“Hell that springs from the grave of memory”: Sacrifice, Whiteness, and Extinction in Wilson Harris’ Jonestown

(Jonathan Highfield is a professor of Postcolonial Literatures at the Rhode Island School of Design. He may be reached at jhighfie@risd.edu.)

Wilson Harris’ 1996 novel Jonestown charts the attempt of a survivor of the mass suicide and killings at Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, to come to terms with his survival and the others’ deaths.[1] While the events of November 18, 1978 form the background of the novel, Harris is not writing a history of Jonestown, Jim Jones, or even the fictional survivor, Francisco Bone. Instead, he is looking through what the narrator calls a Dream-book: “I feared to write in – and be written by – a demanding book that asserts itself in Dream and questions itself from time to time (even as I question the meaning of survival) as you will see as you read” (Harris 5). In the course of the novel, Francisco Bone will move through his past to explore how he came to be associated with Jim Jones, the connections of Jones to Guyana, and the circumstances surrounding his salvation in the events in Jonestown that November.

There is nothing straightforward about Jonestown, however. It explores survivor’s guilt, Third World poverty, and environmental degradation in a dense interweaving of myths and histories. As Hena Maes-Jelinek points out in her book on Harris’ fiction: “It is no exaggeration to say that Wilson Harris is one of the most original and significant writers of the second half of the twentieth century. He is also, as reviewers almost unfailingly point out, a difficult one, although extra difficulty sometimes arises from the reader’s own incapacity to relinquish conventional expectations in art” (Maes-Jelinek iii).

Harris has high expectations of his readers; he expects them to work through the allusions to fictional and historical personages and events. For example, when the narrator renames Jim Jones as Jonah Jones in Jonestown, that should pull forth both the biblical story of Jonah who is “angry enough to die” (NIV Jonah. 4:ix) when God does not destroy the wicked city of Nineveh, and Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick, where monomaniacal Ahab kills all his crew save one. To work through Jonestown, like any Harris novel, the reader must unpack each character and set them in relation to the others, so if there is an aspect of Ahab in Jonas Jones then there is also an aspect of Ishmael in Francisco Bone: “And I only am escaped alive to tell thee” (Melville 427).

In addition, all of Harris’ work has to be seen as informed by the culture, history, and topography of Guyana. As Maes-Jelinek points out, the modern novel arose in a period that was also marked by genocide and chattel slavery in the Caribbean:

[T]hough convinced that the West Indian was long confined to “a terrible void of unreality,” Harris does not believe in the so-called “historylessness” of the Caribbean. The void in his novels is peopled with the victims of history. Each character seems to contain the capacity to accept, yet implicitly transform, the limits of Caribbean experience, and in each the soul is the equivalent of the phenomenal world into which successive generations of victims (Amerindians and runaway slaves) have disappeared. The West Indian soul is ridden with images of a terrifying past, of antagonisms between the conquerors and the conquered. Harris’ narratives aim at freeing the individual from these polarizations (Maes-Jelinek 2).

Part of that freeing is the rejection of the traditional novel for a form that embraces carnivalesque elements: masks, cross-cultural fertilization, and narrative and historical paradoxy. Harris’ novels, whether set in Guyana or elsewhere, are all informed by the cultural histories of West Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and Europe, which are embodied in the modern Caribbean subject. Each of these cultures, with their dense background of myth, history, and tradition, appear in the characters of Harris’ novels, and often these characters manifest multiple cultural histories, which mirrors the cultural makeup of Guyana.

The complexity of Harris’ vision makes summarizing a plot in Jonestown difficult and perhaps even beside the point, but here is an attempt: Francisco Bone, a survivor of what he terms the Day of the Dead in Jonestown sends a manuscript to Wilson Harris for him to edit. In the manuscript Bone travels through time in order to try to make sense of the tragedy of Jonestown and of his own survival. During his travels he is tutored by Mr Mageye (magi), and encounters Jones, whom he renames Jonah Jones, in the bathhouses of San Francisco, the city both lived in while attending San Francisco College. There he also meets Deacon, another of Jones’ associates and a fellow Guyanese student. As Bone sees the past, he comes to terms with the way Jones attempts to control the future by reifying the cult of death. Rejecting this conquistadorial vision, Bone sails on a Ship of Bread to Roraima, the sacred tepui table-top mountain found in the Guyana highlands, where he abandons his Dream-Book, accepts punishment for Deacon’s crimes, and is thrown off a cliff by masked Arawak judges.

