoned claim. During his search he is bitten

by a tarantula, becomes feverish and hallucinates.

Victor's hallucinations free him from the rigid, static control of

his surface mind; he is able to see far beyond immediately visible

connections to a greater understanding of himself and acceptance of his

father. This theme of a concentration beyond "daylight concentration"

appeared as early as Palace of the Peacock in the "dead seeing eye" of

the narrator (p. 13), and continues through the novels as the growing

image of the scarecrow eye which appears to Prudence in Tumatumari. It

is a theme central to Harris's fiction, a theme which he has spoken at

length about in an interview (see appendix), and I shall consider some

of its implications further in Chapter 4. Here it is worth quoting

Harris's own comments on "the eye of the scarecrow":

When one writes an imaginative fiction concentration is not
daylight concentration, it's a much deeper kind of concentration.
As a consequence, your ego, the historical ego, is in some degree
moved, or broken, or altered to allow a far deeper intuitive self
to come up and, in fact, to begin to do things within the
concentration which the writer applies to the book. This intuitive
self comes up, strikes at the historical ego and then creates
something which has a future beyond the comprehension of the writer
himself. And, it has a past also which is much deeper and stranger
than the writer understands. So his fiction reflects in some
strange active way a mysterious past as well as a future. Now that
means that the fiction has an objectivity that is not the
objectivity of daylight consciousness. It is not on the surface of
the mind, it is much deeper and the synchronicity thing seems to me
to sustain this. It means that the images, the structures which we
see around us, are not as absolute and sovereign as they appear to
be. 7

This daylight concentration is all Victor is capable of until he was

bitten by the tarantula and suffered hallucinations.

The hallucinations free Victor from socially imposed restraints

which have blinded him, allowing him to enter his unconscious mind to

seek for the understanding he was unable to reach on a conscious level.

He remembers his childhood and his father who, depressed over his wife's

death during Victor's birth, became a drunkard and a lecher. The

literal climb up the hill suggests the great barriers, hills or mountains

of mythology which can only be overcome by the truly heroic. "Seeing"

through his inner eye his father's intense suffering, Victor comes to a


better understanding of his own life: his love/hate relationship with

his father and longing for his unknown mother. The novel ends as Victor

suddenly senses a great understanding and compassion, the first step in

reintegration of his own warring elements.

He becomes an everyman figure whose story has reverberations of

historical, psychological and mythological significance as he, like

Prudence in Tumatumari, seeks a new birth in the "well of the past" and

moves toward it in an unpredictable flash of spiritual inspiration. His

quest for his ancestral origins and longing for a pre-lapsarian world

are symbolic of the search of not only Caribbean man but all men. Only

by going beyond his surface history and reality can Victor achieve the

new sense of feeling and insight which will allow him to break out of

his self-created prison and move in a new, more positive, direction.

Victor, and symbolically Man, begin, the rite of passage through

the intercession of a trickster/shaman figure, a figure increasingly

important in Harris's fiction and one discussed at length in both

Chapter 4 and the Shamanism interview in the appendix. Victor, after

being bitten by the spider, enters a trance or "limbo" state in which he

acquires arcane knowledge as a part of his process of "becoming." This

is the most overt use thus far of the trickster/shaman figure in

Harris's novels; in later novels Black Marsden and Idiot Nameless are

simultaneously shaman figures and shadows of the main characters.

Though Harris's next two books, The Sleepers of Roraima (1970) and

The Age of the Rainmakers (1971), are really collections of short

stories, they too suggest the need for a re-appraisal of the powers of

the imagination. Taken from Carib myths and legends,, the stories

portray a young child undergoing initiation, coming to an awakening and


renewal by extending both personal and community history. The more

straightforward and simple language of the stories reflects the youthful

nature of the protagonist and is simpler than the language of Harris's

mature and complex characters like Victor. Even in the young protag-

onist, however, Harris creates the feeling that only through creative

force and freedom of the imagination can man create the improved

community toward which he strives.

Harris returns to the novel form in Black Marsden (1972) in which

"community" is also the main subject. The novel's protagonist is quite

literally double: Clive Goodrich and Black Marsden are separate

characters and complementary facets of each other's personality.

Goodrich finds Marsden lying half-frozen in Dunfermline Abbey, Scotland

and takes him to his own large home in Edinburgh to recover. Soon

Marsden's friends begin to arrive: Jennifer ("Gorgon"), a beautiful but

derelict nightclub entertainer; "Harp," an obscure musician; and

"Knife," a beggar. Moving in and out of Goodrich's dreams, these

characters take on different names and shapes as they act as spiritual

guides to Goodrich and are revealed as additional elements of his own

personality. Though the concept of the double, the multifaceted

personality, appears in Harris's first novel and continues throughout

the body of his work, it takes on the most complex nature and

significance in Black Marsden.

Since Clive Goodrich and Black Marsden simultaneously "project

themselves" upon each other, and Knife and Jennifer "step forth" from

Black Marsden, they not only become facets of the same personality but

represent Harris's ongoing interest in syzygy. Marsden leads Goodrich

into the journey to Namless, an interior and previously unexplored


territory, which is to be a proving ground for Goodrich's abilities to

integrate the diverse parts of his psyche and "digest the catastrophes"

of his existence. Marsden, the unconscious part of Goodrich's person-

ality, refuses to accept the stasis which governs Goodrich's life and

leads him on a journey through a series of metamorphoses as he seeks to

construct a "new eye of the scarecrow" in order to "tunnel through" the

obstacles to an integrated psyche.9

Since Goodrich keeps a diary of his real and imaginary experiences

in Namless he is able to trace the growth of his self-confidence and

self-knowledge, realizing that he needs to change from within in order

to achieve a more integrated psyche which balances his realistic and

visionary halves. Goodrich begins the process with a recognition that

while he gives material goods to Marsden and his friends he in turn

receives psychic benefits. Through Marsden Goodrich learns that he must

continue to wrestle with his problems and seek expanded vision, but can

never complete the struggle, for that would imply the very condition of

bias from which he has been striving to free himself. Clive Goodrich

has been able to overcome his personal biases in his search for greater

fulfillment, both for himself and his community. Harris implies that

this is the course we must all take if we are to create a new and

original wealth of opportunities from contrasting cultures, landscapes,

and ideologies.

Clive Goodrich, who began his quest for understanding and a sense

of community in Black Marsden, continues his search in Companions of the

Day and Night (1975), the first of Harris's four most recent novels

which I shall consider in detail in Part Two. Here he serves as a

framing device, an editor for the collection of paintings, sculptures,


and writing of the now dead Idiot Nameless/Fool, and filters through his

own revised and better integrated psyche the images and events of

Nameless's diary. As he studies the collection and seeks to put it in

order, Goodrich is both a created and a creating force. He is an

editor, so involved in what he had originally regarded as trash, that as

he begins to comprehend the importance of the works, he comes to view

the collection as "magical contact with the gods" (p. 15). Just as the

initially diverse characters of Black larsden become elements of a

multi-faceted narrator, so too do the various characters in Companions

become facets of Idiot Nameless's personality, which in turn is a part

of Goodrich's increasingly complex psyche. By putting the collection in

order Goodrich simultaneously orders his own psyche, lives through the

journey of Idiot Nameless, journeys into himself, and comes to greater


Da Silva is, at first glance, a less obvious repetition of

character than is Clive Goodrich. Originally seen in Palace, Da Silva

dies but reappears in Heartland only to die again. By the time he

reappears in Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness (1977) he has

progressed from being the unsophisticated porkknocker in the jungles of

Guyana to being an urbane artist in London who traces his roots to South

America. Though he is more realistically portrayed than most of

Harris's protagonists, Da Silva is closely related to them. He is a

composite character: artist and writer; new and old world man; creator

and created force, aware of the shadows which haunt his psyche and

seeking to integrate them into a complete and unified man. Of all

Harris's characters Da Silva is the cost optimistically conceived.


Harris's characters may exhibit a growing sense of awareness of

their relationship to others both past and present, and Da Silva may

offer the greatest hope for an integrated man who can literally and

metaphorically become the father of future generations as he does at the

end of Da Silva; but there is no false suggestion that man is about to

attain perfection.

Genesis of the Clowns (1977) repeats the theme of a physical and

mental journey into the interior of Guyana and into the mind in order to

reconcile the parts of a divided self. Frank Wellington, a government

surveyor, and his work gang explore and record the course and currents

of a remote river. Unexpected events and tensions make Wellington

increasingly aware of his relationship to the men and the land. Like

the mixed crew of Palace, Wellington's crew are related both by emotions

and blood and struggle for an improved world--one which is not yet truly


Though the character Da Silva appears in several of Harris's novels

as a unifying device, The Tree of the Sun (1978) is the only novel which

is truly a sequel. It begins at the point Da Silva da Silva's

Cultivated Wilderness (1977) ended. After eight years of marriage Jen,

Da Silva's wife, conceives and as Da Siiva ponders the growing child he

remembers a painting he began on the morning of conception which

contained a growing image. This "foetus" is both the real child and the

child of his imagination through whom Da Silva is able to relate himself

and his wife to their own antecedents, to the former childless tenants

of their house, and to the whole community of man. Da Silva and Jen

offer a type of resurrection for Julia and Francis Cortez by having the

child the Cortezes could only dream about. The couples are further


united when Da Silva edits the journal Julia kept and the letters

Francis wrote, in which they tell of their great love for each other and

the pain they feel because they are unable to have a child. Harris

suggests that the da Silvas's child belongs to all of them and is a

symbol of the unity of old and new world, living and dead, dreamers and


These last four novels--Companions of the Day and Night, Da Silva

da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness, Genesis of the Clowns, and The Tree of

the Sun--are mature indications of Harris's growing abilities to create

new and interesting forms in the language of the novel while at the same

time deploying those forms so as to advocate a unity among men. So

important are these novels to an understanding of Harris's style,

themes, and vision that they will become the focus in the second part of

this study. At the moment, however, it is time to turn from an overview

of Harris's fiction to a consideration of his peculiar place in West

Indian literature. Harris's place in West Indian literature has been

amply discussed and documented by others. Gilkes's fine study, Wilson

Harris and the Caribbean Novel, proved particularly useful in the

composition of the discussion that follows. Chapter 2 will examine

Harris's relation to three key Caribbean writers: V.S. Naipaul, George

Lamming, and Edgar Hittelholzer, who share Harris's concern for the

problems of a divided West Indian psyche but deal with the problem in

more conventional ways. Though different from each other in important

respects, they are more like each other than Harris is to any of them.


T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding" in T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems
1909-1962. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), p. 208.


Wilson Harris, "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands,"
in Explorations, ed. Hena Maes-Jelinek (Aarhus, Denmark: Dangaroo Press,
1981), pp. 137-138.

Wilson Harris, "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands,"
p. 134.

Wilson Harris, "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands,"
p. 136.

5Wilson Harris, "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands,"
p. 139.

Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel, p. 68.

Wilson Harris, "Synchronicity," an interview with Marion
Gilliland and Ivan Van Sertima, London: 21 July 1980.
Syzygy is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "the
conjunction of two organisms without loss of identity; a pair of
connected or correlative things; and, in Gnostic theology, a couple or
pair of opposites."

Wilson Harris, Black Marsden (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), p.



Harris's emigration to London was typical of many of the West

Indian writers of his generation. In the early decades of the twentieth

century when West Indian fiction began to appear, the masses to whom it

night speak and of whom it was written hardly constituted a reading

public. At other levels of the society a combination of two main

elements discouraged writers: the long history of indifference to the

arts and sciences, and the resistance of the colonized middle class to a

native literature that was not in the English tradition they had been

educated to consider the only literature possible. By the early 1950's

those who wished to make their livings by writing followed a pattern of

emigration, usually to England but sometimes to America. Nearly every

West Indian novel since then has first been published by London firms

for sale to members of the British public.

