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  • The New Man in the JungleChaos, Community, and the Margins of the Nation-State

The map of the savannahs was a dream. The names Brazil and Guyana were colonial conventions I had known from childhood. I clung to them now as to a curious necessary stone and footing, even in my dream, the ground I knew I must not relinquish. They were an actual stage, a presence, however mythical they seemed to the universal and the spiritual eye. They were as close to me as my ribs, the rivers and the flatland, the mountains and heartland I intimately saw. I could not help cherishing my symbolic map, and my bodily prejudice like a well-known room and house of superstition within which I dwelt. I saw this kingdom of man turned into a colony and battleground of spirit, a priceless tempting jewel I dreamed I possessed.

I pored over the map of the sun my brother had given me.

Palace of the Peacock

“You can’t be sure of anything in the bush, Mr. Fenwick. The truth is you poring over them chart and tide-map too hard.”

The Secret Ladder
—Wilson Harris, The Guyana Quartet 1

Flying over Guyana’s national territory, the eye traverses hundreds of miles of dense jungle. On morning flights, the landscape is remiss, stoic, secretive to the urban industrial perspective. Soaring at such imperial heights, borne by technologies imported from the industrialized countries, one sees the impenetrable green broken only by the occasional savannah or the vast brown reach of the mighty rivers. At night, the blackness is absolute and overwhelming.

Wilson Harris’s Guyana Quartet (1961–64) documents and redocuments this confrontation, to question the concepts of the nation and the state, and the lay of the terrain (national, psychological, global), as much to inaugurate as to impeach. In opening and closing his recapitulation of the history of Guyana’s national projects from the interior, Harris reconsiders the European encounter with the New World, refracted now through the prisms of New World multiculturalist nationalisms Boissière had hinted at, with the reflection of the self that hounds a spectrum of trained, industrialized workers in the jungle. From Donne/Carroll, the brutal/contemplative brothers seeking gold in Palace of the Peacock (1961), the novel that opens The Guyana Quartet, to Fenwick, the government surveyor at the head of The Secret Ladder (1964) that closes it, men find their structures of self, knowledge and power crumbling under [End Page 133] the terrible weight of the jungle. In the Quartet’s intervening novels, Oudin of The Far Journey of Oudin (1962) and Abram/Cristo/Peet of The Whole Armour (1963), emblematic of those disenfranchised in the national project, find themselves the pawns of private economic strategies, the objects of law and order, demarcated zones cast as the territory for the extraction of surplus and the enactment of power, pre-1838 (estate = state) and after (coast = nation). Confronting the history of the pursuit and promise of development as the national patrimony, Harris’s Guyana Quartet seeks to decipher the history of social relations, of national and nationalist identities, of labor relations, and the constitution of men and national administration from the locus of the micrological spheres of the jungle zone into which the universe has collapsed.

Guyana’s rainforests were propelled into metropolitan media networks when, in the 1970s, the bodies of Reverend Jim Jones and his followers were found in the interior. Confronting, like the earliest pioneers, crises in the collective psyche, these strangers plunged into the wilderness, pilgrims from the center of regional imperialism and staged their own massacre. The jungle returned to itself, its own ancient cycles of life and fertile rot, to those who live there, eking out a subsistence on the primeval landscape. These broad stretches of undeveloped territory have persistently proven stronger than the men from metropolitan countries, the earliest being Sir Walter Raleigh (1595) and Abraham van Pere (1627), British and Dutch men captured by the secrets of the interior and the prospect of marshalling capital-intensive technology for long-term profits. Then the South American territory was administered as a “patroon,” the property of the Dutch West India Company. The jungles of this patroon were territory ripe for development in the hands of a new man anxious to integrate the wilderness into the global economy under his proprietorship, to find the capital secreted in this particular wilderness, El Dorado, King Sugar, the Palace of the Peacock, the minerals of the future, the lost objects of modern men’s desire. In the intervening 150 years, the British blocked development of the interior to prevent economic and therefore political competition with the coast and the colonial regime.

At the close of The Secret Ladder, the focus of this essay, Harris explores the obverse of development in the collapse of governmental projects to map the interior. The deterioration of the proto-socialist nation-state comes at the hands of a de facto revolution by the masses and the sub-proletariat. In the confrontation between savage agrarian men of the interior and the base government workers from the coast, the lowest echelon of the state conspires to murder the leader/government/nation-state in effigy, a surplus population taking the reins of administration into their own hands and reverting to chaos, to barbarianism, to sitting around fires in the jungle as the highest court of law, reading the heads of state into the body of a captured woman, as Catalena Perez becomes a metonym for the processes of a development predicated on their disenfranchisement and the site for an inaugurating act of war.

In this ambient edge of the world, macaws, deep purple and royal blue, take refuge, and dimly discernable monkeys chatter in the dark upper regions of the overgrowth, in the misty twilight, resting and swinging again on branches a thousand years old. Sun butterflies, “wings breathing like fans” (418), deer, ocelots, pumas, hummingbirds, armadillos, sloths, accouri, and hundreds of living species whose patterns and potential are not yet catalogued populate the vast, dense wilderness. Plunged into [End Page 134] such remote and wondrous fecundity, men and nations have found themselves, as inevitably, in Harris’s eye, as their undoing. In The Secret Ladder, a representative of the new nationalist cadres in the Guyanese civil service takes up the subject position of the new man in the jungle, voiding the leases and invading zones held by legendary but subaltern national renegades—descendants of slaves escaped into the bush, Amerindian tribes fleeing the European invasion of Central America—the better to map the terrain of the future, and investigate the social body with an eye to the transformation of government.

Throughout Harris’s shifting, anthropomorphic figurations of Guyana’s interior, settlements of these nomad, subaltern peoples take refuge deep within a shared, strange, yet familiar territory, the people like the territory “wild and impenetrable” in the minds of the administrative cadres of agro-industrial processes, alien to the prime concern of the colony in transition—the pursuit of the new nation-state’s development and primitive accumulation. 2 None of the developed peoples live here, by definition. The men emerging from the bush some four times a year to trade and acquire manufactured goods have become iconic in the nationalist psyche, “pork knockers,” men who mine diamonds and gold on a small scale, or “balata bleeders,” bleeding the sap from the trees.

Gestating a wealth in mineral resources coterminously with the outcome of small, ancient administrative strategies, the rich earth of the jungle houses a scattered 10% of the population, 1% Amerindian, refuge to rebels and peoples rumored to be not-yet-extinct in the British Empire. These black and Amerindian communities have rejected the reconceptualizations of power, government, and the social body in the wake of late 17th century agro-industrial development, eschewing national integration in favor of a stateless society. A statute of 1902 ordered the creation of reservations for the Amerindian population as part of the portfolio of the Commissioner of Lands and Mines, superseded by a 1951 policy change favoring acculturation, Westernization, the extension of government into the reservations, and the levying of taxes. Throughout, the administration of native peoples, grouped at the turn of the century with territory and natural resources, and at mid-century with colonial subjects, has been accomplished through missionaries. As a strategy of political education, the colonial regime’s creation of reservations proved largely successful in transforming the barbarian tribes into worker-subjects, exemplified in 1953 by their unanimous vote for the party of the soon-to-be-displaced colonial elite and the newly arrived entrepreneurs. In Harris’s novels, renegade communities of nomad/subaltern peoples become the manifestations of the nation out of which the new hope will be founded as they confront the conceptualizations of people and government coming out of the metropolis. Thus from the margins of the nation-state, the pregnant refuse of the process of development and expansion, comes the fountainhead of a new national horizon.

