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The Journey of Psychic Re-integration in Wilson Harrises ‘Palace of the Peacock

May 9, 2012

Undone: The Journey of
Psychic Re-integration in Wilson Harrises
‘Palace of the Peacock
Ogo, Uchenna
Department of English and Literary Studies,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Th e stars became peacocks’ eyes, an d the great tree o f flesh an d bloo d
swirled into another stream that sparkled with divine feathers where
the neck an d the hands an d the feet ha d been nailed.
This was the palace of the universe an d the windows of the soul looke d
out an d in.
WILSO N H ARRIS , Palace of the Peacock (112)
I N Palace of the Peacock, Wilson Harris transports us into the bo-som of “a near and yet far” past (19). The “far” past is both histor-ical and mythical. On the historical level, Palace belongs to the very
early days of the Dutch settlement (1616) and is, as well, pertinent
to the later uninterrupted British colonization (1831-1966) of
what used to be called British Guiana. From this perspective, the
book reenacts one of those ritualistic journeys administered by
either Dutch or British ranchers who, in search of fugitive slaves for
their plantations, relied on the help of the aboriginal Amerindian
inhabitants who are represented in the novel by the figure of the
Arawak woman. On the mythical level, Palace apes one of those
numerous voyages in search of a quasi-chimerical city of gold —
an El Dorado — whose lure and elusiveness cost Sir Walter Raleigh
his head in the early seventeenth century. By sleight of hand,
Harris blurs the dividing lines between the historical and the myth-ical strata so as to wrench us free from the gravity of history and
prepare us for a psychic therapeutic journey of remembering
through the device of myth.
The “near” past evoked by the novel is not so different from
the historical past, or even from the context of modern Guyana:
Palace of the Peacock is, as Kenneth Ramchand insists, “a book about
ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, 32:1,January 2001
now” (119) – Indeed, the racial heterogeneity of the crew attests to
the multi-ethnic make-up of Guyanese society — a multiplicity
instantiated and exacerbated by the post-emancipation (from
183 8 onwards) mass immigration which catered to the needs of a
plantation system seriously debilitated by the emancipation of the
slaves (Moore 7-15). In the wake of the twentieth century, Guyana
has become the “land of six peoples”: East Indians, Africans,
Chinese, Portuguese, Europeans, and Amerindians (Gopal 16).
Within the largely biracial Caribbean, the social multi-ethnicity of
Guyana is both a distinguishing feature and a pulverizing
challenge. How to weave these widely heterogeneous groups into a
livable cross-cultural community? That is the question tackled by
Harris in Palace of the Peacock.
Published in 1960 , Palace is haunted by the dream of an inter-communal modus vivendi—a dream all the more urgent in the
context of instensifying ethnic antagonism. Aside from a handful
of incidents early in the twentieth century, ethnic animosity in
Guyana has generally been in abeyance, but from 195 3 onwards, it
took a radical turn that would eventually explode in civil war
(Premdas 95-111) . Yet, the 1953 elections seemed to proffer the
Guyanese that rare moment of reconciliation that hardly occurs in
poly-ethnic states, when both dominant ethnic groups — Indians
and Africans — voted predominantly for the PPP (People’s Pro-gressive Party) led by Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham. The
Guyanese seemed to welcome the “Golden Age of Racial Har-mony” (Premdas 43) . Unfortunately, this rare moment of recon-ciliation did not last, and the country was soon bogged down in the
morass of mass politics and intense ethnic strife. Within six months
of the elections, the British, wary of the overtly Marxist-Leninist
Jagan, suspended the constitution and dispatched troops to
Guyana. When the constitution was restored in 1957 , the PPP was
already split along racial lines, with Jagan leading a predominantly
East Indian PPP and Burnham leading a cluster of black Africans
called the PNC (People’s National Congress). Although the PPP
won the 195 7 and 1961 elections with a sweeping majority, its ef-forts at nation-building were perennially bedeviled and debilitated
by a “spiral of ethnic politics” (Premdas 45-56) . Indeed, Guyana
has become a classic example of an “anti-model,” that is, “of what
not to do lest disaster in manifold economic, political, and psycho
logical dimensions be courted” (Premdas 190-96).