What the plot summary fails to capture is Harris’ lyrical style of writing, which can become hypnotic at times, and the fantastic density of images and allusions to historical and mythological characters which populate the novel. Prometheus and Kali walk with Legba and the Sphinx. While all these mythologies inform Francisco Bone’s journey, Jonestown is not a novel about spirituality. Mr Mageye, Bone’s primary schoolteacher and guide through the Dream-Book, describes the book Bone will write as “the last (or is the first?) epic of repentance” (215).

As I have suggested, there are many facets to the epic of repentance. In this essay, I want to examine three themes which appear throughout the novel and inform this idea of repentance: sacrifice, whiteness, and extinction.

Harris links the deaths at Jonestown to the history of ritual sacrifice practiced by the Maya and embodied in the novel with the killing of Bone/Deacon. With this theme, Harris suggests that throughout history, societies have used the notion of ritualized sacrifice to protect the larger society from perceived outside threats. Bone and Jones discuss this early in Jonestown:

“The Caribs ate a ritual morsel,” I said, “on the eve of battle. You Jonah know how important such ritual is to disguise bitter self-knowledge or bring to light when our enemies – whom we would eat – bite into our own flesh. And now that we are eve of the holocaust, biter and bitten alike, priest and victim alike, time has become invaluable.”

“We shall die rather than surrender to the corruptions and lies of the Police,” said Jones.

“Die?” I said (16).

The idea that Bone advances, that ritual sacrifice both purifies the group and serves as defiance to enemies, informed the culture of several pre-Columbian civilizations. As David Friedel and Linda Schele point out in an essay on the symbolism of sacrifice among the Maya, ritual sacrifice was used to embed the past into the heart of the culture: “the Maya elite introduced the past into the future by means of sacrifice, but it was a past transformed by their own invention, and a future in large measure determined by it” (Friedel and Schele 92). Bone is shocked, however, when Jones removes the ritualized violence of the sacrifice and replaces it with actual murder and suicide. The future Jones has determined is one where there is no choice but death – “the conquistadorial formula,” Harris calls it, “that kills alternatives, kills memory” (9). Jones has given up on the world – “He had settled for non-redemption of outsiders” (115) – and when he does so the only logic is that of death. Harris calls Jones “the Prisoner’s perverse twin brother” (114), invoking the Carnival archetype of the Prisoner or Old God whose sacrifice frees humanity. References to Prometheus, Devil’s Island – the prison of Alfred Dreyfuss and Henri Charrière, Papillon – and the British television show “The Prisoner,” starring Patrick McGoohan appear throughout the text. The perversity of Jonah Jones is that, like his namesake Jonah, he has decided not to try to save humanity. Harris envisions Jones as incorporating both the self-fulfilling sacrifice of the Maya to the Sun and the obsession of Ahab with the White Whale; nothing can lead Jones “back out of the great white whale of the sun into which he was determined to go, sun or whale which he wished to inhabit as the throne of conquest” (14). His Peoples Temple transforms into a Conquest Mission and then into a Prison Camp, with him as the disembodied Warden whose voice rants and cajoles over the camp’s loudspeaker.

This Conquest Mission invokes another of Harris’ themes – whiteness – which he plays with through references to three classic texts in which whiteness is central: Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket; Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; and Samuel Beckett’s “Imagination Dead Imagine.” With this theme of whiteness, Harris is placing Jonah Jones’ mission in Guyana in a continuum which began with Cortez’ invasion of Mexico and all subsequent searches for El Dorado, including current attempts to biomine the tepuis for pharmacological and genetic materials.