The effects of these encounters follow tracks to the foundations of the nationalist administrative identity, back into the chaotic psyche of the Guyanese new men who will lead the transformation of the self and so the state and so the nation. This centralization of men in the jungle crosses the limit-text of the epistemes of the nation-state, simultaneously questioning the constitution of madness in relation to the [End Page 135] inevitability of the state, the new Guyana’s men-nation confronting the threat to reason/progress/history that Michel Foucault sought to sketch for France. Here the tentacles of power/knowledge and the institutionalization of the protonational state is plotted in the jungle, and on the bodies of workers, criminals, and women, margins of the social body central to The Far Journey of Oudin and The Whole Armour, the base on which men plot the trajectory of power and capital at the beginning and in the end.

The people at the center of the jungle communities shimmer on the margins as black or Amerindian workers in European texts documenting Europe’s (re)turn to the bush. The most famous in the British tradition, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, comes immediately to mind for foreign readers grappling with the chaos of which Harris writes so masterfully. Given Harris’s erudition in European as well as Indian, Amerindian and African traditions, and the inclusion of quotes from English and European authors for his epigraphs, however, this insistence on Europe as the original reference point is consistently, and pointedly, turned on its head. Both by the Quartet’s insistent self-referentiality, and by its confounding of Western knowledge technology, Harris’s Quartet sideswipes, inverts, and implodes the insistence on Europe as point of origin and return. In fact, here history is always an open and pregnant crucible, and India can take the place of England (The Far Journey of Oudin) as easily as the national elite take the place of the conquistadors who preceded them by centuries (Palace of the Peacock). Harris’s agenda in the Quartet is a survey of the diverse groups constituting the nation written with an eye to rethinking the world and problems of knowledge and nationhood from the perspective of Guyana’s constituencies and terrain. Its complexity stems from the fact that it addresses the questions of the “Caribbeanization” of epistemology and ontology, a project directed at—and meant to question—the motives and certainties of the national groups waiting to assume power. The Quartet, then, is an opus of Guyanese territorialization. 3 As such, to the horror of mothers like Magda (The Whole Armour)—a whore-worker in the interior who sends her son to Oxford as a way out—or new men like Fenwick the government surveyor (The Secret Ladder), the certainties held out as reference points in either the imperial or anti-imperial imagination cannot take hold, and always get men killed (Palace of the Peacock, The Far Journey of Oudin, The Whole Armour, The Secret Ladder).

Interestingly, in Harris’s return to this encounter, women as metaphors find themselves in an explosive process of transformation, like a zygote, a multiplying egg, whereas women as physical beings find their bodies the locus of super-overdetermined violence. In closing the reconceptualization of the (originary) chaos at the end of the old state formations, the position of women in the social structures of the national frontiers changes only for the worse. Catalena Perez will shift from brutalized clientelic adjunct, property guaranteeing the production of sex/pleasure in payment for her husband’s gambling debts, to the savage game of the new Guyana as enemy/woman-nation, her body the terrain on which the nightmare rebirth of men and men’s communities, and thus the nation, will be remapped.

Starting with an exploration of knowledge and resources in the jungle, I want to move to an analysis of the campsite as a micrological metonym of the mini-nation where the native intelligentsia (Fenwick) confronts the subalterns who will constitute [End Page 136] the socius of the new people-nation (workers). From there, I want to rethink the terms attached to chaos (woman, savage, children, jungle) that set up false equivalencies, and finally, in closing, turn to the coupling that promises a new beginning (Bryant and Catalena). From the transformation of the Amerindian Mariella in Palace of the Peacock from whore-worker to boat-vessel to wise-woman, to Catalena, the white woman whose coupling might birth a new nation, /woman/ like /jungle/ becomes the seat of transcendent knowledges, both terms posed as questions finally unanswered, along with the nature of the revolutionary savage/remnants of maroon communities in The Secret Ladder. In Harris’s novels, history finds itself here, deep in the interior, erupting in the reflection back onto himself of hero/historians through the prisms of chaos. Reconceptualizing women and maroons and jungle terrains as children in the mind of the new man marks their disenfranchisement, the need for their submission to the dictates of the nation-state that also registers their exile from the social pact. The novel that closes the Quartet on the eve of Guyana’s Independence and Co-operative Socialism then, sees repetitions of the violence of encounters, among social groups and with the jungle terrain, constituting Guyanese historiography as cycles of life and rot in the crisis it catalyzes in the minds of a surplus population, the nationalist workers, and the cadres of a new administration.


The new country will be built not only on the terrain of the jungle but on the terrain of the body as well: a new terrain and new social subjects must be surveyed. So in the opening lines of The Secret Ladder, the technology of development is employed in plotting the future of the nation: Fenwick, government land surveyor, is reading the river-gauge, noting that the Canje is well below its expected level, an expectation determined by an unreliable record and the superimposition of old numbers signifying past waterlevels onto the stubborn realities of the gauge:

It was the month of September, noon on the Canje River. The gauge against the stelling exposed the greater part of its slender height. The solid black line of the river divided the painted scale, needing seven feet more to rise to brim the deck of the stelling; the river-gauge shot three feet still above this. Fenwick, the government surveyor, was looking up and it seemed an interminable way for the water to mount over his head.


Fenwick is expecting the Flood, and speculates it could come in seven days, a conceptualization resonant with the concept of cleansing, of divine retribution, and the “oldest fable” (417), casting him, in one sense, as Noah, and in another, as observer in the recreation of the world. Indeed, the flood never comes as water, but as something else: the jungle itself that weeps perhaps (447), or its effect on men from the coast, or its ab/original inhabitants, rising up to inundate the government’s representative [End Page 137] and its developmental strategies. The blackness of the water, its hard opaqueness as a solid black line, already signals an enigma: where water is to be conceptualized as fluid, as predictable, as transparent, this water, like the terrain through which it cuts, reveals nothing, and the educated man from the coast is left to speculate on its possibilities. The landscape yields nothing and, in yielding nothing, yields uneasiness in the government surveyor.

The jungle functions as a riddle in moments like these when Fenwick is isolated in his confrontation. But on the margins of perception, when Fenwick averts his gaze and it is no longer the government meeting the territory but the social being meeting the landscape, the terrain begins to reflect his own psyche. Staring into the black water whose depth and transformations he is to plot, Fenwick sees a black mirror; and in its dead-stillness, Fenwick’s eye is thrown back onto itself, and his sense of his concrete existence begins to evaporate under the heat of the sun, the white sky burning down on the black water:

He wanted to curse the glaring cunning of the receding heavens, the oppression of the everlasting bowl of sun in the dense white sky. Instead he closed his eyes and his figure drooped a little in his narrow corial and shell of a boat. He opened his eyes and looked around him once again. The river was dead-still save where his own paddle had broken the mirror and surface. All at once he leaned down and splashed the liquid on his face to clear away all doubt of a concrete existence.