For a Jungian intellectual like Harris, the way out of these polit-ically perpetuated ethnic enclaves lies in the archetype, in al-chemy: his countrymen are in a dire need of an alchemical psychic
re-integration, an archetypal re-possession of their interior. Harris
employs the past to make the reader (especially, the Guyanese
one) recognize through it, byway of an Aristotelian anagnorisis, the
present, concrete situation. Wilson makes the reader travel flexibly
and elastically, just like Mariella’s bullet at the very outset of the
novel, into a “near and yet far” past (19). These dialectics of prox-imity and distance, of contraction and expansion, are priceless
buoys that keep Harris afloat within the fiefdoms of ethnic section-alism. They are also part of the alchemical artillery he offers us lest
we fall into the pitfalls of the past rather than leap over them. The
most abhorrent scenario for Harris is that the colonized may throw
off the colonizer only to take his place — a scenario that seems to
have occurred in a Guyanese ethnically bipolar state, ruled by a
monolithic and communally-bound party to the detriment of
other minority groups such as the indigenous Amerindians, who
had not yet, in the period in which the novel is set, asked for
secession from the state in order to join Venezuela.
The ethnically-minded Guyanese evidendy suffer from the
Freudian “compulsion-repetition” syndrome: instead of remem-bering the past, they act it out, that is, they repeat it; instead of
undressing the emperor, they wear his clothes. Ricoeur prescribes
a”‘ memoire-souvenif treatment empowered by a set of critical accou-trements that would preclude one from falling into the compul-sion-repetition paradigm pertaining to those who suffer from a
“deficit de critique,” that is, those who are critically bankrupt
(Ricoeur 83-97). This same model is at work in Palace of the Peacock,
where material history — recorded memory — is deployed only to
be destroyed. Indeed, the historical journey into the hinterland is
archly used like the play within the play in Hamlet, whereby Hamlet
captures the conscience of the king; it is used as a leitmotif to
underscore an undercurrent, a transformational journey within
the psyche. Hence, the physical journey can be seen — and this is
a view I share with Michael Gilkes — as the framework against
which an inward journey is “rehearsed.” It is a journey wherein the
action is brought to bear primarily on the interior world of the
self and from thence on the outer inter-subjecdve world of
community. Donne and, by extension, the entire crew undergo
just such a journey.
This essay will show how Donne is transformed and undone by
his journey. I do not intend to cover all the material Harris makes
use of in what I will call “The Undoing-Donne Mission,” a pun on
“The Mission of Mariella” (Harris, Palace 35) . I will content myself
with exploring three of the undoing tools deployed by Harris. The
first tool is the technical use of the Donne figure of the double.
Doubled, Donne is already undone. The second tool is the use of
the motif of the journey in search of a fugitive folk, or of a lost El
Dorado, as a mimesis or a frame against which takes place a deeper
journey into the interior self. Harris relates how Donne travels into
the “interior,” leaving it for us to situate that “interior.” A consider-ation of this economic use of language operating on two levels will
introduce us to the third tool Harris uses extensively in undoing
Donne — language. I will divide my paper into two parts, dedicat-ing the first to the first tool and the second to the second tool. The
third tool will constitute the common ground I tread on discur-sively in the first as well as in the second part.
I. The Donne Figure of the Double
Th e deman d for an identity an d the injunctio n to break that identity,
both feel, in the same way, abusive.
MICHE L FOUCAULT , “Pou r Un e Moral e de l’lnconfort ” (784 )
The Foucauldian dilemma is a postcolonial predicament. Writing
in a postcolonial or colonial context has usually been motivated by
a desire to construct or preserve an otherwise diminishing cultural,
linguistic, or national identity as well as by a desire to undo the
egocentricity of the colonizer. The reconstruction and preserva-tion of such an identity should steer clear from erecting an essence
or a quintessence, a purified, integral, and fundamental self or
identity. In other words, the need to construct an identity should
be dialectically coupled with or paralleled by a self-conscious in-junction to deconstruct any essentialist tendency, for, as Harris ar-gues in his Selected Essays, it is very easy for a society “to overturn an
oppressor, but it is equally easy for those who overturned the op
pressor to become the oppressor in return” (85) . This is, strikingly
enough, the case with the ethnically overpowered Guyanese who
got rid of external domination in 1966 only to dominate at home.