Not only was there a British reading public for those who chose to

emigrate to London, there was also the increasing possibility for

international recognition as well, something undreamed of in the West

Indies. Besides the discouragement of a non-reading local public and

poor printing methods which resulted in low quality production of a

writer's work, there was the increasing temptation to go to London where

writers like Edgar Mittelholzer and George Lamming had had novels


published within three years. Few writers returned to their homelands

for more than brief visits since they could not hope to survive in

societies where chronic unemployment for one quarter of the population

existed and writers were seen as either crazy or affected. When asked

about the problem of limited audience in the West Indies George Lamming


It causes a problem, because the common people are often too busy
looking for bread. You know, when a man is really rummaging for
bread, you can't be too hard on him when he says, 'I have not the
time for books.' The people whose lives are the substance of the
books do not have an opportunity to see that life returned to them
in literary form. 1

The self-imposed exile of most West Indian writers resulted in

widespread alienation, the price paid for achieving their ambitions. It

is this alienation and the resulting psychic split which serve as main

themes for most Caribbean writers. While the movement out of the small

and somewhat narrow West Indian societies allowed the writers to gain a

perspective on their heritages, it also resulted for most in rootless-

ness. V.S. Naipaul refers to this "regional barrier" in 1958:

I am never disturbed by national or international issues. I do not
sign petitions, I do not march. And I never cease to feel this
lack of involvement is all wrong. I want to be involved, to be
touched even by some of the prevailing anger. 2

Although such a division of consciousness and the resulting search

for identity are not themes peculiar to the Caribbean, they carry a

particular force in this area. West Indian writers suffer not only a

psychic split but a racial and cultural division which is often

emphasized in their daily existence and recorded in the literature where

natural extremes of weather and landscape take on exemplary or symbolic

meaning. These divisions and resulting conflicts cause many writers to


feel a great need to preserve and protect themselves from traumatic

forces whether natural, historical, or social.

The theme of resistance to psychic disintegration is of course a

common one; it is found, for example, in The Heart of Darkness in the

conflicts of Kurtz and Marlow, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in

the journey along the Mississippi River, and even in Eliot's Four

Quartets. Even so, the story of a hero who suffers psychic disintegra-

tion or disorientation has a unique element in West Indian fiction in

that the journeys of self-discovery and reintegration of psychic forces

are usually made by heroes who, like their authors, are racially and

culturally mixed.3 The Guyanese author and critic Michael Gilkes has

observed that West Indian cultural mixing was bound to influence writers

who contained in themselves the blood of many races even as he represents

five of the six races found in Guyana. The search to identify their

cultural or racial background is surely common to all West Indians, but

for those sensitive and probing West Indians who seek to make their

livings by their pens, the issue of identity is naturally more pressing.

Moreover, since the West Indies presents a complex and heterogeneous

society, the success or failure of novelistic protagonists is likely to

describe, not a single man or a particular group, but a more generalized

or composite man. In some works, like those of Wilson Harris, the

protagonist, freed from specific cultural constraints, becomes represen-

tative Man.

While many writers went to England or America to find publishers,

others sought more basic help by trying to return to their "roots" in

Africa or India. Colonialism had dimmed but not extinguished ethnic

memories in the brief history of the area. Not merely a political


definition or an economic arrangement, colonialism became for many the

very base and structure of West Indian cultural awareness. While under

colonial rule, they were cradled by an absent or foreign mother culture

and never had to stand on their own. Moreover, as the populations of

the West Indies are predominantly non-white hostility toward coloreds

did not exist, as it did, for example, in Alabama or Georgia.

This freedom from physical fear has created a state of complacency
in the West Indian awareness. And the higher up he moves in the
social scale, the more crippled his mind and impulses become by the
result of complacency. 5

This complacency may in part be the reason for the general

acceptance by West Indian authors of the prevailing period styles in

metropolitan or international fashion, which provide the models for most

West Indian literature. To be sure, literary production has risen with

growing national movements, and West Indian authors have often addressed

the problems of colonialism and independence. Like other developing

literatures, moreover, West Indian authors have incorporated in their

novels creation myths of the past, local scenery, and local patterns of

speech; they have described peasant life and have emphasized the

existence of an indigenous community, both national and racial. But

whether they have forged a national literature or an autonomous vision

may be doubted.

Perhaps the best known Caribbean writer is V.S. Naipaul.

Originally a Trinidadian, he follows the traditions of nineteenth

century British literature but transfers his stories to the Caribbean.

A third-generation West Indian, he left the islands in 1950. Naipaul is

a "masterly reporter" who brings a novelist's style and phrasing to a

journalist's material. This approach keeps him on the edges of the

events and lives he depicts: he is sceptical of the culture and politics


of his home land, criticising the slogans and false hopes which have

kept West Indians trapped in colonial confines. What others sought to

describe through realism and protest Naipaul describes with humor and

satire, pointing up the problems but offering no hope for change or

method for making a change.

Naipaul explains how he combines British and Trinidadian elements

in his satire:

To us, without a mythology, all literatures were foreign. Trinidad
was small, remote and unimportant, and we knew we could not hope to
read in books of the life we saw about us. Books came from afar;
they could offer only fantasy. . All Dickens' descriptions of
London I rejected; and though I might retain Mr. Micawber and the
others in the clothes the illustrator gave them, I gave them the
faces and voices of people I knew and set them in buildings and
streets I knew [in Trinidad]. Dickens' rain and drizzle I accepted
as conventions of books, anything like an illustration which
embarrassed me by proving how weird my own recreation was, anything
which sought to remove the characters from the make-up world in
which I set them, I rejected.8

The English books which Naipaul read described complex societies

which excluded him and, he felt, made nonsense of his fantasies. He

became increasingly convinced his society was poor and haphazard: he

felt his society was poor because it had no mythology or tradition,

haphazard because it had never been written about. He had no local

literary models; in fact, not even the English language was really his

though it was the language he had grown up using. He knew he wanted to

write but knew only Trinidadian society and it seemed small, remote and

unimportant; it embarrassed him.

Naipaul and other West Indian authors often mimic English or

American models as they feel they have no viable models of their own.

Naipaul's critics agree that he not only imitates but also satirizes

other imitations through swift, comic treatments, usually in the form of

picaresque narrative and comedy of manners. As imitations, Naipaul's


carpenters, writers, and other workers create nothing new; they have no

dignity and no hope, they offer us interesting and entertaining stories

of people and countries, but they disturb us by their lack of resources

and opportunities. The reader concludes that the characters are trapped

in societies which they must leave if they are to find true or lasting


While Naipaul's fiction describes West Indian chaos and creates

local color through extensive detail, it suffers from uneven construction
and depends heavily on conventional devices and repeated phrases. The

author is neither a participant in society nor completely removed from

it; he seems unable to find an objective position that will allow him to

be comfortable with his society and still make constructive criticism of


In such novels as A House for Mr. Biswas (1961) and The Mimic Men

(1967), Naipaul's criticism singles out numerous targets for his highly

subjective satire: politicians, missionaries, tourists, social climbers,

administrators, and even writers. He also satirizes institutions that

he feels contribute to the superficial nature of the society: the

educational system, political systems and parties, anything which is

lacking in principles and contributes to the stifling of authentic

self-fulfillment. He derides the emphasis on material success for its

own sake, materialism which results only in mimicry rather than

authentic emotional or moral involvement.

Naipaul's plots are simple. There is no great complexity or

seriousness of action, the focus is on the characters and telling their

story well. The Mystic Masseur (1957), A House for tir. Biswas, The

Mimic Men and Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion (1963) are told from


the point of view of a participating narrator who frames the story and

seems more of a continuity device than a three-dimensional character.

These shallow characters have no control over their lives and, since we

are told in advance what will happen, we, too, are separated from

involvement in the action and the action is cut off from any connection

with contemporary reality. This technique removes any possibility of

mystery or surprise but allows Naipaul to concentrate on the details of

description and the technicalities of writing.

In Tradition and the West Indian Novel Harris refers to this style

of writing as "comedy of manners" or "novels of persuasion." These

terms suggest for Harris the mainstream literary tradition which:

rests on grounds of apparent common sense: a certain 'selection'
[of details] is made by the writer, the selection of items,
manners, uniform conversation, historical situations, etc., all
lending themselves to build and present an individual span of life
which yields self-conscious and fashionable judgements,
self-conscious and fashionable moralities. The tension which
emerges is a tension of individuals--great or small--on an accffted
plane of society we are persuaded has an inevitable existence.

The very separation which Naipaul creates between his characters and his

readers is the separation which Harris seeks to eliminate. Harris's

readers are forced to participate through "broken" language in the

disintegration of psyche suffered by his characters. This experiential

disintegration brings reader and character closer together, as I shall

try to show in Part Two of this study in the explications of four of his

novels. In these novels the chaos we see and experience is not merely

the difficulty caused by conflicting social elements and the lack of

interpersonal communication, as is the case with Naipaul's characters;

rather the chaos in which we participate results from deep personal

traumas and eventuates, or promises to eventuate, in a reintegrated

psyche and community.


Naipaul, on the other hand, claims to be seeking only a true

communication with society, but he shows through his characters that
such communication is not clly non-existent but impossible.2 Gilkes

notes that because Naipaul considers communication so difficult he also

sees true freedom as a mirage and psychic wholeness as a constantly

receding vision. Merely preserving and protecting oneself from disorgan-

ized and disintegrating elements of the world at large becomes, then, a

main goal in Naipaul's novels and an end in itself.

Hoping to find an organized and integrated community in London

Naipaul felt very much an outsider, and sought to discover more of

himself by returning to India, the land of his ancestors. India was to

provide dignity, purpose and order, but Naipaul found it was the

opposite of what he had expected, as he shows in An Area of Darkness

(1964). His later fiction depicts his sense of exile and displacement

as well as what he considers the effects of colonialism on the modern


In 1971 Naipaul explained in an interview with Adrian Rowe-Evans

that his style had evolved from the early reactionary style, from

analytical attempts to find a release in humor, through an expanding

writing style, to attempts to reconstruct his disintegrating society. He

sought in his later fiction: "to impose an order on the world, to seek

patterns," without which he said he "would fail to find that degree of

intellectual comfort" necessary to his psychic survival and "would have

gone mad." 13 In the early four or five novels Naipaul sought to

"record" his reactions to his society, to report on it and satirize it

rather than analyze it or understand it. It is this satire which George

Lamming and others found so objectionable:

Mr. V.S. Naipaul argues that. . he could not endure the West
Indian community because it was philistine. Of course, it is a
philistine society; but so, I'm told, are Canada and White South
Africa. Therefore, one can't say philistine and leave it at that.
This would be to describe their present, and in doing so by the
absolute judgement of philistine, condemn them permanently to a
future which you have already chosen. I reject this attitude; and
when it comes from a colonial who is nervous both in and away from
his native country, I interpret it as a simple confession of the
man's inadequacy--inadequacy which must be rationalized since the
man himself has come to accept it.14

Lamming feels that rather than being separated by ethnic

differences, what should hold Indians and Negroes together in Trinidad

is their common background as West Indians, a background whose basic

feature is the peasant sensibility, the very quality which holds Lamming

of African descent and Samuel Selvon of East Indian descent together as

West Indians:

Neither Sam [Selvon] nor I could feel the slightest embarrassment
about this; whereas Naipaul, with the diabolical help of Oxford
University, has done a thorough job of wiping out his guts. . His
books can't move beyond a castrated satire; and although satire may
be a useful element in fiction, no important work, comparable to
Selvon's can rest safely on satire alone. When such a writer is a
colonial, ashamed of his cultural background and striving like mad
to prove himself through promotion to the peaks of a 'superior'
culture, whose values are gravely in doubt, then satire, like the
charge of philistinism, is for me nothing more than a refuge. And
it is too small a refuge for a writer who wishes to be taken
seriously. 15

Lamming and Selvon are not the only ones who have reacted

negatively to Naipaul's satire. In a 1980 review of Naipaul's most

recent works, The Return of Eva Peron and "The Killings in Trinidad,"

Jane Kramer says:

Again, it is the missing idea that haunts Naipaul, the palpable
absence that gives everything he describes a kind of negative
illumination and leaves nothing real except a savage frustration
finding its release in blood and torture and sexual humiliation, in
the castrating fury of the impotent. Argentina's rulers and
vigilantes are like Salim in 'A Bend in the River,' spitting
between the legs of the woman who has shamed him. Their woman is
an idea that eludes them. And rather than look for her, they shame
one another with the brothel-victim charms of an Eva Peron, the


madam turned saint in an incompleted country, taking out her pay in
abjection and sentiment, her bright red lips feeding on their lost
souls. lien without progenitors, without issue.
So we have another book of Naipaul's journalism. written with
obsession and eloquence. A topography of the void.

Naipaul's characters suffer from an inner emptiness; a void exists

where they should have a core of stability, strength and courage.