This unstinting glare of the elements in the “inchoate” Amazonian jungle resolves itself beyond the structures and methodologies of production and national planning, “a latitude of spendthrift furies and intensities” (358). The sun, in scorching its whiteness through to the skeleton of the surveyor, finds the hinges in the key terms in Fenwick’s technologies of knowledge: the ability to read, to see, and thence to measure and predict, and thence to map, to implement. The day turns these terms back on him, yielding nothing, like a mirror in his eyes, and the sun like a burning X-ray, illuminating the skeleton of everything, penetrating to the “whitest bone” (359). Daylight, then, resolves everything back into itself, into its own perceptible essence, its whiteness revealing whiteness, creating whiteness. Conspiring with the sun, the jungle promises to reveal itself only in the end to hide itself, promises to tell and expose everything, exposing nothing.

Caught in this double bind, Fenwick feels himself defeated, cannot see, is forced to project, in the jungle’s treachery, as the jungle becomes its antithesis, a desert, and so his reading is a mirage, erasing the certainty it is his job to collect, write down, and bring back to the coast, to the government, for reasons he has never addressed. Time loses meaning here, as the elements force their way back to the founding terms of the conceptual contracts of the Enlightenment that say the world is knowable, measurable, predictable, the terms that lie at the foundations of science and technology, democracy, development, history as a narrative of recorded events, of verifiable and dependable facts. Thus Fenwick finds himself on the verge of dissolution, losing the sense of concrete existence at the root of his project, his identity and his occupation, [End Page 138] as well as his contract with the government, and thus with narratives of nation-state history. He finds himself robbed as the jungle resolves itself back into itself, into desert, nothing, canceling out the difference that will make the terrain mappable.

The jungle becomes jungle, rather than desert, in the bush, away from the boiling sunlight, but here it is the jungle itself that is read as blind, “blind as a shuttered place” (359), an insubstantial counterpart, perhaps, to the shuttered Great Houses of the abandoned plantations that dot the landscape of so much Caribbean literature. In the battles for New World territory, here the jungle won. Some 460 years later, the government on the coast dispatches its own spies, its own explorers, but now there is the prospect of a new native nationalism to anchor the assumption of ownership, the impression that this space belongs to the viewer because it is viewed and, in being viewed, is known, mastered, measurable, secured. Just as British and European explorers insured these conceptualizations of self/nation through a contract with a British or European state for advanced technologies and military backup—weapons, violent men, decimation, reservations, then knowledge, science 4 —Fenwick and his workers, these new men come into the jungle, have the police. When the ancient, barbarian men already occupying the zone threaten the government workers’ claims and contracts—social, personal, economic—these British/Guyanese explorers opt to call in the state’s security forces, to employ the state’s technological advances in the management of power, in the identification and treatment of criminals worked out as part of the social pact with the state, in order to secure the territorial claims for the coast. When that perceptual equation of security between the eyes and ears of the state and the land he surveys is broken by human bodies from the interior—that is by the descendants of Africans who cast their lot, given coastal slavery, for subsistence in the jungle, leasing an agricultural zone from the new governmental structures—it is the eruption of history into a plane where there is no history. As I will argue in closing, the ethnicity of the people from both the state and the renegade camps within the multicultural nation will condition the nature of their relationship to this history. But in the end, as here in the beginning, the fact of these historical bodies, marking difference, breaking the equations set up with nature by the initial terms of any social contract with and within the jungle, becomes a catalyst for remapping the terrain to be surveyed, changing the course of national strategies. The chaotic nexus of ancient past and violent present in configuring the future will shift from the jungle to the body of the only woman, Catalena Perez. Marriage and heterosexual coupling, as technologies of social and biological administration, will survive as the only viable alternative after the jungle again prevails over civilization, though the grafting of coastal institutions onto the new Adam and Eve in the jungle makes the return to “progress” and “development” as crisis management inevitable.

In the process of articulating the predicament of the mini-nation, the symbols of technology can mark the division between the bodies of the two camps, the one from an African-Caribbean administrative structure, upon whose disenfranchisement progress and development are postulated, and on the other side, the workers from the coast, the camp whose makeup reflects all the diversity of the modern population—Portuguese, black, Chinese, East Indian, English, Amerindian—the descendants of peoples leaving their homelands in the wake of the global politico-economic reorganization [End Page 139] of territories and populations from 1492 to the 1960s. Here the black Guyanese community straddles two poles, simultaneously inside and outside the country: some occupy the jungle while others cast their lot with the coastal administrative strategies, reflecting the split in the social body of the black nation inducted into the administrative gambles of the imperial powers and their local administrators. Bryant, the black worker, recognizes his counterpart and ancestor in Poseidon, “the black king of history” (369), leader of the local community, and the difference in their positions in the two social structures is very much a reflection of the outcomes of black New World administrative history: there is a sense in which a modern black nation meets its agrarian self, and the novel is careful to trace the nuances of the new social pacts that are the outcome of this reunion.

The technology that stands between the two camps operates on several levels simultaneously, but in keeping with our recognition of the chaos the terrain wreaks on the conceptual structures inherited from the Enlightenment, we can also hold in reserve the recognition that everything will resolve itself into everything as well as into nothing, just as nothing will resolve itself into everything. This confusing paradigm is perhaps the most succinct encapsulation of the terrain on which the new nation will be built, and we must see it through to the end when Bryant, the man who will finally recognize the destructiveness of dividing the subaltern population between coastals and interior as an assault on new national history, joins Catalena in fleeing the ruins of the mini-nation. But first let us look again at an (artificially) concrete example, Fenwick’s gauge.

In the opening paragraph quoted earlier, Fenwick is simply doing his job, a civil servant reading the gauge. We noted that he is dissatisfied with what he sees, that he projects something else, something larger, an inundation. The norm for the water level is set by his desire to confirm what he knows are unreliable records, and beyond that (his desire) the gauge rises up toward the burning whiteness. On this gauge, Fenwick the government worker stakes everything: it is a mark of certainty, of progress, of technology, the spinal column on which the future of the nation, the plans of the state, development out of underdevelopment, history, is built. This gauge becomes immediately marked as the secret ladder of numbers that never achieve measurement, never achieve the accumulation that defines a series as much as wealth, the progression robbed of its positivist guarantee, its ability to mean and to be employed, its efficacy and usefulness. The referents straddle both the material (“actual feet and decimals”) and the conceptual, taking the terms of the development of science and technology, emptying them of their referent/guarantee, and pointing the skeleton towards “the glaring cunning of the receding heavens, the oppression of the everlasting bowl of sun in the dense white sky” (357).