Subsequently, Guyana has fallen prey, since 1953 onwards, to the
vicious spiral of micro-politics or ethnically-minded party politics
while still an embryonic state — a “micro-state,” as it were.
It seems that both the PPP and PNC have striven to construct an
identity which defines themselves as the exclusive representative
of, respectively, the Indians or the Guyanese of African descent.
Having constructed such an identity, they have had to struggle to
preserve it. Thus they have yet to meet the Foucauldian injunction
of “breaking up” (784) , of relinquishing and surrendering that
identity when dealing with a minority group such as the Portu-guese or the Amerindians. It is only through such a quasi-sacrificial
gesture that an ethnocentric party can acquire cross-sectional legit-imacy. Thus, the demand for an identity and the injunction to
break that identity — this double-edged weapon — is the only
buoy that keeps one afloat in the hurly-burly of composite societies
such as Guyana. However, the racially and culturally-bound Guy-anese who respond only to the demand for an identity, and who
prefer to shelter themselves in its rewarding comfort, thereby dem-onstrate that they lack what I like to call “imaginative compe-tence.” Fanatical and biased discourses, whether circulated by the
colonizer or the colonized, attest to a failure of the insight and of
the “Imagination.” In “Literacy and the Imagination,” Harris re-defines literacy not in terms of reading and writing, but in terms of
understanding, and especially in terms of “Imagining” (77) . Ac-cording to Harris, we have lost the capacity to imagine, and have
grown fond of superficiality and fallacious clarity; we have been
trained to see things in blocks, in frames, in moulds, and not in
motion. It is this tendency toward fixedness, toward self-preserva-tion and survival, that shackles and trammels us most, aborting our
embryonic imagination.
It is this Foucauldian, and also Harris’s, paradigm of fluidity —
of constructing and deconstructing one’s identity by means of an
imaginative competence — that needs to be adopted and imple-mented. The course of action charted by this paradigm implies,
not a final performance, but rather an “infinite rehearsal” of mov-ing grounds, amorphous horizons, fluid identities. Briefly put, it is
a course of action in which we — not exempting our history and
tradition — undergo perennially deep and fundamental revisions.
History books are fond of symmetry, polarization, and material
facts. The artist should overturn fixtures into “numinous inexacti-tudes” (Harris, Essays 205), intact and pure identities into adver-sarial dualities, and historical calamities into mythical realities. In
Palace, Harris orchestrates most of these transformations by undo-ing the colonial identity, culture, and history of Donne. In this part
of my essay, I will restrict myself to exploring the means by which
Donne’s identity has been made, unmade, and remade, without
implying that it can ever be completed. Donne’s identity is opened
up so that it can be endlessly revisited, infinitely rehearsed.
The opening passage sets the mood, the rhythm, and the reality
of the novel. It is the reality of the dream; it is the reality of unreal-ity. Palace of the Peacock is a fiction about a dreamer who dreams
about himself dreaming. In the first book, we can hardly fail to
notice that Harris is implicitly drawing us into a mise en abime, into
concentric circles and horizons of dreams, dreams that delve into
the past, unearth the pastness of the present, and envision the
pastness of the future. Dreams are the seeds sown into the womb of
history to outline its future. Palace is a vision “shot” (19, 26) near
and yet far into the theatres of memory, the landscape of the imag-ination, and the playground of the unconscious to recuperate an
otherwise agonizing present and a future that refuses to be bom.
This dream-book is filtered, curiously enough, through an I-narrator whose “left eye has an incurable infection” while his
“right eye — which is actually sound — goes blind in [his] dream”
(22). When the narrator avows that Donne’s vision “becomes the
only remaining window on the world for [him]” (22), we realize
that the eye with the “incurable infection” is actually the dreaming
eye. Its infection is then its dream-syndrome. The other, “right
eye,” which “goes blind” in his dreams, can be interpreted as
Donne’s physical eye, which is now the “only remaining window”
for him onto the world. It is no coincidence that the eye that opens
onto the material world is the “right” eye. It is the eye that channels
the world of facticity which Donne inhabits, as opposed to the left,
dreamy, Utopian eye that broadcasts the visionary, imaginary won-derland in which the I-narrator dwells.
