Wilson Harris Additional Biography

Biography

Wilson Harris is an extremely eclectic and expansive writer. In The Womb of Space, he writes that “literature is still constrained by regional and other conventional suffocating categories.” Harris has spent his career attempting to transcend notions of genre, tradition, and discipline, constructing texts founded on philosophical speculation. Harris attempts, in his writing, to promote new models for civilization and for creative art.

Influenced by Carl Jung, Martin Buber, Elizabethan poetry, William Blake, Native American folklore, and nineteenth century expedition literature, Harris investigates the ambiguities of life and death, of history and innovation, of self and other, and of reality and illusion. Harris questions received concepts of origin, history, and reality. It is Harris’ hope that such inquisitions of the self may prove crucial in the development of a radical revision of history, origin, and identity.

Opening with a series of nightmare vignettes that awaken into each other, the narrator of Harris’ Palace of the Peacock declares: “I dreamt I awoke with one dead eye seeing and one living each closed.” The novel hovers between reality and illusion, death and life, insight and blindness. It chronicles an expeditionary party’s journey into the interior of Guyana. In this expedition into the territory of the self, each member of the party embodies a part of Guyanese identity. A European, an African, and a Native American set out together in a quest to retrieve renegade farmworkers but find along the way that they are, perhaps, the ghostly repetitions of a party that perished on the same river in the early days of European conquest. The allegorical and existential significances of the quest give Harris the opportunity to delve into the nature of narration, of time, of space, and of being. He asserts that humanity can alter fate through recognition of connections and by articulating and celebrating commonly held identities.

The themes Palace of the Peacock raises are also found in the novels that succeed it. In subsequent novels, Harris returns to elaborate and examine the psychological and existential structures by way of which identity ossifies and resists participation in change. By carefully constructing contradictory narrative puzzles, Harris leads his readers into ambiguous regions of understanding where opposites (life and death, reality and illusion, self and other) meet. It is his hope that such expeditions of the imagination will result in greater understanding of identity and community.

Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Theodore Wilson Harris was born in New Amsterdam, in British Guiana (which became Guyana in 1966) on March 24, 1921. He went to school in the capital, Georgetown, before attending Queen’s College from 1934 to 1939. He studied land surveying, and following graduation in 1942 he was appointed an assistant government surveyor and promoted to government surveyor in 1944. Between 1942 and 1953, Harris made numerous expeditions into the rain forest of his South American country. The Cuyuni River, the Essequibo River, the Potaro River, and various inland and coastal regions, where he came in close contact with the indigenous peoples and pristine landscapes, were later incorporated into his first novel, Palace of the Peacock (1960), as well as two collections of short stories, The Sleepers of Roraima (1970) and The Age of the Rainmakers (1971).

He married Cecily Carew in 1945. In 1950, he visited France and Britain and published his first collection of poems, Fetish, in 1951. A second (and last) book of poetry, Eternity to Season, was published in 1954. Following his divorce from Carew, Harris immigrated to Britain in 1959, where he met and married Scottish writer Margaret Burns, to whom he dedicated all his novels thereafter. A book of essays, Tradition, The Writer, and Society, was published in 1967. Harris and Burns lived in Holland Park, London, an area which was to influence the setting of the novel Da Silva da Silva’s...

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Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Wilson Harris can safely be called one of the most original and difficult writers of the second half of the twentieth century. His extreme erudition, together with a familiarity with various cultural traditions, allows him, in his fiction, to depict the heterogeneity of his native land. His writing is elusive, calling for numerous interpretations rather than a single and definitive explanation. As he builds a Caribbean identity that has been silenced by the European version of history, Harris refuses to take sides, to reach a final verdict as to who qualifies as victim or victor in the encounter between Europe and the Americas. He thereby leaves room for change and renewal, for a revival of the nearly extinct.