The creolization of the state marks this transformation. The gauge itself is a tool developed in the tradition of the West, its measurements, its readings, a mark of the inheritance of Western administrative procedures. That it is made of wood suggests that it is locally produced, rather than imported, since the best gauges should be metal. The wood swells as it is left in the water, reacting as a natural substance, not having been hardened as metal would have been. It is an instrument, then, that marks in its materiality local resources, the fact of global markets, hierarchies in the [End Page 140] international division of labor. The technology that it represents (this is the second level it invokes) is not simply the technology of the tool itself, but the whole administrative structure that it supports and that supports it—surveying trips into the interior, written logs, the contracting of workers, the administration of those workers qua workers, thence industrial paradigms of human relations and the role of government. The information gathered and read into this gauge will allow for further planning by the state, the readministration of this territory, the knowledge of the uses to which this water can be put in the transformation of nature into capital, once its patterns are known and logged and predictable. Indeed, the predictability of the territory can lead to development and therefore to history, the incorporation, after 460 years, of the jungles into the country, resources for the state and its elite, and perhaps the nation.

Poseidon—the “oldest inhabitant of the Canje,” or its equivalent, the community farming this stretch of the banks of the river—recognizes all that this means. He recognizes, better than Fenwick, if Fenwick is to be believed, the uses to which this information will be put, what this gauge means: the government plans to flood the land, to build a reservoir to assist the East Indian rice farmers of the coast, and thus the social pact between the government and the peoples of the interior will be broken, their land and labor will be lost, and all the food for the community with it. Poseidon’s perception is simple, and Harris makes him absolutely accurate in reading the intentions of the government in the sudden appearance of this new technology. Poseidon himself, Harris points out, is a gauge (370).

Fenwick’s rebuttal, made to Bryant, is complex and evasive, built as it is on reading the power of the state in terms of its place on the other horizon, the horizon of international markets, brain drains, rates of exchange, the flows of capital in the post-World War II Caribbean basin, the prerogatives of the state. The government does not have the money to build a reservoir, Fenwick protests, years and years will pass before any plans can be implemented, the government lacks the technical and managerial resources, the government’s maps are too faulty. . . . But while Fenwick dismisses his accuracy, Poseidon’s reading of the gauge makes it clear that he understands better than Fenwick the changes in the strategies of the coast and the nature of the new social pacts being worked out by the government. Poseidon realizes that the combination of the color of his skin, his culture, his economy, converging with the region in which he lives, means that he is not of the country whose needs are to be met, that both he and the lease he signed with the government are to be voided to secure new alliances, made in the name of progress and country. The nation of the new democratic Guyana with which the state will form a pact does not include him and his kind. Neither does “Independence,” defined as the pact between the Jagan administration under siege on the eve of pre-determined electoral defeat, and the East Indian majority, the local white-Bookers-Reynolds-Aluminium Ltd.-British-U.S. alliance controlling the transformation of resources into capital and the power of the military. 5 Poseidon and his men destroy the gauges, an act of guerrilla warfare to resecure vital terrain.

The landscape is known by this conflict in conceptual/administrative structures: jungle is always equal to jungle or desert or nothing or everything, but no one who lives here is equal to the social body of the nation (= coast = city = always already [End Page 141] legitimate government). From the beginning, Fenwick must understand the strategies of Poseidon to survive, rather than the other way around. There is, in the encampment, a worksite on the banks of the river where the jungle has been cut back. In the bushes, through a dense trail, sits Fenwick’s camp. The hierarchy and isolation of management and/from worker is thus physically drawn-up on the landscape, but while the place of the worker is the artificial space, the camp of the leader finds a natural clearing, though his tent must be placed diagonally to the bank, thus blocking Fenwick’s view of the path from the sphere of the worker. Poseidon’s house is invisible from the river, through a dense thicket of bush Fenwick’s eye sees as “cunning” (411), the jungle like a sprawling, animate body. This is the terrain of transition, built out of the remnants of the old administrative paradigms, and in its details we can plot the terms of the relationships between the elements on the new horizon.

The clearing as the place of the worker is the site of the production of surplus value in both capitalist and socialist administrative strategies. This artificial space cleared in the jungle, then, is the worksite of the new nation, its administrative center once removed. There are only men here—women, like maroons and homosexuals, have no country—and there is work in the day and gambling at night. In the first two sections of the book, “The Day Readers” and “The Night Readers,” the conceptualizations of this clearing change to reflect the shift in administrative wagers and the gaze of power, but in the process of waging modern technological warfare, the worksite of the government’s representative expands under Fenwick’s leadership to include Poseidon’s house through the body of Catalena Perez, the Portuguese worker’s wife, the one woman who comes from the coast for her own reasons into this zone reserved for men. The body of Catalena Perez provides the link between the old and the new administrative paradigms, a body ripe for treason, useful because the strategy of the state is betrayal, plotted through the difference accruing to the body of a woman as she becomes a tool in Fenwick’s strategies of surveillance.

Lost in the wilderness, trapped in the house of mirrors created by his own (mis)perceptions, the mystery and resilience of the jungle comes to be equated with this uncertainty in the face of women. Woman is early on synonymous with child, childishness, inscrutability. In the colonial social arrangements of Palace of the Peacock, she is the worker, an inscrutable carrier of knowledge, a tool to be used for sex or for her knowledge of the terrain. In the Quartet’s opening lines, Mariella shoots the conquistador, woman/savage/jungle entering the fray as a warrior, as a metonym of the subaltern nation, the violated terrain, and as a battered woman. In the Quartet’s last novel, where the government men repeat the strategies of colonial men gone into the jungle to claim its riches, for both Fenwick and his work crew woman is all that undoes men’s plans, their technologies of knowledge, an object whose use they desire. Their treatment of women will represent a gauge of their ability to govern themselves when Fenwick as leader moves to intervene in the workers’ camp-life, the mark, then, of a series of social, political and personal limits. Nevertheless, women, like the jungle, are perceived as childlike—meaning always already unequal, emotional, omnipresent—critical resources it is up to the men-leaders to control, the better to properly deploy. [End Page 142]

That the entrance to the camp is Fenwick’s blind side reflects his relationship to the workers. This is clear, as Kenneth Ramchand has argued, and we will push its implications in a different direction later, but we can say here that in this context it reflects the crisis in government—the split between leadership and nation. The tent, like the strategies and technologies Fenwick has armed himself with, is misplaced, dangerous, perhaps, to his safety. Fenwick’s position is tenuous, as it is never the jungle (= Canje = Poseidon) that adapts to the needs of the government man, but the government worker who must adapt to the treacherous terrain.

The locus of power in the barbarian enemy’s camp is marked by the harmonious utilization of the jungle’s resources as they stand, incorporating the jungle’s cunning secretive profuseness as a natural ally against foreigners and invaders. Stumbling upon it, Fenwick is astonished by the claim configured in the enemy-leader’s headquarters:

It had an air both foreign and native, ideal and yet primitive, at one and the same time; and yet it seemed so precariously and absolutely right, belonging so truly in this natural and unnatural context of landscape, that the thought of an imposition, of pretentiousness or absurdity in the life of the crumbling building, seemed equally ridiculous and impossible. In fact—if it had been the gift of some imposing divinity—it bore a certain generous conception, economic and still humane. There were no marks of exclusiveness—rather a spirit of all-inclusive privacy, the most welcome artifice of humanity. What was at stake here was not the inevitable ruin of an old house, but a perception of depth more lasting than time, the moral privilege and right of place.


