Wilson Harris: Experimental Vision

Part Three: Postcolonial Combination

David P. Lichtenstein '99, Brown University, Contributing Editor, Caribbean Web

Wilson Harris extends his metaphorical search for connection beyond the sphere of the individual in Palace of the Peacock. He appears to desire erosion even of the binary opposition between past and present. To do this he consistently evokes mythic origins of life and the continuing story that the Guyanese landscape tells:

The precipitous cliffs were of volcanic myth and substance he dreamed far older than the river's bed and stream. He seemed to sense and experience its congealment and its ancient flow as if he waded with webbed and impossible half-spidery feet in the ceaseless boiling current of creation. (82)

But Harris adds a Postcolonial twist to this notion, as he seeks not only to attack distinctions between past and present, but the supposed power relations that historical legacy has left us with in the present. The presence of the Arawak woman on the boat exemplifies this point, for the Arawak presence, all but eliminated in the modern West Indies, once flourished alongside many other ancestral tribes in this region. The Arawak woman's role as guide, as Vigilance's savior from drowning, signals Harris's belief in the diverse roots of human life in the Caribbean despite present states of nonexistence or disempowerment. Thus the subjugated and outcast tribe member becomes a leader and heroine.

In this vein, Harris also wishes to wash away the distinction between colonizer and colonized which history has bequeathed. Therefore the crew, which sets out to dominate the land of peasants (much like the Europeans did for hundreds of years), in the end loses their power as they dejectedly come to understand that "they were the pursuers and now they had become the pursued," (84). The author further notes how false the idea of ruling over men rings as it appears in Donne's mind:

Abstraction grew around him -- nothing else -- the ruling abstraction of himself which he saw reflected nowhere. He was a ruler of men and a ruler of nothing. (99)

In sum, Harris has now turned his preoccupation with unearthing connections that prove the existence of binarisms illusory. Here he opens his eyes to the largest (and most germane to Postcolonial literature) spectrum. He has sought to combat those divisions of white and black, colonizer and colonized, which threaten to divide humanity even in the present day. In essence, Harris attempts the most broad based Deconstruction of binary opposites of any Postcolonial writer. Language, human relationships, and even historical legacies (in social strata) all fall within his sights. His startling combinations and mingling of life, death, and other such opposites, into one shared reality force the reader to cast aside traditional assumptions about origins and status. And therefore the most experimental aspect of Palace of the Peacock comes not in his drawing odd or baffling connections but in the scope of his vision.

Postcolonial Web [Postimperial] [Wilson Harris]