Feeling trapped in lives and situations over which they have no control,

they seek escape only to learn that they take their misery with them,

exchanging only the place not the nature of their suffering. Such

characters as Biswas of A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), Ganesh of The

Mystic Masseur (1957), or Ralph Singh of The Mimic Men (1967) cannot

understand why they live in apparently hostile environments and, lacking

understanding or even the motivation to search for it, they are unable

to correct the difficulties. Constantly in conflict with their environ-

ments, whether natural or social, they live in decaying buildings

(Biswas), or once beautiful homes which are deliberately destroyed

(Ralph Singh), or worse yet, feel threatened and intimidated by something

so commonplace as a thunderstorm (Mr. Stone in Mr. Stone and the Knights

Companion, 1963). Overcome by loneliness and helplessness they futilely

seek escape in fantasy (Miguel Street, 1959), accumulation of material

possessions (Biswas and Ralph), or even sexual encounters (Ralph Singh).

The characters live in a void, both inner and outer, and are powerless

to change their situations.

Naipaul explains his negative attitudes toward his characters and

their society:

It is not easy to write about the West Indian middle class. The
most exquisite gifts of irony and perhaps malice would be required
to keep the characters from slipping into an unremarkable
mid-Atlantic whiteness. They would have to be treated as real
people with real problems and responsibilities and affections--and
this has been done--but they would also have to be treated as

people whose lives have been corrupted by a fantasy which is their
cross. Whether an honest exploration of this class will ever be
attempted is doubtful. The gifts required, of subtlety and
brutality, can only grow out of a mature literature; and there can
be advance towards this goal only when writers cease to think about
letting down their sides. 7

In strong contrast to Harris who seeks in his fiction an imaginative

means of improving the world and characters who can come to grips with a

divided world, Naipaul's characters are alienated, motivated by negative

forces and lacking in purposeful direction. They want to establish

relationships which are stable and genuine, based on a personal authen-

ticity, an inner core of self-identity. When the characters flee from a

place, seeking release from their loneliness and isolation, they change

the scene of their struggle but not the emptiness within. Ralph Singh

sums up the pattern of Naipaul's characters in The Mimic Men:

Our grievances were our reality, what we knew, what had permitted
us to grow, what had made us. We wondered at the ease of our
success; we wondered why po one had called our bluff. We felt our
success to be fraudulent. 8

Ralph, like most of Naipaul's characters, seeks an external solution to

an inner problem and emptiness and finds that psychic wholeness has

eluded him.

Even in Naipaul's non-fiction and recent works such as The Return

of Eva Peron it is the idea of searching for something missing that

dominates the writing. The combination of negativism, frustration,

humiliation, and even fury leave the reader feeling that Naipaul's

journalism, though eloquently written, is, after all, merely "a

topography of the void."

Naipaul stands in strong contrast to Harris; while one is consis-

tently negative and offers no hope for change, the other is continually

stressing the positive, if confusing, elements of man and his world.


The negative view which characterized Naipaul's early novels can be

traced throughout the body of his work. Characters begin as unaware,

uncomfortable in their surroundings because they are uncomfortable in

themselves, and seek escape from their alienation, loneliness and

isolation. Unfortunately, they seek only external solutions to inner

emptiness. Though Harris's characters are often alienated from their

surroundings and other characters they struggle through their alienation

and psychic disintegration toward greater understanding of themselves

and their world, both physical and social, and by implication move in a

positive direction both for themselves as individuals and for the

community of mankind.

Naipaul is not alone, however, in his negativism and sense of being

isolated from tradition and society. George Lamming, born in Barbados

in 1927 of African ancestry, shares something of his anomie.

In the Castle of My Skin (1953) was the first West Indian novel to

become a classic and is still one of the most often read Caribbean

works. Lamming's six novels chronicle the sweep of West Indian history

of which he was a part as he grew up in Barbados and Trinidad during the

1930's and 1940's as the island colonies struggled for their indepen-

dence. Though he is an outspoken nationalist, he is yet another writer

who had to leave home to find publishers and a reading public.

Lamming uses local Barbadian speech in a poetic style to portray

social problems and changes. Originally a poet, he still heavily

emphasizes the aural and visual, causing some critics to claim that his

prose is not prose but very difficult poetry, more easily comprehended

when read aloud because of the rhythms and dialect elements. Lamming

gives dignity and significance to local material in literature and


comments on the foibles of West Indians without resorting to protest,

exoticism, idealisation, or the biting satire of Naipaul.

While only two of Lamming's six novels deal with Europe, the other

four trace patterns and vocabularly of West Indian history from colonial

times in In the Castle of My Skin (1953), through the gaining of indepen-

dence in Season of Adventure (1960), to post-independence struggles and

riots in Water with Berries (1972), and finally to a summary in his most

recent novel Natives of My Person (1972), which reaches back to the

beginnings of colonialism and, through allegory, suggests the recurring

patterns of the history of the area. Though each of the novels is

complete in itself they are all part of a developing vision of the

pressing problems of decolonialization on the politics and psychology of

the West Indies.9

Lamming seeks to write "good" books which will accurately depict

the people of the West Indies, not merely depict characters who will be

popular for a while. For Lamming this means not only using the

language, people, and surroundings of the Caribbean but using them in

such a way as to show a political commitment and leave a lasting

impression on readers. For him "bad" books appear to be extremely

exciting for a year or two and everybody talks about them, but five or

six years later nobody can remember anything about them. A "good" book

may not even be particularly noticed when it first appears, but it will

become increasingly important because readers will find it addresses

itself to issues which are of long-term concern. Though their methods

of achieving the goal differ, both Lamming and Harris believe writers

should have a beneficial effect on their readers by dealing with issues

of social importance. As Lamming notes:


Although I would make a distinction about 'function,' I do not make
a distinction about responsibilitiess' [for the artist]. I do not
think that the responsibility of the professional politician to his
society is any greater than the responsibility of an artist to his
society. You may have a man who is a good writer. Then I think
that one of the best political contributions that he can make to
the society is to write good books.20

Lamming believes that this relationship of artist to the drama of

politics is one of the basic themes running through everything he

writes. In Kas-Kas he discusses how he believes special difficulties

face the creative imagination writing in and of a society which is

simultaneously in transition and very explosive. Writers of serious

intention must be organically related to the political movements of

their societies. Yet for West Indians this is made very difficult by

their simultaneous need to protect themselves against the demands of

what Lamming calls their "external reality," the pressures of a society

which is not very appreciative of artists and offers them little chance

for successful publication or acceptance.

For Lamming, In the Castle of My Skin is relevant to intelligent

and sensitive readers in any part of the English-speaking world because,

like Harris, he believes the theme of internal and external drama is

universal. His greatest pleasure, he says, would be to know that the

cane-cutters and the laboring class would read and understand this novel

because the book is about them, but he realizes he must depend on

educated classes elsewhere to make up his reading audience, for the very

people of whom he writes have neither the education nor the time to read

his books.2

The difficulties faced by a creative imagination are the topic of

In the Castle of My Skin which centers on "G", a child who is both the

young Lamming and an often romanticized product of a "creative


imagination" in the process of developing amidst the turbulent changes

of his society moving from colonialism to independence. G, like other

colonial intellectuals, becomes uncomfortably aware of the rapid and not

altogether pleasant changes taking place as his country moves from the

traditional social structure into the greater opportunities for social

and personal independence of the twentieth century.

The autobiographical In the Castle of My Skin depicts the dilemma

faced by West Indians who manage to gain an education and move from one

social stratum to another, a move which virtually necessitates a move

from one culture to another, a move often from home to exile. Lamming

described this move in an interview:

Education was the only thing that was going to rescue me from total
disgrace. It's a direct result of the social stratification of the
education itself that after a boy had gone to the high school he
would not have been expected to keep the same company that he kept
before coming. His problem was that he found himself living in two
worlds. . When he was with the boys in the high school, he was
always in a quandary about whether he should speak to the village
boys. . society was built in such a way that when you left one
school and went to another, you left one world and went to another.22

This move away from familiar places and ways of life is the subject

of Lamming's second novel, The Emigrants (1954), which shows how the

isolated self may become cut off from West Indian reality by a cocoon of

racial apathy and colonial self-hatred; the novel also shows, however,

how group consciousness can transcend the isolation of geographic and

ethnic sources, transforming the variety of cultural beginnings into a

unified whole. Lamming vividly describes West Indian identity in the

words of a Jamaican carpenter in The Emigrants:

England, France, Spain, all o' them, them vomit up what them didn't
want, an' the vomit settle there in that Caribbean Sea. It mix up
with the vomit them make Africa vomit, an' the vomit them make
India vomit, an' China an' nearly every race under the sun. . It
begin' gradjally to stir itself, an' you can understand' what


happen if you imagine you vomit take on life an' start to find out
where yuh stomach is. 23

Clearly, Lamming agrees with Harris, in theme if not in method of

presentation, that West Indians must become aware of their dilemma,

reject a destructive separation, and confront their diverse cultural

realities--the "stomach" sources of the "vomit." To that extent may

they realize total selfhood and a true group consciousness.

Though quite different in style, Of Age and Innocence (1958) and

The Pleasures of Exile (1960) deal with facets of the same theme: the

need for West Indians to change their value basis and structure in order

to permit growth of interracial harmony and artistic expression based on

West Indian needs and possibilities rather than on those externally

imposed. Lamming believes that if West Indians could create their own

standards for unity they would not have suffered the difficulties he

describes in Season of Adventure (1960), which analyses the failure of

nationalism of San Cristobal but which could be tied to virtually any

West Indian attempt at independence. All of Lamming's books center on a

protagonist's psychic division and struggle to locate the "something

missing" which will allow West Indians to achieve a wholeness not now


Lamming is in search of a new vision of the human community but

knows that political change in the Caribbean must be accompanied by a

profound change in the attitudes and vision of the people. Natives of

My Person (1972) traces such a search for community as a journey into

the psyche of both colonizer and colonized by a writer who feels himself

a part of both worlds. Lamming, who feels it is the artist's responsi-

bility to write "good" books which will articulate at the deepest levels

of the psyche the drama of redemption, has used his fiction to explore


the self, to present an argument for the necessity of art and the

imagination in shaping a new vision of Caribbean unity and real human

Lamming and Harris share many thematic elements though their styles

are quite different. Both have deep concern for the artist as a respon-

sible member of a community which, though it may have widely divergent

ethnic groups, should seek a unified consciousness. By journeying

realistically into the psyches of educated and creative individuals,

Lamming shows the development of naive youth into responsible adult. By

working through characters of heightened sensitivities he utilizes local

materials (characters, setting, language) to create portrayals of West

Indians as they become aware of the destructive facets of their societies

and the negative influences of separation/segregation. Through the

description of originally alienated artist figures he argues for improved

attitudes and vision. Yet, though these ideas are shared by Lamming and

Harris their individual presentations are quite different. While

Lamming creates primarily realistic portrayals and describes the African

influence on Caribbean life, Harris emphasizes the total community

rather than a faction within it. While Lamming uses some symbolic

elements, Harris's novels are so complexly symbolic as to become almost

symbols in themselves.

Differing from the Trinidadian Naipaul, the Barbadian Lamming, and

the Guyanese Harris is the Guyanese author Edgar Mittelholzer. The last

of the three background authors to be discussed but the earliest to

write, he too was greatly concerned with an exploration and understanding

of self. Born 16 December 1909, in New Amsterdam, Guyana, of French,

German and Negro stock, he was the dark son of European looking parents


and lived the divided consciousness he wrote of so extensively in his
novels. A great disappointment to his father, a confirmed negrophobe

Mittelholzer felt himself wronged by nature and sought to emphasize his

German blood: "Just one drop of that great blood. Just one drop in your

veins, and it makes you different from everyone else. German blood!"

It is this dark heritage, his "mark of Cain," that affected not only

Mittelholzer's personal life but the lives of his fictional characters.2

Understanding Itittelholzer's attempts to achieve psychic wholeness

is a step toward understanding the peculiar split of the Caribbean which

preoccupied Naipaul and Lamming. Gilkes points out in "Racial Identity"

that in all three writers the European presence is ambivalent, something

to identify with but not something accessible to West Indians, for whom

psychic wholeness is a constantly retreating vision always just out of
reach.27 Naipaul, Lamming, and Mittelholzer share the problem of a

crisis of identity, a feeling that something is "missing," something

without which a true communication with society is impossible.28

Mittelholzer, even more than Naipaul and Lamming, seeks to establish an

identity and preserve a psychic balance in a threatening and divisive

world. It is this problem of psychic balance and wholeness that is at

the center of Mittelholzer's fiction and, indeed, of West Indian


In Mittelholzer's writing two ways of life, two opposing attitudes,

are constantly juxtaposed: urban and rural, European and West Indian,

foreign and local, intellectual and physical. This division forms the

pattern for Mittelholzer's life and for the lives of his characters.