Fenwick finds his lost object of desire, an expert, progressive nationalist paradigm, rooted in the land, for government and nationhood, discovered in the architecture of a community working to overthrow state control of the territory. The criminal architect of this utopia has declared null and void the social pacts between the new state and pressure groups made on the coast, beyond the capacity of the new government to deliver. Nevertheless, Fenwick recognizes that embodied in the structures of the old barbarian men is the utopia postulated by the discourse of the new nationalism, yet this same stucture stands as a threat to the power of the new state (as to the old). It is Fenwick’s job to destroy it in the name of nationalism as history and development.

The micro-nation

The Guyana Quartet opens with the dream shooting of Donne, the archetype of the brutal explorer/adventurer driving into the jungle. It closes with Fenwick contemplating the possibility of his own murder in effigy by Poseidon’s men and their impending massacre by the police. The Quartet, written on the eve of Independence, [End Page 143] thus becomes a vast project of reconceptualizing the coming transformation of the state and its nationality through the terrain of the jungle, the jungle becoming the metaphor for that which has always been unyielding to the interests of the colonial state and which the new state must confront, that which, in the mind of government surveyor Wilson Harris, must be taken into account and is at odds with the new conceptual foundations of the state. Just as The Far Journey of Oudin and The Whole Armour raise the questions of subalternity—of criminals, runaways, peasant farmers under colonialism, plotting the biographies of peoples in the interior, on the margins of the national consciousness—the crescendo of The Secret Ladder looks to characterize the confrontation of the new government men with the peoples left out of the nation, on their own ground, to close the Quartet and circle back to confrontations between the workers, the barbarian men, those whose lives and labor were disposable in the eye of the colonial state and of those, characterized in the beginning, poring over a map of the landscape.

If so far we have looked at Fenwick as a pawn in the battles of nation-state formation, there is also the question of Fenwick as a social subject confronting himself, Fenwick as the man Ramchand has described as “the middle-class West Indian with the refined upbringing” who “must accept and come to terms with a debased African heritage,” “equally aware of the necessity to avoid setting up this heritage as a fetish” (171–72). The Quartet, then, opening with the confrontation of the maps and paradigms of the old colonialist men with concepts of power and the jungle, culminates in the confrontation of the new national man from the coast with “something from a deliberately forgotten primeval world” that the book has been concerned to humanize, whose history and/of consciousness Harris sought to sketch and incorporate into a new national/global consciousness.

The reconceptualization of the nation for the purposes of the state stands accused of repeating the exploitative practices and imperial paradigms that have marked the colonial period about to come to an end, and it is in the minds of the intelligence-gatherers from the coast confronting the inhabitants of the jungle, as much as in the strategic implementation of bodies, land and technology, that the transformation from the old to the new must occur. Ramchand concentrates on the internal transformations and notes the way in which everything is sucked up into the mind of Fenwick and his dilemma—the jungles, people, the nation, history, and truth. I want to look again at this dynamic, but with what will amount to a certain skepticism regarding the post-independence nationalist strategies and the conceptual enlightenment of the surveyor. I want to raise again the question of paradigms of development and underdevelopment and the place of diverse subaltern groups in the new country. Rather than accept the disenfranchisement and deterritorialization of the peoples on the margins of the state or the need for a local industrial revolution, I would suggest that there may well be the seeds of a “third path” beyond populism, a path between the Cuban and Puerto Rican models and beyond that which Guyana’s Burnham administration installed on paper in 1970 as Co-operative Socialism and which Jamaica’s Michael Manley attempted to take up in earnest. Both the Burnham-Hoyt and Manley experiments were failures, and the nature of the social pact and the disintegration of the Guyanese infrastructure under Hoyt is already indicated in [End Page 144] Fenwick’s response to Poseidon’s accusations and in his conferences with Jordan. In watching the ways in which Harris questions the mind-set of the new administrators, we can bear in mind that the revelation of the totalitarianism at the root of the new conceptual paradigms of the state’s relationship to the nation became increasingly explicit in political practice as the century draws to a close.

The group of men in the jungle becomes a metonym for the new state cadres, with all the social and administrative structures in place. Fenwick is clearly postulating a new government, and Jordan, his second, sequestered with him in the clearing, is clearly the bureaucratic administrator, the reins of power, advisor to the Prince. As foreman, Weng, the Amerindian mestizo, marks the limit of administrative penetration. The workers, including Weng, take their place somewhere else, and it is a sign of the problems of transition that the workers are unknown to Fenwick, that he must rely on Jordan for information on who they are and what they want. And when Poseidon speaks to Fenwick, Fenwick cannot hear him, though his lips are clearly moving:

Poseidon addressed Fenwick at last. His mouth moved and made frames which did not correspond to the words he actually uttered. It was like the tragic lips of an actor, moving but soundless as a picture, galvanized into comical association with a foreign dubbing and tongue which uttered a mechanical version and translation out of accord with the visible features of original expression.


The mind of the government man reels as he hears the subaltern speak. Fenwick’s strategies of authority become doubly complicated by this gap between who Poseidon is and who seems to be, a gap we can consider to be the gap between nation and state, interior and coast, and so inside and outside, fact and rumor, maroonage and civilization, worker and management, the old nation and the new, nationalism and colonialism. Indeed, as Fenwick’s reading of Poseidon’s house makes clear, the new national consciousness says it is predicated on its ties to the land, to the question of birthright and the implementation of local paradigms and materials, to a oneness between soil, history, nation and state that will equal the new country. The problems of epistemology and ontology, however, come back to ruin the surveyor’s plan, and at the close of the book there is a (re)new(ed) invasion, the state police come to restore law and order, the government’s control of the territory, and to stave off the chaos of subaltern strategies embedded in the history of a creolized socialist Subject at the center of the government’s nationalist rhetoric.

In a series of three conversations on policy, Fenwick progressively alienates his strategist. Jordan recognizes that Fenwick’s refusal of authoritarian models of leadership will unravel the social order and works to shore up the barrier between leader and led that determines all dialogue between Fenwick and the camp community. First is the battle to alienate Catalena when she complains of Perez’s abuse; second, comments on the nature of Catalena—“she’s the picture of a whore, skipper” (421)—and the importance of the dividing line between civil and domestic society (thus the [End Page 145] place of women in relation to government); and, finally, disapproval of Fenwick lending Chiung his coat, Chiung’s request signalling the decay of law and order, as Jordan sees it:

Before now they look on all familiarity you show as a condescending joke—it didn’t matter what you do, they knew you had a hard counsellor beneath—but now you really showing you care too much. And they know this is the beginning of the end.


Jordan knows the workers, can hear Poseidon speak from the perspective of state-interests—he knows what the rebels can and cannot see (382). When he recants on his pact with Fenwick after Weng seizes control of the battle against the men from the interior, it is effectively a coup, with the defection of Jordan as domestic policy strategist and the rise of Weng as head of the military.

Fenwick never knows the extent to which Jordan’s advice is predicated on preserving Jordan’s interests, the extent to which Jordan has placed himself at the service of the new government, the nature of his alliance. It is clear that Jordan has his own interests in mind, and the interests of law and order, according to lessons learned under the old administration that says workers and maroons must be treated harshly or the social system will collapse. At the same time, it is clear (and Jordan admits it) that the grievances of the workers with Jordan are metonymic of the disgruntled mass base founding the new national consciousness. Thus the shift in the relations between Fenwick, Jordan and the disgruntled workers is the shift from the colonial paradigms to the nationalist, with all its scars. The maroon villages, the administrative strategies of the peoples of the interior, are always on the outside of the new possibilities, and from government through to workers the story of the two camps is the story of a battle to the death, though the government man tries to deny it.

