Wilson Harris responds to Chinua Achebe


  (excerpt)  (Bold type is added)


Achebe's essay on "the dehumanization of Africa and Africans" by "bloody racists" is, therefore, in the light of western malaise and postimperial hangover, a persuasive argument, but I am convinced his judgement or dismissal of Heart of Darkness--and of Conrad's strange genius--is a profoundly mistaken one. He sees the distortion of imagery and, therefore, of character in the novel as witnessing to horrendous prejudice on Conrad's part in his vision of Africa and Africans.


As I weighed this charge in my own mind, I began to sense a certain incomprehension in Achebe's analysis of the pressures of form that engaged Conrad's imagination to transform biases grounded in homogeneous premises. By form I mean the novel form as a medium of consciousness that has its deepest roots in an intuitive and much, much older self than the historical ego or the historical conditions of ego dignity that binds us to a particular decade or generation or century.


The capacity of the intuitive self to breach the historical ego is the life-giving and terrifying objectivity of imaginative art that makes a painting or a poem or a piece of sculpture or a fiction endure beyond the artist's short lifetime and gives it the strangest beauty or coherence in depth.


This interaction between sovereign ego and intuitive self is the tormenting reality of changing form, the ecstasy as well of visionary capacity to cleave the prison house of natural bias within a heterogeneous asymmetric context(1) in which the unknowable God--though ceaselessly beyond human patterns--infuses art with unfathomable eternity and grace.




Excerpted from "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands" pp262-268,  in Norton Critical Edition of Heart of Darkness 3rd ed.   Edited by  Robert Kimbrough, 1988.