Often through sheer power of will, he sought in his own life to

integrate disparate factors. His attempts led to failure, despair, an


obsession with death, and finally to death itself when he died rather

mysteriously in a fire in the middle of a field in England on 6 May


The first of the generation which established West Indian writing

abroad in the 1950's, Mittelholzer dedicated himself to a literary

career. He wanted to become rich and famous by writing novels for the

people of Britain to read and at a deeper level wanted to be recognized

and accepted by his European "parents." W.O. Dow, a close friend of

Mittelholzer's wrote that:

Anonymity was not for him, and his greatest test came when the
publishers agreed to accept Corentyne Thunder, but suggested that,
as Adolph Hitler had made German-sounding names mud in England, he
should write under a nom de plume. The first work that had got so
far--a temptation? No, not for Edgar A. Mittelholzer. Off went a
cable. 'Refuse write under nom de plume.'29

Mittelholzer had decided very early in life to become a writer and

pursued his goal relentlessly. As Donald Herdeck notes in his biograph-

ical sketch of Mittelholzer, in spite of his early experience of

rejection slips when he first went to London, he set himself the task of

writing a certain number of words a day: so many on the subway going to
work, so many during tea break, so many on the way home.30 He stuck to

his schedule and produced an impressive list of twenty-two novels, a

short "fable," a travel book, an autobiography and numerous articles,

short stories, and poems. His compulsion to write, however, resulted in

some themes being overworked, especially that of the sins of the father

being visited on the sons, or even on the daughters. He is also often

preoccupied with sexual relationships, even on one occasion having a

daughter seduced in the same manner that the mother had been. Donald

Herdeck also comments that Mittelholzer's sometimes rather lurid sexual


descriptions may have been one source of his difficulty in acquiring

publishers and provide one more example of his own inner conflict.

The theme of the divided consciousness provides the prevailing

pattern in Mittelholzer's work beginning with Corentyne Thunder (1941).

He was so acutely aware of his own psychic division and his failure to

integrate those parts that his characters suffer the same difficulties

and failures, share his morbid concern with death, and increasingly

indicate his personal involvement in his fiction.

As Gilkes notes, the biggest problem of interpreting a Mittelholzer

novel comes from the attempt to separate the overlapping layers of

meaning and sift the real insights from the self-conscious and trivial

incidents. There is, however, at the base of all the writings a tragic

vision which pushes Mittelholzer's work from the merely narrow and

trivial to the truly tragic.

If there is a tragic element which rescues Mittelholzer's work from
the category of the merely trivial, then it is to be found in the
Faustian theme that underscores so much of his writing: the split
consciousness which, unless repaired through an associative
effort--an "at-onement" of the Spirit and Flesh, Strength and
Weakness, leads to depression and the consequent death-wish.31

Goethe could almost be speaking for Mittelholzer when he has Faust say

to Wagner:

You are aware of only one unrest;
Oh, never learn to know the other!
Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,
And one is striving to forsake its brother.
Unto the world in grossly loving zest,
With clinging tendrils, one adheres;
The other rises forcibly in quest
Of rarefied ancestral spheres.32

Like Mittelholzer, Brian Liddard of A Twinkling in the Twilight

(1959) is a self-divided man who deliberately separates his head and

heart, suffers from a rigid double psyche which leads to romantic

delusions, and finally succumbs to self-hatred and suicide. Brian

Liddard follows the patterns set earlier in Faust, Heart of Darkness,

and Death in Venice where the characters Faust, Kurtz, and Aschenbach

crumble under the onslaughts of instinct and "its demons from
S ,33

One weak characteristic of Mittelholzer's style emerges in A

Morning at the Office (1950), where knowing he is writing primarily for

non-West Indians, the author has a tendency to lecture his readers

regarding basic history and attitudes of the area and barely manages to

refrain from preaching. However, by being very direct in his

descriptions of what West Indians take for granted, Mittelholzer

prepares the groundwork for a reality which could become the basis of a

new and integrated vision of West Indian identity.3

The gifts of meticulous detail of A Morning at the Office also

appears in Mittelholzer's most ambitious work, the Kaywana trilogy:

Children of Kaywana (1952), The Harrowing of Hubertus (1954), and

Kaywana Blood (1958). The details are derived from a great deal of

historical research, presented with impressive control of the complex

relationships of the Groenwegel family in Guyana between 1612 and 1953,

and presented through more than half a million words. The most

important feature of this work is Mittelholzer's creation of an

awareness of national history in the Caribbean where before only a

feeling of deprivation or history of colonial powers had existed.

Because of his own views of "good" versus "bad" blood Mittelholzer

often inadvertently destroys the humanity of his "socially unacceptable"

characters by portraying their sadistic and often intense but cold

sexuality. Gilkes summarizes these inner conflicts which indicate a


need for psychic integration: an inherited strain of "bad" blood leads

to a degeneracy and eventually a death-wish from an inner division

between strong and weak, spiritual and sensual. If this duality can be

recognized and directed toward good, the result is a greater strength

than was earlier possible. Mittelholzer, himself seeking psychic

wholeness, projects his personal history onto the history of Guyana.

Part African slave, part white slave owner, he projects the conflicting

elements of his own psyche on to his characters and at times seems

thereby to weaken the novels. A close reading, however, shows the

author to be aware of this and it in fact gives a central unity to the

trilogy. Gilkes discusses Mittelholzer's duality:

For the conflict ir the trilogy between 'strength' and 'weakness'
is also the conflict between white and black, master and slave--the
basis of that forlorn, sterile round of protest which, in erecting
static biases of color or class, forces the West Indian to confront
the 'white' world in an attempt at self-identification.35

This is in fact the basic conflict found in Caribbean literature.

The theme of psychic division is most obvious in the works of

Hittelholzer and, in fact, provides the dominant theme for his novels.

Through a constant pairing of personalities and their character traits

Mittelholzer examines and depicts his philosophy of genetic taint and

the resulting social difficulties. Of all West Indian authors he is the

most emphatic in his attempts to "graft himself onto a European

parent-stock" and the most sensational in his presentation of the

attempts. His novels provide detailed analyses of representative

figures of the various social and ethnic layers of society in the West

Indies. His persistence and determination in the face of seemingly

insurmountable odds paved the way for other writers to pursue the

"pleasant career" of writing as West Indians, of West Indians, and,

increasingly, for West Indians.

Naipaul stands in strong contrast to the often overworked or even

lurid style of Mittelholzer in which the author's personality is so

entangled with his impassioned and violent characters that the reader

feels the author must bleed along with them. In Naipaul's novels, a

simple style, journalistic manner and abundance of satiric detail

present West Indian problems from the safety of an uninvolved reader's

own armchair. Naipaul's expertly drawn characters have no solutions and

no hopes but move impressively through fascinating stories toward total

psychic voids. His inner characters seek escape not only from emotional

distress and psychic imbalance but from the very surroundings in which

they exist. Their sterile and hostile worlds make them concerned only

with acquiring possessions, not true understanding. Naipaul creates

realistic figures who should have the inner resources to come together

with other West Indians and fashion a better world, but they are unable

to see beyond their own narrow psychic confines to do so.

Lamming, on the other hand, combines local speech patterns into

poetic prose to trace regional history. He believes, and shows through

his characters, that a personal involvement with political events is

necessary to survival. For this reason he writes "good" books which

detail the external/internal struggles of West Indians as characterized

by "G" of In the Castle of My Skin, who shows the difficulties faced by

the creative imagination both in the West Indies and in exile. More

positive than Naipaul, Lamming seeks a recognition and integration of

the various cultural and ethnic elements that make up the West Indian

heritage. Far from being an idealist, he depicts national and political


failures, but believes that through an open-minded approach to history

men not only will be able to come to grips with their own psychic

divisions but will be able to heal social divisions as well.

Wilson Harris shares the concern of Naipaul, Lamming, and

Mittelholzer for an integrated and balanced West Indian psyche, and he

is equally aware of the terrific costs resulting from a split conscious-

ness. He goes further than these authors, however, in expressing

stylistically the effects of that psychic division, in exploring its

nature, and in proposing means for its integration. His novels seek to

balance the parts of the psyche, and even to move beyond the West Indies

to a hope for Universal Man.

Critics agree that man's psychic division is the major theme of

Caribbean literature. While other authors describe the anguish suffered

by West Indians caught in apparently static social structures, Harris

writes of the pain but offers man hope instead of despair. Naipaul,

Lamming, and Mittelholzer used traditional English models for their

works. Unable to break from traditional, rigid forms, they continue the

pattern established by colonizers and primarily maintain the frame of

mind of one colonized. Harris, however, has sought throughout his

fiction to break those static molds, to free his fiction and himself

from the entrapping forms imposed by outsiders. It is now time to

examine Harris's techniques of stylistic liberation.


Ian Munro and Reinhard Sander, "George Lamming," in Kas-Kas:
Interviews with Three Caribbean Writers in Texas (Austin, Texas: African
and Afro-American Research Institute, 1972), p. 11.
V.S. Naipaul, "The Regional Barrier," Times Literary Supplement
(15 August 1958), p. 38.


Michael Gilkes, The West Indian Novel (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981),
p. 141.

Michael Gilkes, "The Art of Derek Walcott," Public Lecture at the
Latin American Center, University of Florida: Gainesville, Florida, 8
July 1982.

George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile (London: Michael Joseph,
1960), pp. 35-36.

Bruce King, ed., West Indian Literature (London: MacMillan Press,
Ltd., 1960), pp. 6-7.

Jane Kramer, "From the Third World: The Return of Eva Peron with
'The Killings in Trinidad'," (New York Book Review, 13 April 1980), p.
V.S. Naipaul as quoted in Paul Theroux, V.S. Naipaul: An
Introduction to his Work (New York: Africana Publishing Corp., 1972),
pp. 127-128.
Karl Miller, "V.S. Naipaul and the New Order," in Critics on
Caribbean Literature, ed. Edward Baugh (London: George Alien and Unwin,
1978), p. 75.
Robert D. Hamner, V.S. Naipaul (New York: Twyane Publishers,
Inc., 1973), p. 67.
Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society (London: New
Beacon Pubs., 1967), p. 29.
Michael Gilkes, Racial Identity and Individual Consciousness in
the Caribbean Novel, (Georgetown, Guyana: Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial
Lecture Series, 1974), p. 42.
V.S. Naipaul in an interview with Adrian Rowe-Evans, Transition
Ghana 8, No. 40 (Dec. 1971), pp. 50, 57 as quoted in Michael Gilkes, The
West Indian Novel (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981), p. 93.
Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile, p. 30.
Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile, pp. 224-225.
Kramer, "From the Third World," p. 32.

17 Karl Miller, "V.S. Naipaul and the New Order," p. 82.

V.S. Naipaul, The Mimic Men (New York: MacMillan Co., 1967), p.
Ian Munro, "George Lamming," in West Indian Literature, ed. Bruce
King (London: MacMillan Press, Ltd., 1979), p. 126.
lan Munro and Reinhard Sander, "George Lamming," p. 13.

lan Munro and Reinhard Sander, "George Lamming," p. 11.
lan Munro, "The Theme of Exile in George Lamming's In the Castle
of y Skin," World Literature Written in English, 20 (1971), p. 55.
George Lamming, The Emigrants (London: Michael Joseph, 1954), p.
Ian l:unro, "George Lamming," p. 143.
Edgar Mittelholzer, A Swarthy Boy (New York: Putnam, 1963), p. 17
as quoted in Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel
(London: Longmans, 1975), p. xii.
Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel, p. xii.

Michael Gilkes, Racial Identity, p. 10.
Michael Gilkes, Racial Identity, p. 50.

From a letter of tribute by W.O. Dow included in a catalog of
Edgar Mittelholzer's work, prepared by the Georgetown Public Library,
Georgetown, Guyana, 1968, as quoted in Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and
the Caribbean Novel, p. xiii.
Donald E. Herdeck, Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical-
Critical Encyclopedia (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1979),
p. 147.
Iiichael Gilkes, The West Indian Novel, p. 85.

Goethe, Faust trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Anchor Books,
1963), p. 145.
Michael Gilkes, Racial Identity, p. 34.
Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel, p. xv.
35s, The West n n novel p. 84.
Michael Gilkes, The West Indian Novel, p. 84.