Published in 1838, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket concerns the travels of Pym, who seemingly discovers the entrance to another world in Antarctica. Whiteness plays a major role in the narrative, with mysterious white creatures frightening dark-skinned savages on an island devoid of “light-coloured substances” (Poe 460) and a mysterious encounter with a mysterious white giant in the pallid region of Antarctica:

The darkness had materially increased, relieved only by the glare of the water thrown back from the white curtain before us. Many gigantic and pallidly white birds flew continuously now from beyond the veil, and their scream was the eternal Tekeli-li! as they retreated from our vision. Hereupon Nu-Nu stirred in the bottom of the boat; but upon touching him, we found his spirit departed. And now we rushed into the embraces of the cataract, where a chasm threw itself open to receive us. But there arose in our pathway a shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow (Poe 466-467).

This encounter ends the narrative of Poe’s novel. A supposed editorial interjection by Poe himself comments on the “late sudden and distressing death of Mr. Pym” (Poe 467), and indicates that the manuscript was unfinished at the author’s death. Harris has Jonah Jones reference Poe in the bathhouse in San Francisco, as he, Bone, and Deacon make plans for the founding of Jonestown:

“You Francisco, you Deacon, are my sons. Together in the New World we will forge a new pact and build a new Rome unlike the Pope’s Rome. I nearly said Poe’s Rome. Poe was a racist. But never mind. He’s a genius all the same!” (90)

While Rome features in some of Poe’s stories, Harris is probably referencing the famous lines from “To Helen” (1845): “To the glory that was Greece, / And the grandeur that was Rome” (Poe 66). Mark Griffith, in a review of Boris Johnson’s The Dream of Rome, characterizes the nostalgia informing Poe’s reading of Rome as “nostalgia for a large, peaceful empire of near stasis enforced by fascist brutality, political pragmatism, and magnificent lack of imagination” (Griffith). Though Jones is invested in building a society away from the United States, Harris indicates that Jones has nothing but disdain for the region:

He hated the Caribs. He tended to loathe the soil of pre-Columbian America though he was up to his eyes in it (18).

This disdain resonates with the idea of founding a “Conquest Mission” which links the military and evangelical arms of colonialism with Jonah Jones’ idea of creating a new Rome in the rainforest of South America. The exile and the creation of a colony both outside “Civilization” and surrounded by the “Savage” echoes the section in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket in which Arthur, who has rejected a comfortable life for that of a sailor, finds himself and his companions “the only living white men upon the island” (Poe 448). Jones envisions both fleeing from his past and rebuilding a version of that past in Guyana. In Epic and Empire, David Quint uses Freud’s conception of the repetition compulsion to explore Aeneas’ recurring attempts to create a new Troy in Virgil’s Aeneid:

The victim of an earlier trauma may neurotically reenact his victimization over and over again. Alternatively, he may replay the original traumatic situation in order to create a new version of it, a situation of which he is now master, rather than victim, thereby “undoing” the past and gaining some control over his psychic history (Quint 51).

This attempt to control the trauma, rather than letting it control oneself can be seen in the theatrics of the White Nights which culminate in “revolutionary suicide.” Harris portrays Jonah Jones and the Conquest Mission as a reinscription of colonial violence, even though the impulse behind it was to create something outside that colonial mindset:

Perhaps I had known it all along, perhaps I knew my age was dying. Perhaps that was why I joined the Jonestown Church. What I had not perceived was the curious salvage of a Primitive morsel of time sprung from treason, treason’s desire, treason’s asymmetrywhen one breaks a pact with authoritarian virtue and dines with the enemy in a earful but true longing to consume fortresses and hate in him and in oneself, cemented bias in him and in oneself, cemented violence in him and in oneself (18).

Focusing on the colonizer/ colonized dichotomy reifies the violence of colonialism, and Jonestown becomes just another colonizing mission with a legacy of terror and death. When Bone accepts the judgment of the Arawaks and dies for Deacon’s breaking a taboo, he breaks that dichotomy. As the descendent of African and European forebears, he takes the punishment owed to Deacon, of Arawak and East Indian descent, recognizing that both are “mere Colonial[s] (233). “It is no accident” (233), he says, as they throw him over the edge of the cliff and “Lightness becomes a new burden” (234).

