33rd West Indian Literature Conference - October 2-4, 2014


Wilson Harris, as a writer and theorist/critic, articulates repeatedly the significance of humanity’s relationship with the environment in general and ways in which that relationship is played out in the Caribbean and the Americas, in particular.  In his many essays, he points to the necessity of apprehending the world around us differently and the role of creative sensibilities in making these ‘revisionary’ gestures.  Harris speaks of being able to read fiction closely for the ‘peculiar combination of imagery and idea’ and he sees the possibilities in extending this approach to the spaces around us.  One of the expectations of this new re-reading is to come to an appreciation of how cultures can participate in a ‘therapeutic and evolving reality’.  This year’s conference, under the heading ‘Literature, Culture and the Environment’, will explore the peculiar ways that the imaginative mind through literature and its relationship with culture, encourages us to continually re-visit our notions of landscape, space and place(ment). 

It would not be an exaggeration to state that as a physical space, the Caribbean has been extensively ‘troped’: Familiar concepts of paradise, images of the ‘great house’ and the backyard have figured consistently in Caribbean writing; Notions of cultural and temporal displacement illustrated with metaphors of seascapes; Articulations of identity conveyed through discourse about location.  An examination of canonical and contemporary Caribbean writers as well writings about the Caribbean highlight this sensitive and sustained engagement with landscape and space. 

Nonetheless, the term ‘environment’ can hopefully provide alternative ways of looking at these tropes as well as identifying new ones with its focus on the relationship among space, landscape and social behaviours.  The notion of environment, therefore, helps us to think about the interlacing dynamics that shape our relationship to the world around us and each other.  Environment incorporates (to borrow a Harrisian term) ‘far-flung’ aspects of our lived experience – the aesthetic, the political, the pragmatic features of architecture, social rituals, music.  The ways in which our treatment of the environment speaks to our social relations and its imprint on our cultural expression can therefore be investigated through literature, the visual and plastic arts, social practices and the ways in which all of these categories come into dialogue with each other.   

One of the ways that Harris’s work inspires this dialogue is through his understanding of the region’s rehearsal of connections between history and place.  Though a now conventional topic, his writings remind us that a conventional frame is just a matter of stasis – there are always ‘transitive densities’ that we can unearth.  It is our responsibility as creative/critical thinkers to not only be open to the narratives of past and present written into our spaces but to approach them with wonder and respect: “One thing that I should add is this: transitive densities may instil themselves in fiction that is shaped in ‘the mind of the imaginative writer who has been deeply affected by the life of primordial landscapes, tall rapids, burning savannahs, rain-forest rocks imprinted with the markings of ancient cultures, markings that resemble extra-human messages from the gods who write in fire and wind and water’ (Wilson Harris “Quetzalcoatl and the Smoking Mirror: Reflections on Originality and Tradition”).
It is our hope that this conference offers such an invitation to wonderful exploration.


Host Organisation
Department of Language, Linguistics and Literature
Faculty of Humanities and Education, The University of the West Indies
Cave Hill Campus, P.O. Box 64, Bridgetown, Barbados

Email:  humanities@cavehill.uwi.edu  Tel: (246) 417-4402/7458
Conference Website: http://www.cavehill.uwi.edu/fhe/LLL/WILC

Faculty of Humanities and Education
Telephone: (246) 417-4385/87 Fax: (246) 424-0634 E-mail: humanities@cavehill.uwi.edu