Though Harris incorporates in his novels many of the themes,

character types, and landscapes used by other Caribbean authors, his

vision, and the techniques he employs to achieve that vision, are

unique. Committed to the view of the creative imagination as a liber-

ating force, Harris joins such other visionary artists as Blake and

Yeats in the quest for an imaginative transformation of a world

dangerously caught in rigid and inauthentic patterns of thought and


Even in his earliest work Harris was aware of the methods and

attitudes shaping the fiction of other West Indian authors who based

their novels on realistic details accumulated to form a picture of

manners, conversations, situations, and settings which are, if unfamiliar

to sophisticated readers abroad, very familiar to those who live in the

West Indies. As was shown in Chapter 2, these portraits describe people

through an individual span of life in a particular place and time; they

yield "self-conscious and fashionable judgments, self-conscious and

fashionable moralities." Their end result is to maintain the status

quo. Harris believes that rather than allowing men to free themselves

from the restrictive vision which has been created and maintained by a


series of conquerors and conquered, these "comedies of manners" perpet-

uate the repressive and suppressive way of the world. Any tension which

emerges is a tension of individuals on an accepted plane of existence

which, the reader becomes convinced, is inevitable.

While Naipaul and the others write of the "void" in society, the

historylessness of the West Indies, Harris takes a more positive

approach. He believes that no social order is inevitable or ultimate

and that an individual life, however brief, need not be identified with

the oppressive conditions others describe. Harris believes instead that

through imaginative fiction it is possible to see beyond immediate

conditions, beyond the one-sided view of human life and restricted

vision of human capacities, beyond the worlds created in other authors's

novels. As Ivan Van Sertima explains, Harris's use of the term

"conscription of light" suggests a one-sided view of life,

a freeze of vision. It is the conscription of whatever passes for
truth at a given time or in a given situation to serve as the
ruling light on behalf of a particular cause or race, culture or
order. It is the tendency to put things into fixed and immutable
categories under the illusion that by so doing one can master and
govern reality. It leads ultimately to a stasis of values for it
fixes upon and idealizes, sometimes to the point of idolatry, some
partial aspect or plane of reality, investing it with a timeless
and absolute order, as though it were the final shape of truth.

In Tradition, the Writer and Society Harris uses the example of

Aztecs who sacrificed hearts torn out of the breasts of living human

beings to show the horrible contradictions which developed between men

who built a world and the world which forced them into helplessness.3

It is this very helplessness which is the main theme of the novels

Naipaul and others write. In the same essay Harris explains how he

believes that when exploited man, whether ancient Aztec, modern

Caribbean, or any other man, "becomes aware of the original rhythms

within the oppression of the world," he can bare the contradictions he

perceives in a manner which may be terrifying but contain the secret for

changing them. He believes that the cleavage that exists between

historical conventions and the arts may be resolved through the arts of

the imagination, a resolution he seeks through explorations of new forms

of the novel, his unusual use of synchronicity, the shaman figure, and

the "eye of the scarecrow."

Harris believes that creativity in art or criticism is never easy,

but in a world of accepted or static values, like that portrayed in the

novels of a Naipaul, or even a Conrad, creativity becomes increasingly

difficult since its very nature is a disruption of already existing

subjective platforms. For this reason, creating a new world structure

in fiction or the physical world calls for a profound effort on the

artist's part to change man's vision by revealing those factors which,

when placed in proper combination, produce a new, unified, and more

positive "architecture" of existence. Through a combination of hidden

and obvious, material and immaterial elements, and through the use of a

truly creative imagination, Harris believes man can change his tradi-

tional, static, and frequently oppressive world to create in its stead a

purposive, vital, universal and manifestly human community. He is not

advocating the overthrow of any form of government, per se, for that

would merely imply replacing one form of tyranny with another. In

Harris's terms this would be a change of polarizations but not an

improvement. What Harris is advocating is a universal realization that

we are in fact succumbing to artificial poles, allowing ourselves to be

ruled by a "static gestalt" rather than partaking in an open dialogue

with possibilities. I shall return to this issue in the next chapter


and discuss it in the context of Harris's remarks in the appendix


The focus of Harris's novels, then, is on this opening of

consciousness and the forging of a new human identity. Man, Harris

believes, has an "architecture of consciousness" and inhabits "shapes of

time." In his essay "History, Fable, and Myth in the Caribbean and the

Guianas'5 Harris discusses how man's architecture of consciousness

yields the shapes of an age. He believes that by applying great concen-

tration to the structure of an age, man may be able to discover "corner-

stones" which will allow him to create a new and liberating architecture.

The new architecture should contain "doors" through which man can pass

rather than serve as oppressive and static "frames" which trap him and

"eclipse" his potential. Only by means of an open dialogue with appear-

ances and his values will man be able to move beyond the previously

accepted limitations of society. This open dialogue is enhanced by

increased use of man's subjective imagination; an imagination which is

able to create and express not only new forms of consciousness, a new

architecture of consciousness, but a new form of fiction to describe it.

There is something akin to Blake's distinction between the corporeal and

the visionary eye in Harris, as well as a search like Blake's search for

an imaginative escape from inauthentic "self-hood" into authentic

"identity." For, close as Harris's "static gestalt" sometimes seems to

be to Marxian notions of reificationn," it is far closer to Blake's view

of a fallen existence that requires an "apocalyptic" rather than a

"political" redemption.

Harris argues that, rather than being a void without history, the

West Indies has an overburden of sheer raw material of life.7 Waves of


historical movements from various continents came so rapidly that West

Indians were unable to digest the shocks. By reaching back through

these crises of history to find latent, unrealized human capacities

within the clash of cultures and movements of people into South America

and the West Indies, Harris hopes to create an art based on "subsistence

of memory,8 an art which will allow men to increase their imagination's

perspectives of resources.

In Harris's fiction, then, the state of mind or imagination of his

characters corresponds to the concept of "place" : the monumental

architecture of old world city-scapes equates with rigid, ingrained

habits of thought and acts as an impediment to open, authentic conscious-

ness. However, jungles and savannahs, underdeveloped spaces devoid of

architectural monuments, are positive symbols representing an opportune

deprivation or dispossession from which comes the possibility for

fulfilling man's previously eclipsed potentials. In the tension between

material and spiritual worlds, between urban and natural spaces, lies

the significance of the landscape for Harris. It becomes simultaneously

a "dream" and an "actual stage" and serves as a prime mover to conscious-

ness because in it man discovers a reflection of his own unconscious

state with which he must eventually come to terms.

The map of the savannahs was a dream. The names Brazil and Guiana
were colonial conventions I had known from childhood. I clung to
them now as to a curious necessary stone and footing, even in my
dream, the ground I knew I must not relinquish. They were an
actual stage, a presence, however mythical they seemed to the
universal and the spiritual eye. They were as close to me as my
ribs, the rivers and the flatland, the mountains and heartland I
intimately saw. I could not help cherishing my symbolic map, and
my bodily prejudice like a well-known room and house of
superstition within which I dwelt. I saw this kingdom of man
turned into a colony and battleground of spirit, a priceless
tempting jewel I dreamed I possessed.10

Tt is typical of Harris's style to have overlapping, interconnected, and

simultaneously human as well as landscape elements. Throughout his

novels the forest becomes the "soil of memory,"11 an aboriginal cradle

for mankind and landscape within which man must lose himself to find

himself. As Michael Gilkes has written:

The social and geographical contrast between Guyana's extensive,
densely wooded and mountainous (but virtually unpopulated) interior
and the overcrowded main city on the alluvial coast provides Harris
with a natural metaphor for man's highly developed, but
superficial,12uter existence and his neglected, underdeveloped
inner being.

Harris believes that we need to "unravel" our garments of history

if we are to be able to detach from our pasts in a meaningful way and

reach down to these neglected inner beings. Harris believes that only

when we achieve freedom from the negative aspects of history, along with

the subjugation of race and culture which they involve, will we be able

to discover a true unity of mankind and be able to express it in our


However, when we widen our view of race and nationalism we must

also broaden our manner of questioning and searching. Harris believes

he does this when he uses what appear initially to be extravagant

diction and images in his experiments with the novel, because for him

words must be closely relevant to dialogue, narrative, setting and

action. What appears at first confusing becomes clearer when the reader

realizes that Harris is creating new forms in language and the novel to

meet the challenges of his vision of a broader and more heterogeneous


Harris has not, of course, been the only author to create new forms

in the novel to reflect the changes he saw in his society. His novels

began to appear in the early 1960's, a time crucial for both West Indian

and English fiction, when many writers ceased to believe in literary

traditions which had been handed down to then. Catastrophic events in

history and tremendous scientific advances left many writers, and

especially West Indians, in a psychic void. Authors like John Osborne,

of what has come to be known as the "kitchen sink school," reacted to

the loss of certainty and stability in the world by turning to narrow

and highly specific realism. Beckett and others resorted to experiments

in the absurd. These experiments may be technically brilliant and

innovative but frequently undermine the very purpose of art for Harris:

to widen man's vision and to provide him with the means of freeing

himself from racial and cultural restrictions, to create new and more

meaningful societies which are able to take advantage of all possibili-

ties, even those previously eclipsed. Harris describes this problem in

Tradition, the Writer and Society:

It is here that the blighted puppetry of the novel and the
theatre which invests in the absurdity of sacrifice, becomes-in
spite of itself at times, in spite of the reactionary echoes of the
past--the protest of feeling against that unfeeling acceptance of
destiny which is promulgated in the name of service or tradition.
It is an unconscious protest against tradition, when a tradition
hardens into the very premature convulsion all tradition should
instinctively seek to overthrow in the name of an act of
fulfillment, however obscure. It is idle to deny the danger of
infection which always approaches the practitioners of the art of1
the absurd, who may themselves merely 'stiffen in a rented house.'

Harris believes that authors like Naipaul only solidify cultural

structures by mirroring the very partial images which trap us. As was

shown in Chapter 2, though many West Indians of Harris's generation see

themselves in radical terms, they consolidate in fictional form and

subject the most conventional and documentary techniques of the novel.

Though they write of political and social changes these authors are

unable to free themselves from local biases and social restraints. In

"A Talk on the Subjective Imagination" Harris explains that man cannot

live in a world that is wholly given, wholly objective, deprived of

community, and still relate to a heterogeneous scale and truly subjective
imagination.4 Because most West Indian authors are unable to free even

their forms of fiction, they are not able to free their societies or to

move beyond mere criticism to positive and constructive suggestions.

Ironically, Naipaul used a reporter's style but suggested that there

could be an advance toward an honest exploration of West Indian middle

class problems and depiction only when "writers cease to think about

letting down their sides," something he, in fact, has been unable to do.

In Ascent to Omai Harris describes his own goal in the novel:

My intention, in part, is to repudiate the vicarious
novel--vicarious death-mask, sex-mask--where the writer, following
a certain canon of clarity, claims to enter the most obscure and
difficult terrain of experience without incurring a necessary
burden of authenticity, obscurity or difficulty at the same time.
The truth is, I believe, that the novel has been conditioned
for so long by comedy of manners, it overlooks an immense poetry of
original and precarious features which, in fact, we can only begin
to expose again by immersing ourselves in the actual difficulty of
the task; by immersing ourselves in language as omen, as an
equation of experience.15

Harris does not write in the style of the "novel of persuasion" and

believes in a unity of humankind; he, therefore, has no "side to let

down." As he discusses in Tradition, the Writer and Society, he seeks

imaginative growth and enlargement as measured on a "scale" or
"ladder" Such growth is indicated in his fiction by words and images

associated with man's growing awareness, his "drama of living conscious-

ness"; a drama in which he believes all writers must be involved both

passively and creatively. Within his own world, Harris sets out to

create a form of fiction which will express the dynamic nature of

community which he seeks. For him the novel should be an intense


visualization within which he enters overlapping potentials of nature to

break through social polarizations. As he writes in "History, Fable and

Myth in the Caribbean and the Guianas":

The essential objectivity or life of art does not reside in the
given historical prejudices of the artist or poet or novelist or
sculptor but in what is virtually intuitive and subconscious
terrain that may acquire its conscious application later in the
extensive re-appraisal stage by critical intelligence who may be
better placed to appreciate the intuitive breakthrough in a work of
art executed within a certain eye on prisons of history. This view
of art as an extraordinary drama of consciousness whose figurative
meaning lies beyond its de facto historical climate is anathema to
the materialist or conventional realist, though I know that Lukacs,
a Marxist critic, toyed with the idea and that the Irish poet Yeats
attempted to articulate it when he wrote 'Man can embody truth but
he cannot know it.'