Bone, who is called Lazarus throughout the novel, has a special relationship with death because he was saved from the events at Jonestown by Deacon, and he carries the scar of that salvation in his missing fingers. Those phantom limbs constantly remind him of the death he escaped. As the only survivor of a holocaust, Bone shares the perspective of the narrator of the second novel in which whiteness is referenced: Ishmael in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. A more terrifying referent also swims through the novel, the white phantom whale. The whale connects back to the Bonampak carvings of half-human creatures and to the Predator, which lurks in Harris’ novel. It is its invocation of the terror of whiteness, however, that resonates most with Harris’ theme. In Chapter 42 of Melville’s novel, Ishmael reflects upon why white has such a terrifying aspect, whether it is the polar bear, the great white shark, or the blankness of Antarctica. Ishmael concludes by writing:

And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues – every stately or lovely emblazoning – the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge – pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him (Melville 165).

This idea – that the colors of Nature hide a syphilitic core of blankness, that beauty is a deceit, and that the whiteness of death is all that surrounds humanity – is for Ishmael at the heart of Ahab’s obsession: “And of all these things the Albino Whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?” (Melville 165). Like Ahab, Jones can no longer see anything but the blankness at the core of society, and he will destroy it or be consumed. In Jonestown, Bone sees with “prophetic eyes” as “Ahab’s doomed voyagers were being toppled by a misty grave-digger into a mass-media pool” (87). The gravedigger is the only person enriched by the slaughter in Jonestown; all the victims lose their identities in the mass media pool which elevates the cult of death and dehumanizes each victim with individual dreams of a more just society. In referencing Ishmael, Bone resists that dehumanization. One of the major themes in Moby-Dickinvolves Ishmael’s growth as he becomes friends with Queequeg and associated with the “meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways” (Melville 103). Ishmael rejects what he sees as the hypocrisy of society to embrace a new vision of human charity. Bone similarly refuses to forget the victims of Jonestown even as he is resurrected from death (127).

Like the narrator of Melville’s novel, Harris’ narrator chooses a pseudonym with resonant meaning. Francisco means “free man” or “Frenchman,” a reference both to Bone’s movement through time and his absent fratricidal and sexually predatory forebear: “We all have ghosts in this country for fathers.. It’s a legacy of slavery” (30). Bone refers to the Carib bone flute, a theme Harris has returned to since his first novel,Palace of the Peacock. For Harris, “The bone flute was a confessional organ involved in, yet subtly repudiating, the evil bias of conquest that afflicted humanity” (HarrisSelected 106). As Francisco Bone moves through the past, he becomes empowered enough to challenge Jones’ view of the world and history.

The third whiteness text, “Imagination Dead Imagine,” is chosen by Jones, Deacon, and Bone as a “poetry epitaph” with which to “reinterpret the death of the arts” (15). Samuel Beckett’s 1965 short piece begins, “No trace anywhere of life, you say, pah, no difficulty there, imagination not dead yet, yes, dead, good, imagination dead imagine” (Beckett 182). It is, like Harris’ work, full of paradox as it attempts to describe a “a plain rotunda, all white in the whiteness” (Beckett 182) filled with two bodies, one male, one female “back to back head to arse” (Beckett 184). Brian Finney emphasizes the “unknown number of associational meanings” (Finney 67) in Beckett’s work, and in the context of Harris’ novel, it is clear that the whiteness is the association Jones (and Harris) is drawing upon. “Imagination Dead Imagine” closes with the inability to relocate the bodies and to know anything definite about them:

No, life ends and no, there is nothing elsewhere, and no question of ever finding again that white speck lost in whiteness, to see if they still lie still in the stress of that storm, or of a worse storm, or in the black dark for good, or great whiteness unchanging, and if not what they are doing (Beckett 185).