Harris deploys the I-narrator as an adversarial, twin brother to
Donne in order to undo the latter’s one-sidedness and material
essence. Donne, whose name conjures up John Donne, the meta-physical poet, is enmeshed and lost in a world that nourished his
ego and orphaned his soul. He is thus portrayed as a merciless
Buckra, a British white fortune seeker (Moore 13), playing with the
“big-ness of his little-ness” (to use an expression from e. e. cum-mings), hungering for an elusive El Dorado and hammering peo-ple and land in pursuit of his rapist mission. Even his name evokes
a world of facticity in which “what is done is Donne and cannot be
undone,” to misquote Shakespeare (Macbeth 3.2.12).
The I-narrator, the dreamer, is the other side of Donne, the
other dimension that negates as much as complements Donne, the
doer. Thus, he is called upon to carry out the deconstructive mis-sion of Donne as the latter departs for “The Mission of Mariella”
(Harris, Palace 35). The I-narrator is the twin brother, the alter
ego, and foil whom Donne ignores, forgets, or merely silences.
When the I-narrator reminds Donne that he is his dream brother,
Donne replies, “I had almost forgotten I had a brother like
you. .. . It had passed from my mind — this dreaming responsibil-ity you remember” (23). This is evidence that the I-narrator, the
dreaming eye, is Donne’s inmost, spiritual, and revisionary self,
whose voice he hears no more, since he is taken in and possessed
by the material world, by what he can possess: “Rule the land,” he
tells his dreamy, spiritual and restorative self, “While you still have a
ghost of a chance. And you rule the world” (23).
At this stage, Donne is still too obsessed by the physicality of
things, by the desire to invade space and enslave the subaltern or
the native, to care to conquer the space that bonds him to the
community within which he lives. We will shordy address the cir-cumstances that would lead to his ultimate transformation; let us
now simply announce it by going back to the very opening of the
novel where
A horseman appeared on the road coming at a breakneck stride. A
shot rang out suddenly, near and yet far as if the wind had been
stretched and torn and had started coiling and running in an
instant. . . . Th e shot ha d pulle d me up an d stifled my own heart in
heaven. (19)
In his own interpretation of this passage, Harris explains each
expression in such detail that one gets the impression he calculates
everything before he articulates it. Yet Harris avows that intuition
and the unconscious tradition interact to such an extent that the
author loses his voice and becomes the mouthpiece of a transcen-dental anima. I will come back to this when I will speak about the
dissolution of the I-narrator. For now, let us see how Harris inter-prets this passage which he might have written intuitively and unin-tentionally, as he does most often when he is at his best. Short as it
is, this passage contains some of what Harris calls “intuitive clues,”
which are, broadly speaking, clues about the labour of intuition
and which imply that “the visible text. . . runs in concert with an
invisible text that secrets a corridor into the future” (Essays 249).
From this perspective, every word becomes important inasmuch as
it can be infused with an intuitive or mythical meaning beyond its
surface meaning, which by and large necessitates a hermeneutics
of depth. The compound adjective “breakneck” which figures in
the very first line of the novel becomes, according to Harris, a
corridor into the future. It is interpreted as “the first kind of fissure
in the authoritarian fixture, the conquistadorial horseman—we
begin to slice into it” (Essays 84; emphasis added). “Breakneck”
suggests not only a noose and a hanged Donne, but also a break
into the interior of this very Donne. Indeed, the line that follows
shordy after implies that the I-narrator had already found a way
into the main character Donne: “The shot had pulled me up and
stifled my own heart in heaven.” This statement announces the
following passage, where the doubleness of the I-narrator and
Donne is clearly stated:
Apar t fro m this fleeting wishful resemblance it suddenly seemed to me
I ha d never known Donn e in the past — his face was a dea d blank. I
saw hi m now for the first faceless time as the captain an d unnatural
soul of heaven’s dream ; he was myself standing outside of me while I stood
inside of him. (26; emphasis added)
In light of this passage, we can connect the phrases, “shot had
pulled me up” and “I stood inside of him,” to conclude that the I-narrator “becomes the horseman, the dead man lying on the
ground . .. and thus the dreamer becomes a fiction — the psyche
of conquest yields, however monolithic its establishment in the
history of books” (Essays 85) . Indeed, more often than not we get
the impression that the I-narrator has not yet awakened from his
dreams, and that whenever he does awaken, he slips into day-dreaming. It is actually more reasonable to argue that not only
Donne is being undone in this novel, but all the characters — not
exempting the I-narrator — who seem to have lost contact with
the material world and forgotten how to walk in a life dedicated to
dreaming and sleeping.