The conflict between Fenwick and Poseidon crosses a threshold with the arrival of Catalena Perez: on her body the men can project the tensions brewing between them, enact their social pacts with each other and with the rebels, the materialization of all that pulls them together and sets them apart. Soon the entire project of government, and beyond that the distinction between madness and knowledge, is under fire. The gauges marking the government’s claim to territory have been burned, and so have bridges and workstations. The government man finds his feet, gaining command of his men in the realization that he is at war.

The first task is epistemological clarity, the identification of facts and the proper methods of communication. Then, the utilization of operating social norms, the historic sanctity of the marriage pact and the ubiquitous preciousness of a woman’s body, the better to invade the enemy’s camp:

“Now, Perez, wake up! I’m being frank with you. I can’t afford to build a watchman’s camp at Kaboyary. We haven’t the money for that. What I can do is to install a temporary gauge at Poseidon’s landing. It’s two miles below Kaboyary and the best we can do. Instead of sending someone every day to Kaboyary to pick up a set of readings, you will move in with your wife under Poseidon’s [End Page 146] roof. The advantage is enormous. At night you’ll be sleeping practically on the spot. Once somebody is there, no one will dare to touch a thing . . . and you, Stoll . . .” he turned a little to face the other man . . . “will take over Perez’s morning to noon shift. I will take over your meters and floats . . . Understand?”


The man who questioned his sanity, who stared into the jungle and saw only his own face, has evaporated, and Fenwick’s new reading is predicated on his new manhood, predicated in turn on his leadership in war. The men give him power and it is up to Fenwick to manage it. The workers press for a masculine state—the police as a paramilitary force, the recognition of men’s property rights over women (domestic society) as outside the public domain (civil society), the legitimate leader as a man who makes firm decisions and never wavers. Fenwick, in softening towards the men and Catalena, wants to espouse a liberal regime, but this feminization of the state will lead to his being thrown from power, to the workers taking the suppression of Poseidon’s uprising into their own hands.

The feminization of the state here takes the form of questioning, of empathy and self-reflection, of rethinking history in remapping the political future of the nation that in the end is a question of power, knowledge, authority and pregnancy:

To misconceive the African, I believe, if I may use such an expression as misconceive, at this stage, is to misunderstand and exploit him mercilessly and oneself as well. For there, in this creature Poseidon, the black man with the European name, drawn out of the depths of time, is the emotional dynamic of liberation that happened a century and a quarter ago—to put a rough date on it. Something went tragically wrong then. Something was misunderstood and frustrated, God alone knows why and how. Like an affair between a man and a woman gone wrong.

(385, author’s emphasis)

The birth of the nation in the horizon of 1838 is seen as shrouded in mystery, although its disastrous legacy is written on the national body. This nation is a woman and the state is like a man, but it is understood that states give birth to nations, not vice versa. The power to gestate is in the hands of the government and the new socialist pacts threaten to miscarry. The fate of the citizen-worker in the new industrial horizon is always greater or lesser exploitation, the mule of the nation-state. So when Fenwick looks to excuse the African Poseidon from the process of exploitation, it will only be an inevitable step to exclude him from the social pacts of modernity altogether.

This postulation of the fate of the African is made from the seat of power, in which the mulatto government man believes “the East Indian workers and rice farmers will win a majority of seats in the next General Election against a large number of [coastal] African” workers in the birth of a newly independent nation-state. As such, Fenwick’s musing in this letter from the jungle to his mother is advice to the new ethnic subject at the center of the nation. It is advice from the old horizon to the new. In projecting back into the past and forward into the future, Fenwick excuses himself from the arena [End Page 147] of politics, and his advice from this threshold bears all the marks of this double articulation of the scene of writing: a letter to his Mother/country that is a letter to a new nation, political advice on government that is cast as “fundamental and psychological,” the appearance of openness and intimacy intertexed with annihilation, the obliteration of excessive national metaphors, of false starts and reconsidered moves. What is at stake is government, which is seen now as equal to psychology, to national history, authority, freedom, progress, the foundations of the past girding the (masculinist) future of the new nation-state:

What will you say when I tell you I have come across the Grand Old Man of our history, my father’s history in particular? ( . . . ) But after all, let us not forget he is the privileged son or grandson of a slave. Don’t be offended. I wish I could truly grasp the importance of this meeting. If I do not—if my generation do not—leviathan will swallow us all.


The flood and creation predicted in the beginning is now transformed into a nightmare, a monster from the deep, but also Hobbes’ new power structures and relationships of man and materiality, the modern strategies of government that characterize the tensions between authority and self-interest, ruling men to pull a nation, a mother country, out of the chaos of civil war. This recognition of a confrontation, this attempt to decipher the meaning of Poseidon’s words, in gestation, is recognized as at the crux of the new country that is all in the minds of new men, though it is precisely this body-metaphor that must be suppressed: “it’s a question of going in unashamed to come out of the womb again” he writes and then erases (384).

Turning, Fenwick casts the prime government man as Jordan, the man, the military, and the river,

a fine head for a prime minister and a governor rolled into one. . . . He knows how to tax everyone and draw blood from stone with dignified irrefutable supporting entries in the mess book. It all looks very neat and tidy on the surface.


Fenwick’s right hand man is perceived in terms of the plantation accountants who cheat their workers and cover their tracks, with the exploitation of the masses that passes for good business sense as much as good government, with the clientelism and corruption that will consume Guyana’s infrastructure at the end of the century. Without Jordan, Fenwick is lost, destroyed by “senseless worry,” as if eaten up and digested by the jungle. Turning for the last time, the jungle is the limit of government, and its “strange murderous” character is only naturally reflected in Poseidon and his men, “holy rebels,” as surely as the jungle inundates “authority” posited as the guarantee of “freedom” (386). After this confession, Fenwick is overwhelmed by his need for “the most thorough-going reformation of character” (386).

The reformation called for by what he has written to his Mother/Country is rewritten on the territory itself, solving the riddle of the jungle in identifying the faults [End Page 148] in the state’s maps and charts, poring over the misconceptions of the terrain, mirages created by misreading aerial photographs. In this shift from concepts of gestating nations to concepts of territory, Fenwick discerns his project in the jungle:

The mysterious foundation of intelligence, the unity of head and heart had become for him, Fenwick knew, an inescapable obsession, and perhaps a foolish myth and a dubious vocation of science.


This unity of head and heart finds itself metaphorized into masculinity and femininity. Again questions of the body are equal to questions of terrain, as are questions of his British/Guyanese head that will determine the strategies of government. Fenwick moves to consider the terrain as an economic text, the soil’s yield, the development of industry and social pacts, and concludes, finally, that Poseidon’s reading of why he was sent is right. He agrees with the government that the country’s needs are best served by the disenfranchisement of the men farming the jungle, that war is justified in the subordination of these lost, barbarian peoples to the economic expansion of the coast:

Taking all circumstances into account, Fenwick saw that the extinction of the remaining grants and leases along the Canje, and the logical construction of a flood reservoir to meet the increasing demand, along the coast, for irrigation water in the dry season, was perhaps the best thing that could happen to the country.