The bodies in Beckett’s rotunda echo the bodies on the pavilion at Jonestown, and the whiteness resonates with both the Poe and Melville examples. The reference to Beckett brings another element to bear on the significance of whiteness in the novel, however. As Mary McCormick Maaga points out in Hearing the Voices of Jonestown, the vision of racial equality which lay at the heart of the Peoples Temple ideology is often erased in the discussion of the suicides and killings in Guyana in 1978 (Maaga 140). The Beckett reference seems to emphasize the inability of ever knowing any possible outcomes beyond what happened, similar to what Lawrence Wright calls the “great might-have-been of Jones’ unlived future” (Wright 74).

The trauma that accompanied both the sight of the massacre and his own disillusionment has fractured Bone: “On the day of the holocaust you survived, Francisco Bone, but something integral to the fabric of yourself remained behind within the trauma of the grave. A skeleton twin” (109). When Bone rejoins with his twin, he can begin to see that the Carnival resurrection he enjoys locks him into a linear conception of time:

Jones’ brand of religion, Jones’ split between the dead past (so-called) and the future (so-called), Jones’ irredeemable universe, can prove a killing dogma, a killing manifesto directed at the heart of originality (112).

Tutored by Mr Mageye, Bone has rejected this linearity of time. He travels back to witness the marriage of Deacon and Marie, only to discover Deacon is absent because he died in Jonestown. Bone assumes the mask of Deacon in order to try to raise some of the victims from the “mass media Pool” which has erased their histories and personalities:

Absent Deacon – played by me as Present Deacon – would prove a formidable engagement with humanity, revisionary spectralities of humanity in heaven and upon earth in myself (180).

Ultimately becoming Deacon leads to Bone’s death as he is judged by Arawak elders for a crime against the community. This crime, violating a taboo, which results in the death of Deacon’s infant son, suggests the third theme the novel invokes, that of extinction.

Extinction figures in the novel first through the dissolution of the dream of Peoples Temple. In the letter to W.H. preceding the Dream-Book, Francisco Bone links the destruction of Jonestown to the disappearances of Central and South American cities:

I was obsessed – let me confess – by cities and settlements in the Central and South Americas that are an enigma to many scholars. I dreamt of their abandonment, their bird-masks, their animal-masks. Did their inhabitants rebel against the priests, did obscure holocausts occur, civil strife, famine, plague? Was Jonestown the latest manifestation of the breakdown of populations within the hidden flexibilities and inflexibilities of pre-Columbian civilizations? (4)

After conceiving of Jonestown as another extinct New World city, Bone writes that he “was driven in my flight from Jonestown to reflect upon myself as an ‘extinct’ creature” (7). By this he seems to reference the fact that, as the sole survivor of Jonestown, the society will cease to exist with his death. He is a “living fossil.” He also carries all the memory of all the victims with him, thus the “Memory Theatre” he enacts throughout the course of the book.

The extinction motif also reflects a decay in Guyanese society, shrinking from emigration, and leaving behind abandoned buildings which raise up the images of both decaying colonial buildings and pre-Columbian ruins:

Thus the mixed peoples of African or Indian or European or Chinese descent who live in modern Guyana today are related to the Aboriginal ghosts of the past . if not by strict, biological kinship then by ties to the spectre of erosion of community and place which haunts the Central and South Americas (7).

The various gods and cultural heroes that appear in the novel then are remnants of the multiple pasts of all those who people modern Guyana, and by their relationship to the landscape, the modern Guyanese people also incorporate some of the myths of the extinct cultures of Central and South America.

One of the final guides that Bone meets is the Virgin Animal Goddess or Carnival Oracle, who explicitly links Bone’s quest to understand his survival with the cultural extinction wrought by the Conquest:

“Tell me,” said the Virgin Oracle, “what in heaven’s or hell’s name do you really know of your long-vanished antecedents, Francisco? What do you know of the worlds or spaces they occupied or inhabited before the Conquest? Precious little. What do you know of the treaties they shaped with the Predator, the Wolf, the Beast, who spoke to them at the fireside? You call me holy foster-mother but what do you know of me? You are extinct, Francisco (in areas of yourself), as a species of bird or buffalo or animal that fell to the guns of the invading puritan in the Americas since the Conquest. You are the embodiment of lost tribes, or peoples” (131).

