We just ‘heard’ through the Twitter grapevine (thank you, Bocas Lit Fest) of the sad news of the passing of Guyanese author Sir Wilson Harris. To echo Bocas Lit Fest, “Harris has been one of the Caribbean’s literary giants for half a century.” In his honor, we share an excerpt from a 2010 interview with the author by Michael Gilkes (Kaieteur News).
[. . .] Michael Gilkes: Beginning with Palace of the Peacock, your first novel, there is a dreamlike quality in the work that seems to be a characteristic of your writing. In Palace the galloping horseman, Donne is shot, falls, dies and then seems to enter the dream world of the narrator, the shadowy twin who dreams him back to life. There are many such dreamlike sequences in many of the other novels. Ghost, this final book, interestingly enough, has a similar opening scenario. A man is shot and falls through space and time into a dreamlike existence between life and death. Critics have suggested that your novels can be seen as stages, or pages, in one great ‘dream book’. What’s your response to that suggestion?
Wilson Harris: Well, I never thought of my work like that. Dreams are, of course, important. They bear on what I discover, that’s all I can say. [. . .]
MG: Wilson, you’ve said, on occasion, that there’s a point you get to in the writing of a novel when you feel that ‘another hand’ appears to take over the writing. Would you say something about that experience?
WH: Well that is a very important point. In writing, one becomes aware of the miracle of creativity. One discovers worlds (if I may put it that way) that one had not known of before. I discover new worlds, new places, new ways of seeing. For instance how streams communicate with rivers, or with the land.
I discover new ways to interpret character and the way that character is affected by and veers upon the landscape. One is discovering new worlds that lie outside of one’s self. That is, in part, what I meant by ‘another hand’.
In Palace, for example, one discovers that ‘Mariella’ is a woman, but also a place. Later on, she takes on other shapes, even more so than the old Arawak woman who is also a shape-shifting, shape-changing apparition in the novel. This shape-changing is strung out in the writing in such a way that you can’t take character as defining the direction or circumstances of the novel, if I may call it a novel. In fact, I prefer to call it a work of the imagination.
These shape-shifting dimensions seemed so evident in the writing that they did not appear to be planned. They were not planned to be so. Discoveries are made in the writing of the novel. [. . .]