Meeting Poseidon, the government meets itself, the colonial past collapsing again into the Co-operative Socialist future.

Woman [is not equal to] savage [is not equal to] children

The process of Fenwick’s coming to distinctions between women and savages and children is slow. Earlier I suggested that in this primordial world everything will resolve itself into everything as well as into nothing, just as nothing will resolve itself into everything. The constitution of outsiders and the preservation of the state that forms the inaugurating pact of the state with itself and the nation thus finds itself turned inside out, its skeleton illuminated. If the first three books of the Quartet characterize the nation and the old strategies of government that constitute Guyana’s history, this zeroing in on the question of government and administration and the workers they create and on the question of who must be left out (made criminals, mad men, women, apes, children) comes back from the jungle to question the rhetoric of nationalism that posits the “barefoot man,” the “oppressed worker,” the “people” as the subject of the national socialist transformation from colony to nation-state. The [End Page 149] Demerara/Abary savannahs on which the state stakes its claim to territorial sovereignty are Oudin’s (363), Fenwick’s boat Palace of the Peacock (367), reinvoking the city of gold/God sought by colonial powers in the beginning.

The concepts of political economy provide us with three social groups, clearly demarcated by their relationship to capital and thus to government: workers, rebels, and women. It is Wilson Harris’s task on the eve of Independence to remind the nationalist cadres that these categories extend to the limits of the concepts of administration (terrain, nation, government). And so in reading the loci of these people as social subjects constituting the masses in concluding his Quartet, we will de/cipher the collapse of these administrative categories for the mini-nation in the narrative’s metaphors for the jungle as a body and for bodies, especially women’s, as a jungle.

This suggests that the collapse of narrative and government in the end is only the revelation of an inability predicted in the structures of the knowledge itself. Fenwick never knows for certain what has happened, what constitutes the facts, and it is he most of all who is prey to confusion and seeks the security of history and liberal education. In Book One, “The Day Readers,” he concerns himself with the management of his team and the differentiation of fact from rumor, for rumor is “savage” (386), “a lying jade” (403). This focus on management strategies and gathering intelligence, conducted through metaphors of outlaws (whores, barbarians), wants to guarantee the supremacy of the state project through the constitution of new men in the jungle as the micro-nation, nationalist colluders, leading the workers and embodying the cultural pluralism projected at the center of the new national rhetoric.

Nevertheless, neither the workers nor their brutality emerge along the vectors of power in the narrative eye until they impact on Fenwick’s consciousness. Thus the workers’ integration into the narrative as individuals is slow, spasmodic, an exploration and a series of discoveries, the spectacle of their miscegenation always remarked. In Book Two, “The Night Readers,” Chiung, Weng, Stoll and Fenwick confront the attack on government by the barbarian renegades, revealed as retaliation for the workers’ exploitation of the barbarian traders. Under Weng’s leadership the workers wreak a personal revenge under the umbrella of upholding government and the rule of law. The epistemes of worker, rebel, social pacts, as much as the informal economy that feeds Fenwick and his men in the jungle, suddenly come to light, and Fenwick discovers he has unleashed a Pandora’s box, a fissure beyond his control and the reach of his perception. Thus he cannot remember the faces of the two men from the maroon community who stand silently by, watching the scene of Fenwick discovering (his own) murder in effigy, though he does not yet know it, as the social subject of /subsistence farmers in the interior/ becomes, in the administrator’s eye, /a rebel nation/.

For the closing section, “The Reading” itself, what the narrative eye saw, the inundation of the governing structures of authority and the recreation of the nation are marked by a workers’ revolt, predicted by Marx but undertaken here against the lumpen and for the interests of the national bourgeoisie, the workers taking government into their own hands against Poseidon and the rebels. It is marked, too, by the flight of Bryant and Catalena, by the sacred status of the monogamous heterosexual couple—the centrality of proper English morals—though their inter-racial coupling [End Page 150] will be suspect in the eyes of the man who has seen and been thrown from power. The symbolic chaos of the novel comes to a head here at its conclusion: the river begins to swell and the grey sky to drip, the Twins are revealed as emissaries from the subsistence community sent with government leases and titles to prove their social pact, and the “immortal foul sisters” are named for the conceptual architecture of the future, “hope and progress” to Jordan’s mind. In Fenwick’s toppling from the center of power, the narrative eye/I takes to a bird’s eye view and so begins to see into the heart of the rebel nation, into women, workers, barbarians, nations and history at the dawn of the novel’s seventh day.

Jordan’s break from Fenwick, signalling the alienation of the mechanisms of the state from concepts of civil service and pacts with government leadership, already threatens Fenwick’s liberal regime, the “philanthropic society” Jordan warned did not exist:

One would never be worried to ask who entertained whom, if one always left people’s private morality or immorality alone so that it never materially affected the order of government. ( . . . ) Jordan did not think a social expedition should ever be so cornered that it had to discover who kept company with whom. This was always the beginning of the end of oneself and everything.


The structures of surveillance collapse under the weight of state regulation of the social subject beyond the exchange of labor for wages, and Jordan predicts the graft and corruption that will threaten to destroy the infrastructure, the totalitarian regime whose paranoia will drive it to spying on its citizenry, abolishing private as well as public opposition and elections while claiming to represent the people (co-operative republic = totalitarian state). The position of the hidden focal point, the leadership of the masses (now the nation) is suddenly open; and while Fenwick plans to interrogate each of the workers in turn on the events of the night and its reading, he discovers that the rebel workers’ leader is not Stoll, the light-skinned mulatto aspiring to government land-surveyor as he suspected. It is Weng the hunter, the Amerindian mestizo who gathers intelligence on the rebels’ plans from the balata bleeders. Weng recognizes the slippage in the attack on Chiung meant as an attack on Fenwick. It is he who knows how to manipulate the workers, who takes command in heading their transformation into a military cadre of civilian reserves spearheading a charge to be completed by the jungle police. Weng wants to embody the power of the law.

Fenwick never reads beyond the levels of masses and the polite authority of social contracts, so the workers are always children and the rebels always jungle or ghosts of a vanquished nation, just as the hard face that in governing maintains power is always Medusa’s, a fearful beast-woman turning men to stone. This rebel/madman/beast/woman immateriality reflects the jungle as much as the jungle reflects the immateriality of the social pacts among the masses, as much as Fenwick’s inability to read the workers and to even hear the men from the interior reflects the epistemological limits of the coast, and so too the workers’ inability to read Fenwick. In this slippage of unreadable signs, government = worker = leader = madness = boredom = [End Page 151] children = insoluble mystery = jungle = coast or = desert. Children, in fact, are nowhere present in this national configuration and instead become the metaphor for unsuitable behavior, a floating political signifier that can attach to workers, women or barbarians when their position is to be dismissed in the decision-making process.