The treaty the Animal Goddess refers to and which she embodies is what Harris identifies as a crucial pre-Columbian tradition: “a profound and unusual treaty of sensibility between human presence on this planet and the animal kingdom” (HarrisSelected 202).

Like some of the figures depicted in the murals and stelae at Bonampak, the characters inJonestown wear animal masks which link them to pre-Columbian gods.[2] Jonah Jones is linked to the Tiger, which is the Guyanese name for the jaguar (Smock 29). As the Jaguar, Jones is linked to the Predator and “the Beast, who spoke to them at the fireside.” The Jaguar God in Mayan myth is the seen as the god of the night and of sacrifice, and in certain Mayan myths the world will end when the jaguar ascends from the underworld and devours the sun and moon (Thompson 293; Phillips 70). Deacon is linked to both the Vulture and the Scorpion. The king vulture in Mayan myth was associated with the sun, therefore Deacon stands as oppositional to Jones in the novel. It is Deacon who saves Bone from Jones:

Out of the corner of my eye I saw [Deacon] standing at the other side of the Clearing. He wore the Eagle/Scavenger mask that duels with a Tiger’s sun-mask in Maya Bonampak. (23)

Deacon has been given immunity from pain through inoculation of scorpion venom by Arawak shamans. While this enables him to climb Roraima and gain treasure, it also causes the poisoning death of his infant son. It is the breaking of the taboo, touching the child while the scorpion venom is still potent, that causes the Arawak judges to sentence Francisco Bone, in his mask as Deacon, to death and to hurl him over the cliff.

Accepting the death sentence for Deacon closes Bone’s search for the meaning of his survival. In the book’s final section, Jones loses his importance, as Bone, inhabiting Deacon’s body, chastises him as merely another in a long line of would-be Conquistadors, despoiling Guyana in a quest for El Dorado. Bones compares Jones to Midas, sick with greed:

“Midas starved himself to death (his first death or his second?) when the Bread he ate turned to Gold in his mouth, when the gospel of materialism he preached in charismatic palaces and churches turned to hell on earth” (219).

Jones’ attempt to build a Conquest Mission in Guyana, his disdain for Amerindian traditions, and his loathing of hybridity all signal his unfitness for living in the homeland of Bone and Deacon. Bone rejects gold for bread, constructing a Ship of Bread with which to sail to Roraima.

Fittingly the novel does not end with Jones, but with Bone in Deacon plunging from the top of Roraima. In Roraima, Harris presents the ultimate symbol of the perils of conquistadorial thinking and the threat of extinction. Roraima is the highest tepui in the world. A tepui is a unique table-top mountain found in Guyana highlands. Their inaccessibility has created enormous biological diversity, with unique species of plants and animals developing on each tepui. Some refer to the tepui as a biological El Dorado (Tierney 153). When Deacon ascends Roraima, he attempts to grasp both gold and plants in order to make his fortune for Marie and his unborn son. However, as Bone in Deacon’s body reaches out for the plants he finds they are not there:

Extraordinary plants and flowers shone with teeth and brilliant flowering, repetitive lips in the shadow of the Scorpion Constellation. Yet when I reached again nothing was there. Nothing itself was a fossil apparition in space (227).

Harris refers to the plants as “vegetable gold” (228), and it is an apt description, for if gold was at the heart of the genocide created by the Conquest and the Conquistadors, then bioprospecting and the division of the earth into wealthy and poor is at the heart of modern cultural extinction. In Pemon myth, Roraima is the stump of the tree of life, an enormous tree which bore wonderful fruit, and which a greedy man chopped down, unleashing an ecological catastrophe (Maddicks). Indigenous peoples worldwide face a similar onslaught by pharmaceutical companies. As Sebastian Luna points out, bioprospecting “is a robbery of traditional indigenous knowledge and resources, with the sole purpose of producing pharmaceuticals that will not benefit the communities that have managed and nurtured these resources for thousands of years” (RAFI 2). Bioprospecting stands as the next dispossession suffered by the indigenous peoples of the Americas at the hands of the conquistadorial forces which still privilege whiteness, ask the poor to sacrifice more than the wealthy, and drive more cultures and creatures extinct.