No sooner does the journey begin than the I-narrator fades off
into the camera after having been hitherto the man behind the
camera. He has become, I think, a hidden video camera with a
zoom that gets “near and yet far,” recording and scanning along its
way. It is as if the rocklike phallic edifice “I” of the narrator has
been swallowed by the womb-like, elastic, and reflective “eye.”
According to Joyce Jonas, the I-eye distinction becomes revelatory
in the context of Palace of the Peacock, because “T assumes total
sovereignty, failing in this assumption to become an ‘eye,’ ‘womb
of light’ as it were, in which the other can be imagined and
birthed'” (90). Descending into the eye-level womb of space is a
prerequisite to transcending time and place, root and trace,
identity and race, and to being birthed endlessly in the here and
now. The eye-narrator becomes the omniscient and yet ghostly
figure through which/whom we follow momentously the journey
into the interior step by step. What is mystifying and puzzling is
that this eye-narrator seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the
same time: we see it/him involved with the crew in its struggle with
the berserk rapids, yet it/he still narrates. Conjectures about
where it/he may be situated can indubitably multiply, but I prefer
to stick to the possibility that I announced earlier, which is inspired
by Harris’s interpretation of the opening passage of the novel: the
eye-narrator, by virtue of being the twin-brother of Donne, has now
broken into Donne so as to be in a vantage point to recount and
account for his ultimate transformation and change. What is more
puzzling still is that the eye-narrator equally accounts for the
interior changes that all the remaining and resurrected members
of the crew have undergone, which means that the eye-narrator,
the spiritual eye, has, as much as Donne, a smack of each of the
crew members (who are in turn extensions of the I-narrator and
Donne), except that each remains too one-sided and too mono-lithic to harken to the urgings and twitterings of the portion of
otherness within. The mythical journey is the motif and the muse
Harris offers as an opportunity for these heterogeneous and de-formed halves to plunge into their oceanic and unfathomable
depths in search of a golden ring or necklace to complement
themselves, only to realize that they had always been “gilded men.”
II. The Journey Motif
Th e past remains locke d away unless it can be re-visualized, taken u p at
another level, rehearsed profoundl y at another level to release new
implications, a new kin d o f thrust.
WILSO N HARRIS , “Literacy an d the Imagination ” (87 )
The adversarial twinning of a factual, practical Donne and a
dreamy, Utopian I-narrator can be seen as one of the major tech-niques deployed by Harris in undoing the foundational premises
of Donne’s identity. In this part I would like to address another
major technical tool Harris utilizes in this “undoing” mission.
Donne is being undone via an implicidy explicit undoing of his
material history by means of mythical history. Donne’s historically-fixed imperial posture is set in motion via the journey motif per-taining to the gold rush and prompted by the spread of the El
Dorado myth. Harris employs the myth of El Dorado both as a
muse and as an excuse to unmake and interrogate the idealistic,
amateurish, and egocentric truths of history books — books that
would speak of journeys into the Guyanese hinterland as imperial.
Thanks to a two-dimensional narrator who is at once capable of
looking through “one dead seeing eye” and “one living closed eye,”
Harris operates on two levels of history, as Nana Wilson-Tagoe
suggests: “There is, for instance, the level of conscious linear histo-ry, the ‘curious stone’ upon which he stands, the unchanging
uniform reality o f colonial conquest, and there is the level of
mythic history, the blind, dreaming recall of the unconscious myth
of El Dorado” (110).
“El Dorado” or “The Gilded Man” was originally the ceremony
held for the accession of a new Muisca chief, a new ruler, on Lake
Guatavita. Briefly, this ceremony consists of the seclusion of the
would-be ruler for a certain period of time in a cave; after emerging
from seclusion, the would-be ruler journeys to the great lagoon of
Guatavita to make offerings and sacrifices to the demon. He is sent
on a raft with a great pile of gold at his feet; when signaled to do so,
he throws the gold into the middle of the lake. The Spaniards
rushed to look for the gold thrown away during these rites. Al-though Lake Guatavita underwent several profound draining at-tempts, not all the gold was secured. El Dorado became a myth and
a dream; a city, personage or kingdom, it always lay beyond the
next range of mountains, or deep in the unexplored forests. The
search for El Dorado, in various parts of South America, was to
inspire many journeys into the hinterland. Palace of the Peacock ap-propriates one of these mythically-inspired journeys in search of
gold (here a fugitive folk) as ajourney of psychic re-integration, of
spiritual discovery and enlightenment, and of re-birth and resur-rection. From a mythical reality in which a City of Gold is pursued,
Harris journeys us into a yet-to-be-born City of Gold — a palace in
which ethnic entities as diverse as the peacock’s colors are har-nessed into a unified whole.