In Tradition, the Writer and Society (1967) Harris also examines

the subjective/objective dichotomy in human experience which is central

to creative and critical achievement. He believes that modern man is

foundering between subjective illusion and objective process and that

only through an intuitive fusion and creative force can both subjective
and objective progress be gained.8 This dichotomy is often expressed

in his novels by pairing of words (for example eternity/season,

virgin/whore). Apparently contradictory at first, the word pairs reveal

basic connections essential to positive human growth. Through his

unusual forms of fiction Harris is trying to show us not only an

alternative world, but also the imaginative means by which he believes

we can achieve it.

In "A Talk on the Subjective Imagination" Harris probes the nature

of the relationship between imagination and creativity in literature:

Clearly there is a signal lack of imagination daring to probe the
nature of roots of community beyond fixed or static boundaries.
Also there is a signal lack of imaginative daring to probe the
function of roots as a criterion of creativity and capacity to
digest and liberate contrasting spaces. When I say digest and
liberate, it seems to me that any wholesale digestion and


liberation of contrasting spaces obviously is a monolithic
illusion. Or a monolithic imperative. In the same token,
wholesale liberation could be monolithic utopia. And yet it seems
one thinks all the time in terms like these because, to a major
extent, we are dominated by what I call homogeneous imperative. We
are dominated by that, and therefore fail to see that that
homogeneous imperative very often masks or conceals from us the
heterogeneous roots of a community.19

Harris draws a distinction between artificially drawn qualities of

homogeneity depicted in most novels and the actual homogeneity of

archetypal forms. Jolande Jacobi could easily have been speaking of

Harris in The Psychology of Jung:

He who speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices;
he enthralls and overpowers, while at the same time he lifts the
idea he is trying to express out of the occasional and the
transitory into the realm of the ever-enduring. He transmutes our
personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, thereby evoking in us
all those beneficient forces that have always enabled mankind to
find a refuge from every peril to outlive the longest night. This
is the secret of effective art. 20

According to Harris the effective artist or creative writer both

transcends and undermines generally accepted social values since the

truth which he pursues is not self-evident and is neither purely

circumscribed nor purely produced by economic circumstances. Indeed,

Harris believes that a society's economic homogeneity as described or

advocated by others is an illusion, especially when used as an

artificial method for regulating the social or moral opportunities of

those it claims to help.21

Perhaps because an increase in imaginative arts, especially in the

West Indies, often involved a reaction against the economic structure of

colonial society and occurred in conflict with long-held intellectual

and legal concepts, the poet or artist is sometimes symbolized by Anancy

the Spider, a trickster figure brought from Africa. The truly creative

artist must utilize elements of past times and generations, of victor

and victim, and walk a tightrope toward change by becoming a shaman

figure capable of a new, creative vision. When he stretches his

abilities to the limit the artist becomes, in Harris's vocabulary, the

"eye of the scarecrow", which identifies with submerged authority and

eclipsed possibilities, and which must conceal as well as elaborate arts

of the imagination.22 The use of the "eye of the scarecrow" and role of

the trickster/shaman are important to Harris's concept of a truly

creative artist and are discussed at length in the appendices. For

Harris, the artist stands at the "heart of the lie of community and the

truth of community," and must bear the possibility that society may try

to crush him; but through the trickster figure, the trickster gateway,

however, can emerge the "hope for a profoundly compassionate society

committed to freedom within a creative scale."23 In his essay "The

Interior of the Novel" he describes the artist's role:

Within the new art of fiction we are attempting to explore a
vacancy in nature within which agents appear who are translated one
by the other and who (in a kind of serial illumination) reappear
through each other, inhabit each other, reflect the burden of
necessity, push each other to plunge into the unknown, into the
translatable, transmutable legacies of history. Their uniqueness
lies in this curious openness to originality as well as change: a
constitution of humility in which the author himself is an agent in
a metaphysical dimension compounded of losses and gains: and behind
him--as a fantastic, obscure, compelling necessity to express
something to do with 'one' and 'agent.' 24

The author becomes a complex ghost of his own ancestral landscape,

history, or works. His poem or novel becomes in Harris's terms

"subsistence of memory,"25 and the reality of his existence as "agent"

or "clown" turns upon his faith in the resources and powers of the

artist and eventually of man generally to invoke a "presence" within an

"absence." Herman Melville was able to function as such an agent to

create Benito Cereno which, in Harris's view, is both the product of

subjective imagination and a prophetic work. Harris sees the novel as

an index of the community which contained a coming terror, caught the

tide of that community and swept forward into another century. "Benito

Cereno secreted a pressure for a revised 'canvas of existence' before

the pressure of fate, pressure of value turned into bias, became a

catastrophe."26 Harris argues that:

It was with works of disturbing imagination such as Poe's Arthur
Gordon Pym and James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner, both
published in the 1830's, Melville's Benito Cereno, in the middle of
the 19th century, and Conrad's Heart of Darkness at the beginning
of the 20th century, that the logic of man-made symmetry or
absolute control over diversity, the logic of benign or liberal
order, disclosed hideous biases within a context of heterogeneous
bodies and pigmentations. For the truth was that the liberal
homogeneity of a culture becomes a ready-made cornerstone upon
which to construct an order of conquest and by degrees 'the horror,
the horror' was intuitively manifest. Conquest is the greatest
evil of soul mankind or womankind inflicts on itself and on
nature. 27

It is this false concept of social homogeneity or unrealized bias

that Harris seeks not only to avoid in his own fiction but bring to the

attention of others. Instead of rejecting society or being overwhelmed

by its conflicts as are some other authors, Harris seeks to look through

society to see not only its horrors but its possibilities for change, to

turn contradictions and conflicts into fertile ground for progress, and

transform a prison into a "womb of creative change." Because the writer

is the means by which a society can progress from bias and stasis to

change he must "digest contrasting spaces" of his society. His writing

is no longer a pane of glass through which society looks at others or a

mirror to reflect its own status quo; instead it calls attention to

itself and its creator. In Harris's later novels the protagonist is an

artist like Da Silva (in Da Silva Da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness and

Tree of the Sun), or a writer like Clive Goodrich (in Black Marsden), or


a combination of both as is Frank Wellington (in Genesis of the Clowns).

The protagonist is forced to recognize his own hidden being or the

duality of another, which then allows him to perceive and face his own

duality. Once this duality is recognized the protagonist is able to

move toward his own fulfillment and point the way toward greater

fulfillment for the entire community. The character is often unaware of

the magnitude of his own creativity and potential, but the reader sees

beyond that limited vision to a greater hope and creativity.

A subjective imagination then becomes simultaneously the cause and

the subject of Harris's art, the created and creating function capable

of transforming man's world and his responses to it. Harris explores

the creative power of the imagination, its innumerable possibilities of

development and self-renewal, and its ability to change relationships of

opposition into relationships of reciprocity. Like Victor, who suffers

nearly total character disintegration in Ascent to Omai, or Da Silva in

Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness, who must come to grips with

his relationship to the women in his life, characters in Harris's novels

are shocked into recognizing the limitations imposed on their conscious-

ness by the prejudice and bias of their societies. This recognition

frees them from conservative elements and allows them to move forward.

Again, Harris is diametrically opposed to most authors in his view of

the inherent potentials for man within these difficult and divisive


There appears to me to exist today all the proportions as before of
a terrifying cleavage in all the psyche of man standing once again
(as in the Renaissance or the Middle Ages) upon the brink of a
great change or equally great catastrophe. 28

This social cleavage and the drama of consciousness which describes

it are conveyed to Harris's readers through a great feeling of agitation


created by pairing words with their opposites in gnarled and twisted

syntax which startles the mind and shakes conventional expectations.

Images are created through metaphor, simile, and action which detach

themselves from superficial meanings, and which create a depth and range

of reality to be measured on a new and visionary scale. For Harris, the

improper use of language cormunicates "dead" reality via static or

frozen forms, while the proper use of language shatters that dead

reality to present in a Blake/Yeats sense the "inapprehension of

substance," the living reality which underlies or demonstrates the unity

of being.29

Harris began his search for the stylistic means to express his

concept of this unity of being in the 1940's and 1950's in Guyana with a

small group of writers who met regularly at the house where he lived.

They read their current works, responded to each others' attempts and

provided each other with the stimulus to continue writing. A.J. Seymour

described the manner in which Harris probed in and through language and

words to create new forms:

Sometimes during a meeting we would discover that Wilson Harris was
evolving a series of personal meanings on a particular word in the
development of his private vocabulary. There are at least three
that cone to mind as teasing his imagination one time or
another--grotesque, caricature, and scarecrow. In our discussions,
we would hear Wilson begin to use the particular word fairly
regularly, as if he was investing it with a full spectrum of
meaning, and the word was taking on associations for him far beyond
the agreed scope of common peripheral understanding. He was
playing the lover with these words and meanings, and we would be
amused and poke fun at him over his new love-affair. 30

Seymour believes that this internalization of words was associated

with the technique Harris developed of the principle of the imploded

consciousness, the tapping of the pre-consciousness, the freeing of rich

fluid images, memories and feelings to be translated into metaphor and

word.31 Harris did what he expects his characters to do: he went deep

into himself in an agonizing memory review to come to an appreciation

and reconciliation of the parts of man's psyche. He sought an inward

dialogue and the language to express it so that conventional modes of

thought and expression could be exploded, like his language, and allow

inner and outer world to be integrated rather than at odds as they are

in the world today. Harris defined this concept of implosion:

Implosion becomes a scale of reciprocities and alteration of vision
from within rather than imposed by geography or history from

Harris believes that only when man comes to terms with himself and

his environment will he be able to use rather than be destroyed by the

powers they both contain. This theme of destruction, of man's fall, is

not new in literature but in Harris's fiction it is no simple intellec-

tual fantasy which it seems the reader passively observes from the safe

ground of an armchair as one does when reading Naipaul's fiction.

Characters in a Harris novel fall and spin, experience breakdown of self

and world, while the reader participates through the breaking and broken

ground of the language itself, through startling images, relationships,

and juxtapositions which upset customary associations and reflexes.

Changes in a character's perception are amplified in what are often

disturbing ways through an explosive flux of images that constantly

annihilate and disassemble the given and free the imagination from its

static modes of thought, from rigid values and tyrannical faiths of any

one time, reality, or identity.

Three recurrent devices, or image structures, or concepts (each of

these descriptions is, at separate moments and in separate contexts,

appropriate) are of particular help to Harris in his quest for the


achievement of psychic wholeness. These are: synchronicity, shamanism,

and the eye of the scarecrow. Though the concept of synchronicity was

not invented by Harris or even by Jung -'ho gave it that name, it is

important to understanding their theories, and especially important to a

full comprehension of Harris's novels. Synchronicity has been traced

back in time and use to primitive cultures, but, as Harris and Jung

argue, it has important applications for modern technological man.

Synchronicity haunts Harris's novels rather than appearing in specific

and identifiable contexts, as do shamanism and the eye of the scarecrow.

Though shamanism is not unique to Harris's novels, his use of the

concept is. In contrast, however, the term "the eye of the scarecrow"

is unique to Harris's work and appears frequently both directly and

conceptually. Understanding these three key terms will facilitate an

understanding of Harris's philosophy as it appears through his fiction,

essays, and interviews, and the next chapter, therefore, seeks to

interpret some of the meanings and implications of these terms,

particularly in relation to such novels as Black Marsden, Companions of

the Day and Night, Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated wilderness, Genesis of

the Clowns, and The Tree of the Sun.


Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society, p. 29.

2 Ivan Van Sertima, "Into the Black Hole, A Study of the Novel
Companions of the Day and Night," unpublished manuscript nomination to
the Nobel Prize Committee, January 1976, p. 17.

3 Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society, p. 19.

4 Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society, p. 15.

5 Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and
the Cuianas," Caribbean quarterly 16, No. 2 (June 1970), p. 32.


Michael Gilkes's Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel is
important here. In addition to discussing Harris in relation to
alchemy, he has connected Harris to a visionary tradition that includes
Blake, Swedenborg, Yeats, Jung and Eliade.

7Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 21.

Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 21.

Nathaniel Mackey, "Limbo, Dislocation, Phantom Limb: Wilson
Harris and the Caribbean Occasion," Criticism 22, No. 1 (Winter 1980),
p. 60.
Wilson Harris, Palace of the Peacock (London: Faber and Faber,
1960), p. 20.