For Harris, the tragedy that occurred in Jonestown was only another fragment of the violence left over from the Conquest, which severed humans from the natural world. Jonah Jones’ disdain for the cultures of Guyana and his belief in the linearity of time lead to another massacre in the South America, one that was prefigured by the slaughter of the Incas.[3] The epic of repentance Bone writes in his Dream Book and performs in the Carnival Memory Theatre begins the process of healing by embracing all Guyanese antecedents, by attempting to reconcile some of the contradictions created by the Conquest and its colonial aftermath. Bone must reject the conquistadorial theology of Jones and turn back to his own forgotten country, to the collective knowledge contained in the stump of the Tree of Life. Bone embraces the continuity of life, embodies all aspects of his fellow Guyanese, and turns away from Jones’ vision of the world, a vision steeped in despair and lacking the necessary memory to envision the “living, paradisean landscape” (113) through which, with work, we all can travel.


Works Cited

Beckett, Samuel. The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989. New York: Grove Press. 1995.

Finney, Brian. “A Reading of Beckett’s ‘Imagination Dead Imagine’.” Twentieth Century Literature 17, 2. April 1971. 65-71.

Friedel, David and Linda Schele. “Symbol and Power: A History of the Lowland Maya Cosmogram” in Maya Iconography, Elizabeth P. Benson and Gillett G. Griffin, eds. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1988.

Griffith, Mark. “August 3rd, 2007.” otherlanguages.org. June 30, 2008. (Online here).

Harris, Wilson. The Dark Jester. London: Faber and Faber. 2001.

_____. Jonestown. London: Faber and Faber. 1996.

_____. Selected Essays of Wilson Harris: The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination, Andrew Bundy, ed. London: Routledge. 1999.

Highfield, Jonathan. “The Dreaming Quipucamayoq:  Myth and Landscape in Wilson Harris’ The Dark Jester.” Atlantic Studies, Vol 1, Number 2. October 2004.

Johnson, Boris. The Dream of Rome. London: HarperPerennial. 2007.

Maaga, Mary McCormick. Hearing the Voices of Jonestown. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 1998.

Maddicks, Russell. “Pemon Myth 3: The Great Flood and the Creation of Roraima.” Text translated from Maria Manuela de Cora’s book Kuai-Mare: Mitos Aborigenes de Venezuela. Madrid: Editorial Oceanida. 1957July 23, 2008.

Maes-Jelinek, Hena. Wilson Harris. Boston: G.K. Hall. 1982.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Co. 2002.

Phillips, Charles. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aztec and Maya. London: Lorenz Books. 2004.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Stories. New York: Everyman’s Library. 1993.

RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International). “Biopiracy Project in Chiapas Denounced by Mayan Indigenous Groups. News Release December 1999. July 23, 2008.

Quint, David. Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1993.

Smock, Kirk. Guyana. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides. 2008.

Thompson, J. Eric S. Maya History and Religion. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 1970.

Tierney, Patrick. Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon. New York: W.W. Norton. 2002

Wright, Lawrence. “Orphans of Jonestown.” The New Yorker 69, 39. November 22, 1993. 66-89.


1 The title is a quotation from Wilson Harris, Jonestown, 112,. All subsequent quotations will have the page numbers indicated parenthetically.

2 See David R. Hixson’s online Mesoamerican Photo Archive at the Department of Anthropology at http://www.mesoweb.com/mpa/#. In the Bonampak section stela 1 (http://www.mesoweb.com/mpa/bonampak/stela1.html#)), lintel 4 (http://www.mesoweb.com/mpa/bonampak/lintel4.html), and the mural in structure 1, room 1 (http://www.mesoweb.com/mpa/bonampak/rm1i.html#) clearly show representations of the connection between the human and animal.

3 See Harris, Dark Jester, 2001, and Highfield, “The Dreaming Quipucamayoq,” 2004.