At face value the journey in Palace of the Peacock is provoked by
Donne’s need to obtain cheap labour for his coastal estate. It can
be set prior to the slave emancipation in 1838, at a time when
“the Dutch and British colonialists traded with the Amerindians,
enslaved some, and utilized others for the capture of runaway slaves and
the suppression of slave rebellions” (Premdas 15; emphasis add-ed) . The journey described in the novel speaks of a Mariella rebel-lion, uses the Arawak woman to stand in for the same historical
purposes — the capture of runaway slaves — and is therefore a
journey that perpetuates the enslaving, brutalizing, and merciless
oudook of colonial history. At a much deeper level, the journey
into the hinterland in search of a fugitive folk merges into ajour-ney into the interior self in search of perfection and psychic reinte-gration inspired by alchemy, by innocence, and by love. Such a
spiritual journey is instantiated by the fissured psyche of the crew
members as much as by the ethnically-mutilated Guyanese compos-ite society, and is therefore animated by the hope and/or dream
of sutured and reintegrated psyche within a yet-to-be born cross-cultural, inter-ethnic community.
In “Tradition and the West Indian Novel,” Harris oudines the
premises of the mythical recreation of lost or unfound El Dorado:
E l Dorado , city o f Gold , city of God , grotesque, uniqu e coincidence ,
another window within upo n the universe, another drunke n boat, an -other ocean , another river; in terms o f the novel the distribution o f a
frail momen t of illuminatin g adjustments within a lon g succession an d
grotesque series o f adventures, past an d present, capable now o f dis-covering themselves an d continuin g to discover themselves so that in
one sense one relives an d reverses the “given ” conditio n o f the past,
freeing oneself fro m catastrophic idolatry an d blindness to one’s own
historical an d philosophica l conceptions an d misconceptions whic h
may bin d one within a statuesque present o r false future.
(Essays 144)
This mythical journey within the book is functional, to say the least;
it is deployed to liberate our minds from the clutches of material
history lest we should grow up with what Harris calls in “Appren-ticeship to the Furies,” “revenge-syndromes” as opposed to “cos-mic love” (Essays 226-36). Recreating the past through myth is not
so much an attempt to change history but rather to take stock of
our present relation to it as well as to conceive of the future. It
is an attempt to relive the present through the pastness of the
future. As Andrew Bundy puts it: “Palace of the Peacock introduced
a thoroughly new and original literature in English that was
being written out of the simultaneous realities of the everyday
and mythos-epos, where a diffuse and ungraspable present is
rooted not, as is usual, in the past but in paradoxically rehearsed
futures” (7).
Now let us rehearse our understanding of this subtle theoretical
design through our case study—Donne. A spiritual revival of a
high caliber such as the one Donne and the other crew members
have undergone is not at all an easy matter. It entails “trials of the
imagination” (Harris, “Author’s Note” 12), “death by water” (Eliot
30), a deep self-reflexivity and self-evaluation, as well as a “struggle
of self-interpretations” (Taylor, “Human Agency” 27). It is a strug-gle to reconcile two irreconcilable forces such as those legendary
adversarial twins, Merlin/Parsifal. It is a hazardous and precarious
affair in which “the nearness of being found” could only be mea-sured against “the sense of being lost” (114). Before being found
transformed, Donne can be said to have witnessed at least two reve-
latory changes. The first is a spurious, mock change in which his
tone loses its ruling and exacting “[r]ule the land
. . . rule the world” vibrations and melts into a hypocritical, whin-ing soliloquy. This occurs right after the crew reachs Mariella to
find that the folk had known they were being chased and had
flown away, leaving the old Arawak woman behind. Donne erupts
in a selfjudgmental, self-confessional, and equally self-evasive rhet-oric, justifying at times and rectifying at others his past and future
actions: “I am beginning to lose all my imagination save that some-times I feel involved in the most frightful material slavery. I hate
myself sometimes, hate myself for being the most violent taskmas-ter — I drive myself with no hope of redemption whatsoever and I
lash the folk” (50; emphasis added).
