(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Wilson Harris' The Womb of Space is a collection of critical essays that attempt to describe how multiculturalism can informthe readin of texts. "Imaginative sensibility," Harris asserts, "is uniquely equipped by forces of dream and paradox to mirror the inimitable activity of subordinated psyche." Harris' cross-cultural rereadings of specific texts in The Womb of Space reveal bridges of myth, imagination, and dream that link culture to culture, despite the appearance of disparity.

Harris interprets works by William Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Ellison, Jean Toomer, Juan Rulfo, Raja Rao, Jean Rhys, Derek Walcott, Edward Brathwaite, and others in order to demonstrate the applicability of a cross-cultural analysis to world literature.

For example, Harris rereads Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) as a psychic text in which the unconscious subtext critiques the cultural hierarchy that the surface of the tale intends to uphold. Instead of emphasizing the tale’s narrative focus on the consolidation of Western values, Harris underscores the unconscious “twinships” (pairings) of characters and events that point to an unconsciously scripted psychic, mythic dimension. Such a subversion of the text leads Harris to “perceive the decay of order conditioned by conquest; that order begins to review its daylight deeds . . . in the night-time rebellious dream life of the half-conscious and unconscious psyche.” Despite the conscious intentions of Poe, the text is for Harris a revision of pre-Columbian mythic antecedents which illuminate the psychic, mythic, and communal dimensions of the literary imagination.

Harris generalizes that cross-cultural readings reveal, in literature, correlations and unity that spring from the dialectic of explicit statement and implicit subversion of that statement. Stressing the undermining of Western texts by consulting mythic, psychic (often non-Western) roots, Harris hopes to open a cultural dialogue among cultures and identities. Harris suggests that such a dialogue will encourage the growth of broader, multicultural, inclusive communities. The “womb of space” is the generative region where such a community may begin to develop.

“The paradox of cultural heterogeneity, or cross-cultural capacity, lies in the evolutionary thrust it restores to orders of the imagination, the ceaseless dialogue it inserts between hardened conventions and eclipsed or half-eclipsed otherness.” By bringing the cross-cultural imagination to bear on a variety of texts in The Womb of Space, Wilson Harris affirms his particular vision of literature and of the role texts play in reconstructing identity, culture, and community.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Drake, Sandra E. Wilson Harris and the Modern Tradition: A New Architecture of the World. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986.

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

Harris, Wilson. Tradition, the Writer, and Society: Critical Essays. London: New Beacon, 1967.

Maes-Jelinek, Hena, ed. Wilson Harris: The Uncompromising Imagination. Aarhus, Denmark: Dangaroo, 1991.

Moore, Gerald. The Chosen Tongue. London: Longman, 1969.