SWilson Harris, "The Native Phenomenon," Conference on
Commonwealth Literature, ed Margaret Rutherford (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus
University, 1971), p. 144.

12 Michael Gilkes, Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel, p. 4.

1Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society, p. 26.

14 Wilson Harris, "A Talk on the Subjective Imagination," New
Letters 40, No. 1 (Oct. 1973), p. 42.

15 Wilson Harris, Ascent to Omai (London: Faber and Faber, 1970), p.

16 Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society, p. 34, p. 36.

17 Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 26.

1Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society, p. 7.

19 Wilson Harris, "A Talk on the Subjective Imagination," p. 37-38.

2Jolande Jacobi, The Psychology of Jung (London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1964), p. 24.

21 Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society, p. 60.

22 Harris's use of the "eye of the scarecrow" will be discussed at
greater length in Chapter 4; for a complete transcript of the previously
unpublished interview see the appendix.

23 Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth," p. 16.

24 Wilson Harris, "The Interior of the Novel: Amerindian/European/-
African Relations," National Identity, ed. K.L. Goodwin (London:
Heinemann, 1968), p. 146.

25 Wilson Harris, "The Interior of the Novel," p. 147.


26 Wilson Harris, Kas-Kas: Interviews with Three Caribbean Writers
in Texas, eds. Ian Munro and Reinhard Sander (Austin, Texas: African and
Afro-American Research Institute, University of Texas, 1972), p. 54.
27 Wilson Harris, "The Frontier on which Heart of Darkness Stands,"
in Explorations, ed. Hena Maes-Jelinek (Aarhus, Denmark: Dangaroo Press,
1981), p. 136.

28 Wilson Harris, Tradition, the Writer and Society, p. 57.

29 W.J. Howard, "Wilson Harris's Guiana Quartet: From Personal Myth
to National Identity," Ariel 1, No. 1 (Jan. 1970), p. 50.

30 A.J. Seymour, "Wilson Harris and the Novel 1966-1976,"
Independence 10: Guyanese Writing 1966-1976, (Georgetown, Guyana: n.p.,
1976), p. 11.
3Wilson Harris, Kas-Kas, p. 51.

32 Wilson Harris, as- p. 51.
Wilson Harris, Kas-Kas, p. 51.



Syncronicity, the shaman, and the eye of the scarecrow are three

key devices Harris uses in his fiction as a way of bringing to our

attention patterns of psychic disintegration taking place in the minds

of his characters and, by implication, in the minds of all men who

suffer from a divided consciousness. The careful reader, alerted by the

author's use of these devices or concepts to trace the disintegration

and later reintegration of the psyche, may become aware of the possible

relevance of such ideas to his own life. For if Harris's characters

learn to recognize patterns of synchronicity, and to see beyond the

immediate patterns to greater patterns, if they learn to accept and make

use of shaman figures which can lead man to an improved condition

previously not possible, and if they begin to see with the eye of the

scarecrow through the limitations previously imposed on them to more

fulfilling possibilities beyond, then perhaps the reader can also learn,

and more easily than the characters, to move out of the restrictive,

static social forms toward an improved world community.

Though Harris's characters become increasingly aware of their

divided consciousness as they endure traumas and seek renewal, they are

often less aware of patterns of existence and influences on their lives

and psyches than is the perceptive reader. Synchronicity appears in


Black lMarsden, for example, but Tenby is only vaguely aware of it; the

eye of the scarecrow appears to Prudence Solman in Tumatumari and helps

her move toward greater understanding yet she is not fully aware of it

either; certainly most of the characters in Harris's novels are unaware

of the shamanistic role played by Idiot Nameless, Black Marsden and

others as they grope toward psychic integration. Understanding these

terms helps the reader move toward greater comprehension of the novels

and appreciation of the originality of Harris's style.1

Synchronicity, the first of three structuring ideas to be discussed

in this chapter, was not a word coined by Harris but was used earlier by

C.G. Jung and Anton Ehrenzweig and can be traced in concept back to the

Lacondon Indians of Central America.2

To explain his use of the term, Harris cites the example Jung gives

of the synchronicity that occurred when one of his patients told him of

a dream of a beetle not found in that part of the world. While the

patient was telling Jung her dream there was a tapping on the window.

When Jung opened it he found the beetle though no one knew how it came

to arrive at that moment. Harris sees the synchronistic elements here

as 1) the woman telling Jung of her logically structured dream; and 2)

the beetle suddenly appearing at that moment from another area.

An important distinction must be made here between synchronicity

and synchronism. Synchronism is merely the coincidence in time of two

events. As first used by Jung in 1930, synchronicity, however, refers

to coinciding events which exist in an acausal relationship that can

only be verified at a later time3 and which have the same or similar

meaning. This coincidence of events may take the form of inner

perceptions of dreams, visions, hunches, or forebodings with other


events occurring in the past, present, or future. According to Jung the

explanation for the synchronistic phenomenon is an a priori and causally

inexplicable knowledge based on an order of the world which is indepen-

dent of man's will and in which archetypes play the role of ordering

factors. Though people mocked Jung at first for using the synchronicity

idea, he did not create it and was not the only theorist to deal with

it. Anton Enrenzweig discusses synchronicity in The Hidden Order of Art

(1953), and anthropologists currently study its uses for dream interpre-

tation among the Lacondon Indians of Central America who interpret their

dreams in terms of correspondences rather than cause and effect relation-


Jung believed that the meaningful coincidence of inner image and

outer event revealed the spiritual and corporeal aspects of the

archetype. As he explains in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche:

Synchronistic events rest on the simultaneous occurrence of two
different psychic states. One of them is the normal, probable
state (i.e., the one that is causally explicable), and the other,
the critical experience, is the one that cannot be derived causally
from the first. . In all these cases and others like them there
seems to be an a priori causally inexplicable knowledge of a
situation which at the time is unknowable. Synchronicity therefore
consists of two factors: a) an unconscious dream/image comes into
consciousness either directly (i.e. literally) or indirectly
(symbolized or suggested) in the form of a dream, idea, or
premonition; b) an objective situation coincides with this content.
The one is as puzzling as the other. How does the unconscious
image arise, and how the coincidence? 5

Jung believed that to the triad of classical physics--space, time,

and causality--should be added the synchronicity factor which possesses

properties that "may help to clear up the body-soul problem."6 Most

important to him was the concept of the causeless, meaningful orderedness

that could throw light on the psychophysical parallelism. As Jolande

Jocobi explains in his study of Jung:


For physis and psyche may be regarded as two aspects of the same
thing, ordered according to a meaningful parallelism; they are, as
it were, 'superimposed' one on the other; they are synchronous and,
in their cooperation, not understandable on the basis of causality
alone. But this 'acausal-orderedness,' as Jung calls the
unconscious factors, is nothing other than the archetype, when it
becomes perceptible to the conscious mind. [It] is the
introspectively recognizable form of the a priori psychic
orderedness. 7

Central to the works of Wilson Harris is the idea that, coexisting

with and possibly outside of time, there is some consciousness that is

"unruined" and greater than human consciousness. In Tradition, the

Writer and Society Harris explains his theory that occasionally human

consciousness becomes aware of the unruined consciousness through

unexpected, sometimes apparently supernatural intimations, which take

the form of parallels, correspondences, coincidences, continuities,

premonitions, and intuitions. Harris believes that it is possible to

become aware of these tenuous elements of unruined consciousness which

are capable of transmuting man's life and which, in fact, correspond to

the concept of archetype Jung uses: the introspectively recognizable

form of an a prior psychic orderedness. Harris points toward this

concept in Tradition, the Writer and Society when he says that the

"exploitation of natural rhythms" is a means of discovering the secrets

of the universe and that the liberating function of art is to speak in

primordial images.

Now, it is not an easy matter to see the human being today. So
many walls fall between us and our fellows. Money, myth, and
numerous obsessions. Yet when we look at the human we must be
prepared not to overlook these obsessions but to work them into the
structure of art so that all these levels of man are present. It
is the only way we can come close to the real power of man, by
showing the interaction of all the levels of his life, thereby not
only baring his conflict, but the rhythms within the welter of his
existence. These rhythms, being after all the source of man's
generation of energy yesterday and today, are also the source of
man's energy--tomorrow. The real hope for man lies not in promises

of splendour or in virtuosity but in the revelation of original and
authentic rhythms within the gloomy paradox of the world.9

The existence of such original and authentic rhythms has been the

subject of literature and commentary going back to the beginnings of

recorded history, as Harris indicates further along in the same essay.

The distinction, that Ruth Benedict makes, in her analysis of our
social structure as related to primitive civilizations (Patterns of
Culture), between Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies, signifies
only the end to which rhythms were put and the kind of civilization
that developed. That distinction in itself does not attempt to
posit a preconception before rhythm but points to the kind of
insights and illusions, altering into fresh patterns in order to
cope with each accretion in material and insight. However
overwhelming the problem for society, the persistence or discovery
of new or original rhythms justified the hope for a change or a
solution since the creative powers of man still continued intact.10

These rhythms and synchronicity are tied together in Harris's


What [synchronicity] discloses is that there are connections
between apparently intact, water-tight areas of experience. That
images that seem to be total and sovereign are parts of a greater
whole, and that this greater whole will remain a ceaseless,
haunting capacity which we pursue. But, in pursuing that greater
whole, we revise our conceptions of the images that begin to
constitute themselves in the parts of that whole; so you begin to
make connections where you never dreamt connections existed.11

In the same interview Harris gives an example of synchronicity in

Black Marsden in relation to the John Hornby figure. There are actually

two Hornby's; an historical John Hornby who disappeared and is recorded

in anthologies, and the Harris John Hornby. The historical figure has a

sort of legendary position; he is, according to Harris, a kind of

"solitary figure up in the stars." Harris wanted to create an explorer

who would disappear in the Canadian wilderness and, opening an anthology,

cane upon the name of John Hornby. The Hornby Harris created is aware

of the historical Hornby; speculating on his own place in space and

time, in what he calls the "very boot of humanity," the fictional


Hornby realizes that, unlike the historical Hornby whose name he shares,

he's "unsung, unknown, and unheralded." When the fictional Hornby goes

out into the wilderness into the snow, he leaves his cabin behind but

looks back and sees it in the distance. He can't get at the actual

cabin any longer but he has a sense of a cabin descending from the sky.

Black Marsden was published in 1972. In 1977 when the Russian

satellite crashed in Canada, Jim Howard, one of Harris's friends and

critics, wrote to tell him that an expedition in pursuit of the last

journey of John Hornby had stumbled upon some bits of wreckage from the

satellite. The synchronist theme varies slightly here in that, since

years had passed, it's not a simultaneous connection. Nevertheless, as

Harris explains in the interview, there are three parallel lines: the

first is the actual Hornby uho disappeared into the wilderness; the

second is Harris's Hornby; and the third appears when Howard writes to

say that if the novel had appeared a year after the expedition people

could legitimately have said that Harris had been influenced by the

fallen satellite in shaping the novel. The synchronist connection

occurs when the three parallel lines become parts of a greater whole.

what Harris is suggesting is that there is some mysterious connection,

outside of the rules of causality, between the cabin his character sees

descending from the sky (in 1972) and the satellite that actually

crashed (in 1977), and this acausal connection is involved in the nexus

of the two Hornby's.

From this example it is evident that Harris believes that an

imaginative fiction is immersed in a much stranger reality than people

usually believe. A novel may have a strange objectivity that impinges

on the world outside the shape of the book itself. There may be a kind


of futurity in it; it may have something to say through itself and

beyond itself. Harris believes that this happens in imaginative fiction
because a writer's concentration is not only "daylight concentration,"2

but a much deeper kind. As a consequence, the historical side of man,

the ego, is in some degree moved, broken, or altered to allow a far

deeper intuitive self to come up and, in fact, to begin to do things

within the concentration which the writer applies to the book. The

intuitive self comes up, strikes at the historical ego and creates

something which has a future beyond the comprehension of the writer

himself. It has a past also which is much deeper and stranger than the

writer understands. The fiction reflects in some strange active way a

mysterious past as well as future. As a result, the fiction has an

objectivity that is not the objectivity of daylight consciousness; it is

not on the surface of the mind but much deeper. The concept of a deeper

level of consciousness leads Harris to believe that images and structures

around us are not as absolute or "sovereign" as they appear to be.