Here Donne can be seen as a remorseful confessor on the sur-face and as a hypocrite of illiterate imagination at a much deeper
level. “Imagination” is the intuitive clue that anticipates his illiter-acy, superficiality, and non-reflexivity. For, shortly after he says this,
Donne goes on hammering himself within the folk with hardly any
sense of a subsequent obligation and engagement: “After all I’ve
earned the right here as well. I am as native as they, ain’t I? A little
better educated maybe whatever in hell that means…. The only
way to survive of course is to wed oneself into the family. In fact I
belong already” (51; emphasis added). This last statement — “in fact
I belong already” — is evidence enough that Donne suffers from
an illiteracy of the imagination. For this reason, the claimed
change remains a mediocre and spurious one. Donne has not lost
his imagination, as he claims, because he has not yet learned to
imagine. He is addicted to the false clarity of language — “I be-long already” — and lacks that deep hermeneutical model of self-interpretation and self-reflexivity that alone can define belonging
not in terms of physicality but in terms of spirituality. Astutely
enough, the narrator cuts the ground from under his feet: “we’re
all outside of the folk,” he averred to Donne, “Nobody belongs
yet…” (52). Donne, however, does not understand what the nar-rator meant; what is worse, he does not care to listen, which by and
large attests to his hitherto closed door policy and failure of con-ception: “Donne was not listening to my labour and expression
and difficulty” (52).
Perhaps Donne needed to be put to a harsher and a viler test
before he could learn to see into and through his interior self. At
this point, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that the system
of introspection Harris charts in Palace of the Peacock is not a novel
one. Indeed, its origins can be traced to St. Augustine. Introspect-ion of this sort is a tripartite process in which one moves from the
exterior to the interior and from the interior to the superior.
“Superior” is associated with God in St. Augustine and it is difficult
to see a radically different interpretation in Harris other than a
transcendental self or a Jungian anima. The presentation of this
process of self-reflexivity or introspection in understanding phen-omena is important because the second change Donne undergoes
is related to understanding certain events that took place during
the journey. This second change coincides with the “The Second
Death” of the mythically-recreated crew. It is a change so piece-meal and silent, so deep and comprehensive, that it culminates in
his transformation. I am not so much interested in recounting the
specific events resulting in this second transformational change, as
in analyzing Donne’s response to them. It is only by studying this
response, his interaction between his self and those happenings,
that we can understand his eventual evolution. For the rehearsed
construction of a new self is by no means a solitary closed process;
one rehearses oneself in a Bakhtinian dialogism, in relation to
others, in conversing and dialoguing with the other in all its
pigmentations and differences. In an article entitled “The Dialogi-cal Self,” Charles Taylor describes this dialogical dimension of self-formation as occurring through collective action or conversation.
In the case of Donne, this dialogical dimension is crucial to his
later development inasmuch as he engaged himself in a collective
action — a struggle against the tall rapids. Ultimately, it is this dia-logical horizon, acquired during the journey, that wrenches
Donne free of his hitherto utter monological loss.
A series of deaths, a mortal struggle with voracious and hungry
rapids, as well as a faithful and gutsy crew have all interacted to-gether to undo Donne’s former monological and Parsifal-like self.
Curiously enough, every death, every loss becomes a sacrifice com-parable to the sacrificial piles of gold “The Gilded Man” throws
into the great lagoon of Guatavita. Just as the new ruler takes piles
of gold on his raft, Donne takes his crew with him. While the new
ruler throws gold into the lake to save his people from the demon,
Donne seems to throw his crew into the rapids to secure that gold
(here, the runaway slaves). Myth is contrasted with history, so
much so that one wonders where the genuine gold is. Anyone un-familiar with Harris’s “intuitive Imagination” and “numinous inex-actitudes” may be at a loss when the eye-narrator tells us just after
the tragic disappearance of Carroll that “a great stone of hardship
had melted and rolled away” (64) . Has Carroll died or has he
come home and become whole? Is his death a sacrifice or a gain?
