The Ghost of Memory
I've just found out that Wilson Harris (Guyana, 1921) has recently published his 25th novel, The Ghost of Memory (Faber & Faber, 2006). According to articles I've read, he's said this will be his final book. It will be a couple weeks before my own copy arrives, but I've found several reviews floating around the internet. Most of them don't seem to get beyond a certain bafflement that Harris's complex and poetic novels can create in readers. Though Harris stopped publishing poetry decades ago, he undoubtedly remains a poet in his approach to writing fiction. I think of him as working within the range of epic poetry, charged with a visionary sensibility one can trace back to Blake, among others. His novels are also a form of theory, commenting on themselves and the disastrous state of our world.
I read Harris's novels in a similar manner to how I read Fredric Jameson's essays. Both are dense and baroque prose stylists whose writing requires sustained effort on the reader's part. Of course, they operate in very different fields, but I find myself equally drawn to their writings imbued by qualities I associate with poetry. This is related, I think, to the notion that the reader participate as an equal on the page, disentangling symbols and superimposing the book's overview on each sentence. I'm still in the midst of reading Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future (Verso, 2005), which I began last summer. The epigraph he uses from Pound's Cantos might be an allusion to the epic scope of his own book:
"If the hoar frost grip thy tent
Thou wilt give thanks when night is spent."
So far, the two articles on The Ghost of Memory that I've found to be insightful are by Maya Jaggi in The Guardian ("Redemption song," 16 December 2006) and Stephen Howe in The Independent (27 January 2007).
In the introduction to his previous novel, The Mask of the Beggar (Faber & Faber, 2003), Harris writes about his understanding of quantum physics in relation to literature:
"A further word about 'quantum language.' A writer may write intuitively in a novel. Intuition may prove itself, may bring into consequence what a writer previously senses or knows so deeply it passes beyond his immediate sphere. A change occurs through profound and unusual intuition in the space-time of imaginative fiction and this alters the linearities of fixture and invention. The writer seems to move psychically across ages. The 'quantum' hand or arm extends this movement by bringing unpredictable, counter-intuitive resources into play. In the heart of this quantum, unpredictable sphere the figures the writer creates may turn on him (or her) and may create his imagination afresh."