Harris believes that most cultures practice gestalt psychology,

articulating a solid view of the world based on their own curiously

appealing vestiges. An example of gestalt psychology appears when, in

the synchronicity interview, Harris speaks of the Houses of Parliament

in London being placed next to the Thames simply because a nationally

important palace was once there. The tendency, he believes, is for man

to make a shape and to build it up from an image related to the life of

his culture. When this happens he tends to overlook how partial the

image is and allow it to become a "static gestalt." Harris uses this

term as Anton Ehrenzweig did in The Hidden Order of Art (1953) to

designate a structure that becomes so highly articulated as to become


the embodiment of the world. People associate themselves with it

absolutely, commit themselves to it, build all their loyalties into it,

without realizing it is only a partial picture of reality.

Harris believes it is not only possible but necessary to escape

from this static gestalt. Harris refers to Anton Ehrenzweig who points

out in The Hidden Order of Art that as man descends beneath the surface

mind there are much older, stranger, archaic elements that lie under the

static gestalt. One recalls that in Tumatumari Roi Solman is struck on

the head and has a kind of "metaphysical lesion" which allows him to

relate to the world around him in a strange and peculiar way; clearly he

has to free himself from static gestalt. Harris believes the paradox of

Ehrenzweig's position is that when man descends deeper and deeper,

though these elements appear to be archaic, they also seem to have some

mysterious comprehension of not only the past but the future and there-

fore cannot be truly archaic.

While Ehrenzweig believes there are some "older, stranger, archaic

elements" under the static gestalt, Harris deviates from this position

by saying that in his judgment all structures are biased and partial.

Thus, even when man descends, if he still clings to the notion of "a

structure," he remains involved in biases. It follows that if man has

no release from structure the nature of the cosmos must be one of

"incorrigible" bias. If, on the other hand, there is no basic

structure, but a kind of mediating and unstructured force that goes

between structures, man can begin to resolve his dilemma, escape from

bias, and move toward true freedom.

harris tries to indicate the way in which man can become aware of

these biases and, if not escape them, at least transform them and open


up new possibilities. In Black Marsden, Hornby is steeped in the biases

of his age but is also tied to external elements like the Russian

satellite. He has nonverbal roots in many directions, even beyond the

novel. He is penetrated from so many different angles that, in Harris's

terms, Hornby begins to pick up a "susceptibility" to the future which

is reflected in the novel. Though not intended to be a deliberate

prophecy, Harris believes the book reflects a futurity which is written

into the living present because that present is not wholly structured

but partial and, therefore, biased.

In his interview on synchronicity, Harris states that there are so

many faces of the psyche of nature that a man's perception of it tends

to conform to the one boundary which is the experience of his short

lifetime. The boundary is subtly and complexly disrupted because nature

is not what man thinks it is; perception of nature is always a cultural

perception, not a true perception. For example, in Black Marsden Clive

Goodrich's perception is widened during his travels with Black Marsden.

Previously contented to float along through life, secure in his belief

that he controls his own world and to a large extent his destiny,

Goodrich becomes increasingly aware of outside forces until:

There was a third vision or sensation as the road swung and they
began to descend. The air seemed saturated by a dream--a film--an
almost transparent cloud of dust which came over the rim of the
basin and drifted across Namless Theatre. Goodrich felt an
irrational correspondence with the milky way when the spaces
between the stars are filled with a nameless cloud of particles;
but now one was looking up--not vertically into the spaces of
night--but horizontally into the spaces of the day. The delayed
action of the rocks before they plunged possessed its quintessence
here: quintessential shock or deliberation of movement, seminal
ruin, seminal catastrophe. (p. 84)

Harris says that this "seminal ruin, seminal catastrophe" is as close as

he comes in Black Marsden to stating that there is an essence which


mediates between structures, and that therefore man need not be wholly

locked into the "charmed circles," or biases, or dread, or fear.

One way to overcome this type ot bias, this entrapping stasis, is

through the recognition and use of a second complex element of Harris's

imaginative world. The shaman figure serves in Harris's fiction to

indicate the need for, and the potential of, revising the static

structures of man's existence. Shaman figures are intimately related to

myths and the telling of myths, and Harris feels that in a heterogeneous

society the function of myth is enormously important because it helps

man revise static or "idolatrous" attitudes, which can do great harm to

the very causes man serves. The function of the shaman figure is to

guide men toward true freedom as they come together in a heterogeneous

society. In examining the myths of their cultures, and recognizing both

similarities and differences, men may understand how certain myths may

be so taken for granted as to become dangerous and eclipse alternative

perspectives and potentials. The very heterogeneity of Caribbean

society should prevent any absolute acceptance of single myths and

thereby help man avoid the dangers of committing himself wholly to what

is, after all, only a partial pattern of the total world.

Harris uses European, African, Pre-Columbian, and Asian myths from

both the past and the present in the creation of a greatly varied and

heterogenous complex of myth, which creates new meanings through

interplay, juxtaposition, and friction. These myths are rooted in the

needs of a heterogeneous society and attempt to express a state of the

imagination which is created by a combination of cultural needs and

motivations, rather than by absolute or restrictive images. Through the

combination of these cultural motives one thing plays against another so


that man is constantly capable of coming out of fixations which could

lead eventually to conflict.

At times of conflict or crisis the shaman figure is likely to

appear in a tribe or society. The shaman figure is a-social, without

fixed culture or form. For this reason the process of the shaman

resembles a psychic breakdown. Far from being a "gross superstition" as

some anthropologists believe, the shaman represents an indispensable,

creative attempt to see through or break down either a vestige from the

past or an overburden of the repressions resulting from conquest. The

shaman figure makes of every inner divergence, every subtle omen of

change, "a subsistence of memory" to feed imagination in the future.13

One should be aware, however, that there is a trickster element in the

shaman, which reflects an ambivalence and may lead sometimes to

a self-consuming pride.

Harris also believes that we forget that behind the crucified

Christ there are not only shamanistic elements but female elements,

(mother, virgin, whore), and they too suggest suffering and sacrifice.14

However, through involvement with the theme of sacrifice man is no

longer committed to a total function of sacrifice or a dominant issue of

sacrifice, but to a more "pregnant" issue. The positive elements of the

feminine are paired with foul elements of hope and progress, or the

destructive element of the Gorgon figure, and all appear in Harris's

novels. Through a syncretic use of mythology, Harris is able to argue

that man needs to see beyond apparent contradictions of these paired

elements to the greater, if not perfect, unity beyond.

Harris's intention in his novels is to sense the enormous depths of

this unity, of "native reality," which builds on universality because he


believes man is involved in a great struggle or quest for a community in

which he can have authority in freedom, and in which it is possible to

sense the genuine imperatives of sacrifice as well as the genuine

potential for great beauty. This, for Harris, is the quest that gives

to the imaginative artist a profoundly responsible role,5 but it is not

a responsibility which has anything to do with being a spokesman for any

particular society. Harris believes that the world in which we live

today is so dangerous and riddled with problems that what is at stake is

the birth or rebirth of community in the most genuine sense of the term.

Unfortunately, a consequence of this goal--since it is self-deception to

believe that "community" may be politically defined in terms of any one

state--is a form of exile for writers.

Harris feels he brings out of Guyana, South America, and the

Caribbean a kind of deep-seated sensation, a debt to "place" which for

him is important because of its extraordinary "cargo."16 He agrees with

Mircea Eliade in believing that there is a reality which runs through a

place but runs deeper than that place; such a reality implies a sense of

community in which the writer is profoundly responsible as a shananistic

imagination, but not as a spokesman. Artists, Harris believes, should

not propagandize by speaking for a particular place or time. In fact,

Harris believes it is a great danger for people to be pushed forward as

"community" spokesmen since that "community" can be only a composite of

groups in which unity is either artificially imposed or a false vision.

Rather than merely being a spokesman for a particular time or place, he

says that:

With the mutilation and decline of the conquered tribe a new shaman
or artist struggles to emerge who finds himself moving along a
knife-edge of change. He has been, as it were, cross-fertilized by
victor and victim and a powerful need arises to invoke the lost


generation in a new creative, visionary light. It is a task which
is profoundly personal (and archetypal) and therefore, accompanying
an enormous potency for change--for vision into resources--runs the
danger of self-enchantment or hubris. 17

Recognizing his debt to place but recognizing also the restrictions

which can occur by being too closely confined by specifics of a place or

time, Harris hopes he and others can avoid pitfalls and further free

themselves to develop more fully. For this reason Harris frequently

adapts old myths in his novels: Perseus and Andromeda in Palace of the

Peacock, Christ in The Secret Ladder, and Oedipus in Genesis of the

Clowns. New content enters, as for example in The Secret Ladder where

the Andromeda figure is no longer the purely European Andromeda but has

picked up new ramifications appropriate to the Canje area of South

America. The reader must unravel a kind of static image and realize

that new content allows a new complex to come into play in a subtle way

freeing both European and Caribbean elements.

In the ancient myth of Andromeda and Perseus both suffer because of

the pride of their parents. Andromeda's mother believes herself to be

as beautiful as the gods, thereby invoking their wrath. The punishment

falls, however, on Andromeda who is offered up as sacrifice to the sea

monster sent to plague the town and devour its citizens. In the myth of

Perseus, the oracle has prophesied that Danae will bear a child who will

become the killer of his grandfather, King Acrisius. Fearing his

assassination but fearing the gods who protect blood relationships more,

King Acrisius first imprisons Danae. Later, finding that she and Zeus

have created the child Perseus, Acrisius sends Danae and the child off

to sea in a closed box. They land safely on shore, however, and are

taken in by local peasants, and live happily until King Proteus's

jealousy and fear of the young hero cause him to try to have Perseus die

in battle with the Gorgon Medusa. Perseus, however, with the help of

the gods, not only kills the Gorgon but returns safely and marries the

King's daughter Andromache with whom he lives for many years. One day

during a contest Perseus accidentally kills his grandfather who is a

spectator by hitting him with a discus. Thus the prophecy is fulfilled

that Acrisius's grandson would kill him.

In The Secret Ladder Harris modifies the myth by combining the

figures of Acrisius and Poseidon. Harris's Poseidon serves as both a

"sea monster" figure who threatens the scientific workers and a

grandfather figure who is accidentally killed by Bryant the worker who

most identified with and cared for him. Catalena, an abused wife of

another of the workers, is sent to live with Pcseidon who suspects her

of being a spy for the scientists. Threatened by Poseidon and his men

with rape and even death, she is suddenly rescued by Bryant who makes

Poseidon fall, striking his head and killing him, killing his "grand-

father." Harris combines elements of both ancient Greek myth and the

South American peoples to create a new form which is meaningful as

both a specific South American story and as an archetypal pattern.

Another way in which myth functions, may be illustrated through

discussion of the Da Silva figure in the novel named for him. Da Silva

da Silva is a "dying god" precisely because his life, his inner life,

and his self-portraits involve other masks: Magellan, Cuffy and Henry

Rich the English aristocrat who are now dead but have a type of

residual, cultural effect on Da Silva. He is a self-creating creator

whose powers of psychic regeneration lie in all the complicated

investitures of traditions which he and other people must unravel. Only

when he is able to unravel these traditions will he be able to learn how


a self-spawned, self-born hero, who seems to exist on a monolithic

plane, is susceptible to the furies and burdened with both guilt and

innocence. Harris's reader loses sight entirely of the "nameless crew"

of Palace who were involved in Da Silva's earliest quest for self

understanding. They become minor elements in his larger, more complex

psyche as he sees ever more clearly not only their importance to his

growth but his own increasing powers of understanding. Ultimately,

having died and been "reborn" in other novels, we see in Da Silva the

thrust of the dying god who is reborn in such a way that it allows him

to see more deeply into the past. He is able, at last, to create a real

future rather than simply succumb to those imprints of the past which

would push him to repeat throughout history the same catastrophes,

alienations, and divisions we saw between the self-spawned god and the

nameless crew of Palace of the Peacock. Harris suggests that this

progress is possible because of the curious way the dying god dies

through others and releases something that needs to be freed both in

himself and others.

For Harris the dying god is one aspect of the self-creating

creator; a second is the grouping of muses or madonna figures. In Da

Silva there is an evolution of consciousness. Harris cites the example

of the flying madonna or bird which flies instinctively from one mark to

another by means of unerring instinct that has been partially lost by

the human consciousness. Because this evolution has occurred man has

lost some instinct but has gained the capacity for hindsight. As Da

Silva looks back at canvases he painted seven years earlier, he sees

things begin to emerge, things he had been unaware of or unable to see


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