UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Wilson Harris and the experimental novel Sealy, I. Allan


Wilson Harris is the author of fourteen novels and two books of shorter fiction. His work, cryptic and yet urgent, checks the widespread belief that experimental writing today is condemned to parody and self-referential performance. Located at the crossroads of numerous cultural traditions, African, Amerindian, and European, his novels evolve a complex language well suited to the articulation of marginal needs in an increasingly polarized world. The novels are difficult, and to examine the grounds of their difficulty, I rehearse at the outset a general theory of experiment in fiction, before reviewing .Harris's own remarks on the subject, gleaned from his critical essays. Harris's distortions appear first at the level of the line; the oddity of his style, and' its attendant vexations, are the subject of my next chapter, "Experiment and Language." Here I consider the techniques and uses of stylistic fracture and surreal montage, showing how Harris undoes the traditional concept of rhetoric by working an amalgam of the extraordinary and the commonplace. The rhetoric of unrhetoric has its structural equivalent in an unmaking of narrative sequence and causation. "Experiment and Narrative" examines the devices by which these securities are foiled, time by space, presence by absence. "Experiment and the Individual" considers the fate of character in fictions set at the ragged edges of the modern world. Harris refuses the holographic illusion of conventional identity, depicting instead those individuals whose resources are so slender as to have become invisible. Finally, "Experiment and Tradition" attempts to show how the dispossessed begin to find a voice in the experimental language of a writer whose very obscurity allows him to perplex the ideology of civil discourse. Harris has developed a style which is representative but not mimetic; his marginal discourse adds a new dimension to the "blank slate" of the avantgarde.

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