Where and what is “gold”? These are some of the riddles to be
cracked en route.
The death of Schomburgh is another milestone. Only he can
interpret the old Arawak woman — and only she can tell where
the fugitive folk have gone. The journey now becomes a journey
without a guide, a ‘journey without maps,” as Graham Greene
would say. It is ajourney into loss unless another language is to be
conceived. The loss of linguistic communication takes place at the
crossroads with the emergence of another kind of communica-tion — a spiritual one. While ordinary language intensifies differ-ences and binaries, spiritual language blends opposites and
animates the inanimate. Indeed, the loss of speech ushers in a
world where everything speaks, sings, and listens to the undying
bone-flute music of the soul. Now, “Donne started unrolling his
plan quickly” (76) . “Today we will reach here’
(77) . Nowhere to go:
the journey is no longer physical. Here is as far as one can go: the
journey is spiritual. It is as if in unrolling his plan Donne unfolds
himself to bejourneyed into, to be discovered and recovered, to be
lost and found. What will be the next step? “They were on the
threshold of the folk. They must cling to that knowledge since —
he [Donne] had never seen it so clear before — it was all they
had” (76) .
After two losses (Carroll and Schomburgh), Donne and his crew
are now on the threshold of the folk, on the threshold of commu-nity and alchemical Uansformation, on the threshold of psychic
reintegration and perfection. No other losses are to be endured,
no more sacrifices, no more gold is worth the life of any member
of the crew. Donne is now decked enough in spiritual wealth to
stop the Jennings/Cameron fight, to perceive the “wound” Cam-eron caused to the bird when he flung a stone at it. At this mo-ment, the spiritual journey has gone far: Donne starts to rise, to
transcend his old Machiavellian self by immersing himself in the
community around him, by bearing the brunt of the wound, part
of which he himself caused. The spiritual revival is so overwhelm-ing that those who cannot host it will diminish. Cameron is proba-bly a representative of a race so consumed by “revenge syndromes”
that they “neither forgave nor forgot” (61). He is the kind of op
pressed who would want to overturn the oppressor to take its
place. He had already started a fight with Jennings and wounded a
bird. When he pelted another bird in a time where a journey into
the self and the soul has almost come to completion, he met his
death at the hands of DaSilva, who prophetically erupted: “I tell
you when you pelt she you pelt me. Is one flesh, me flesh, you
flesh, one flesh. She come to save me, to save all of we. You mur-derer!” (90). DaSilva’s quasi-pantheistic thundering is an exten-sion of Donne’s earlier disapproval of the wound Cameron caused
the bird. From another perspective, DaSilva’s statement can be
seen as a sign of the dissemination of the journey into the interior,
into the “here,” to which Donne has been a harbinger.
The novel’s closing sentence — “Each of us now held at last in
his arms what he had been for ever seeking and what he had eter-nally possessed” — crowns the spiritual and psychic progress of
the crew members and resituates the City of Gold searched for
within the golden interior territory of the self. Only when recon-ciled to and enlightened by such an inner lighthouse can the com-pulsion to conquer and to dominate “lose the name of action,” to
borrow an expression from Hamlet (3.1.87) . Perhaps Harris is sug-gesting that those members or representatives of ethnically-bound
and city-centered political parties should undergo a journey such
as the one undertaken by Donne: they should journey into their
interior selves so that they can journey into the hinterland of
Guyana where the Amerindians, among other minorities, are liv-ing from day to day. Harris himself led several geo-morphological
expeditions to the interior of Guyana from 1942 to 1959, and is
certainly aware of the malaise of modern Guyana. But, Harris’s cri
de cceur— Palace— is not only a Guyanese palace but also “a palace
of the universe” in which “the windows of the soul [look] out and
in” (112). This is the concrete universal aspect of Harris’s novel, as
it is the actual “palace” we need in a world hammering its way to-ward globalization in a spate of egoism. The injunction to embark
on the journey to the “palace of the peacock” is also addressed to
those states that suffer from the blindness of leadership. Thus, the
journey into the palace of the peacock must be disseminated, and
the thrust toward a cross-cultural, universal community must be
maintained in a world inimical to its deepening and challenging
implications; that is, a world impoverished by the illiteracy of the


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