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New Left Review I/153, September-October 1985

Gregory Shaw

Art and Dialectic in the Work of Wilson Harris

In his first major work, Tristes Tropiques, Claude Lévi-Strauss made the point that the anthropologist had become the ‘hero’, shaman and priest of the secular world, his expeditions into the savage hinterland a modern-day substitute for the primitive rite of passage into manhood, power and prestige within the tribe. The paradigm can be extended to the artist in the twentieth century who, embarking on his own journey into the interior, often becomes the protagonist of his own myth in which the public participates vicariously. The Guyanese novelist, Wilson Harris, in a sense combines both anthropological and artistic credentials. His early career as a land surveyor took him on long expeditions into the South American interior. But since abandoning the scientific vocation in mid-life and taking up exile in London, he has become an outstanding example of the artist who is both high-priest and victim, prophet and messianic presence within his own myth.

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Gregory Shaw, ‘Art and Dialectic in the Work of Wilson Harris’, NLR I/153: £3

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