March 24, 2006

Happy Birthday Wilson Harris

I first read Wilson Harris’s Palace of the Peacock when I was a teaching assistant in Caribbean, African, and African American Studies at the University of Miami. I’d just started the early outlines of Benjamin, My Son when the director of the program, Dr. OR Dathorne, practically made me read the book that I’d been avoiding for ages. After I read Palace of the Peacock, I knew why I’d been avoiding it.

Wilson Harris is one of those writers that young writers should never read. By this I mean, he’ll make you feel as if you should just give up everything and try painting houses or cutting lawns. Harris had the same effect on me as Dennis Scott, Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott, and John Figueroa. The sheer intelligence and consummate craft that these writers bring to their writing is formidable. Harris’s fiction is like studying the Kabbalah, which during the Middle Ages was not allowed before the student was about forty, lest he end up being confused. But have no fear. With a little persistence and a willing heart, the reading will yield understandings of yourself and your world—beauty, really, that you never knew existed.

Through Harris’writing, I came to appreciate the vastness of Guyana and its difference from the rest of the Caribbean. Most of the Caribbean islands have been surveyed and measured, and as far as the land forms are concerned, they are known entities. Capitals in the Caribbean sit snugly in port cities where just over the hills, the Caribbean Sea continues.

Guyana, on the other hand, is a tangle of roots and liana that is foreign to most of us in the Caribbean. Its vastness frightened me, for it seemed to stretch back to the beginning of time—a hot ball of gas cooling to become rocks and rivers--a jungle teeming with an Amerindian presence breathing down the neck of Georgetown--itself a world with its own wandering peoples.

In his fiction and poetry, Wilson Harris not only expanded our awareness of the physical size of the Caribbean, but also the deep, sometimes dark, psychic areas (dreamscapes) of our imagination.

Behring Straits

The tremendous voyage between two worlds
is contained in every hollow shell, in every name that echoes
a nameless bell,
in tree-trunk or cave
or sound: in drowned Asia’s bones:
a log-book in the clouds
names the straits of eternity: the marbles
of ocean and indomitable tides.

(From The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse)
For an excellent site on Wilson Harris, follow this link:


1 comment:

jebratt said...

wonderful post !!