For the limits that serve to organize this chaos, the narrative eye turns again to the rebels, Poseidon first, and then to their national administration, to the constitution of a leaderless society in which hope for any possibility is invested (457), in men with “honest uses for everything they own” (441) but also men with a desperate need for cash, to enter the modern system of commodity exchange, men anxious to retain their social pact with the coastal government, sending emissaries to the government men yet blending into the bush in the eyes of armed intruders accusing them of treason.

The black settlers of the jungle become prey to leviathan and, in this light, ghosts. The march of modernity, capitalism enforced by the West, is backed by the most advanced technology of war and determines the future of the territory. As remains of a vanquished paradigm, their extermination is inevitable, and they are already ghosts in the eyes of the omniscient narrator. In his “habit of aerial contemplation,” Fenwick soars over the landscape recognizing the ineluctability of the modern state and, concomitantly, the insubstantiality of subaltern pacts. This prevents him from seeing now that he believes he can hear, and the cycle of confrontation and death seems to roll just as ineluctably to its conclusion.

The social contract that the workers offer to Fenwick is predicated on epistemological categories that demarcate men, that determine the status of the leader, and on the dissemination of power into the concept of the self. Men, the victorious model of the new national consciousness, are hard (391), fighters (425), refuse to submit to sickness (428), are those for whom losing at manipulation is equivalent to “being ridden” like a homosexual (423), those who have the stomach and the balls to play serious poker all night, where a woman’s sex is now collateral (402). The structures of the state and its technologies (weapons, knowledge, social violence, capital, surplus) have already been internalized by the worker-citizens of the new nation, though it is a mark of the traces of that transformation that the men/workers can understand Poseidon and the workings of the mad/rebel mind, whereas Fenwick cannot. The space of the center of power, the focal point of the panopticon, is (in)visible to the modern populace but its occupation is assumed and a real man must fill it. Fenwick’s fall from power, his expulsion from that seat and the ascension of Weng the military strategist, is equivalent to public recognition of his feminization, as Jordan sees it.

The circles of power are redrawn on the terrain as Jordan advises Fenwick against the feminization that will be his undoing. Power here is linked to access, to the process of coming before the law that says Fenwick must make himself unavailable, must treat workers like women and children who grumble and must be ignored, given their orders, protected from themselves and their own bad government. If the ascension of Weng is read as the revolution of the workers to secure the zone for the state, his love of gunplay and ability to articulate the modulations of power in the clearing—the sector of workers and the expenditure of government labor power on nature—provides a narrative of men and power that can move the masses against the enemies of the new nation-state coming. [End Page 152]

The reconstitution of the new national subject through the ancient terms of manliness demanded by these new men of the masses leaves no space for women and creates instead a nation of men alone at war. Women are trouble (422), an alien species (414), an “insoluble mystery” (413) repeatedly synonymous with savages and children (411, 412, 413, 414, 416, 411 . . . ), or with animals (392, 407), or with the land (410). Dead/old women, like Van Brock’s grandmother, are selfless, invisible healers (449), a flower (413), the repositories for the principle of the feminine as love; and love in the face of all reason is an “ancient madness” (451). Jordan, as Medusa the woman-monster whose gaze turned men to stone, government strategist on domestic policy and manager of the government’s resources, substitutes for the feminine in functioning as the keeper of the domestic sphere for Fenwick individually and the men as a mass. The one woman here, Catalena Perez (= Helen = Andromeda = the Trojan Horse), is the property of one man, her husband, whose violent transference of the strategies of men in power for managing the territory and alien communities within the national borders onto the body of woman becomes the limits of proper government. As a mark of the catachresis between Fenwick/liberal socialism and the men-workers, the figure of Perez, characterized under Fenwick’s leadership through an old term for woman-chaos, that which is not of the nation-state, the anti-concept anti-men, and so anti-community/state interest—a “cunt” (442)—in his violent excesses and abuse of women, will emerge under Weng as metonymic of the men-nation the workers propose.

We first encounter Catalena emerging from the house of the barbarian leader, and Fenwick can only see her as a cowering child, a savage/mad woman unaccustomed to coming before the law. Titillated by the welts left on her body by her husband, he recognizes in her Guyana’s poor white shopkeeping class—selling rum and groceries to workers—and its women with no way out (413). When Catalena speaks and tells her story of abuse, a jungle comes out of her mouth (415).

Woman’s exile is then mapped on her body and in her autobiography, the lingering remains of the “establishment of trust . . . she had once distantly hoped for but never found” (416). Exiled from her family through marriage to Perez, beaten by her husband/owner, she has no allies, and no means of escape. Her social pacts, and her position in negotiations of power and representation, notifies her that men are beasts but she is their property, and so the rule of law binding men dictated by men is beyond her reach.

Her exile from rights to political representation as a limit securing the social pact is reiterated when she reveals to this stranger details of her abuse: immediately she confirms the enmity of Jordan, who sees her claim to human rights and political representation as a rebellion, and Fenwick’s inevitable sympathy as another thread in the unravelling of order, progress and administration. Alone, Catalena recognizes her life is always at stake, and that in giving this stranger information she is gambling for a new position. When she suddenly clings to Fenwick, he sees her as a mad woman-child summoning his desire, until he realizes it is in response to her abusive husband’s approach.

This micrological blindness is not to say that macrologically women are no longer a national battlefield. From the moment of her arrival, well before we have met her, [End Page 153] Catalena became a syntagm for elaborating social pacts. Knowing only of the marriage contract and her arrival at the campsite, Fenwick decides the best way to spy on Poseidon is to use the premise of woman’s fragility as a tactic for stationing one of his men in Poseidon’s camp, sending Bryant to ask Poseidon if he will allow her the comfort of his home. Perez, we learn from Jordan in this first strategic moment, beats his wife, and the prospect of confining him with her away from the men may make him kill her, but this is not yet Fenwick’s concern. After Catalena’s appeal to Fenwick, Perez beats her more badly than ever, and she is forced to come begging to Fenwick as an emissary from her husband, under threat of execution if she does not get him reinstated to the team (453), and this threat plus the worst of the beatings is the price she pays for appealing to leadership for representation. Her plea to Fenwick is a stab in the dark, and later, delirious and hallucinating, she sees him as the joker in a poker game, the leadership’s response to her abuse seen as the wildcard in a real man’s game among men with her body at stake. The question of the potential of Catalena’s body thus finds its second solution in her coming to Fenwick in the jungle, her ability to arouse Fenwick, as, like the bushmen, she has no cash, no allies, and so cannot survive on the coast. The fact of difference in women’s bodies, given the psycho-sexual paradigms of the state, marks her body’s cavities as capital, a sex-pleasure machine, and it is always an open question whether she is—or will be or was (made)—a whore-worker, because she is of the woman-species. Fidelity is not at issue here but property rights, exchange value, the limits of the social body and representation, since Perez, as part of the husband’s private prerogatives Jordan defends, offers her vagina for sex as collateral in the workers’ nightly poker games, just as he sends her to plead with Fenwick for money, a dirt-poor woman-exile of uncertain racial ancestry whose body is captured by Fenwick and Poseidon, as surely as the leaderless rebel community declaring war and revenge, in their battles for power, the future, and control of the national terrain.

Nothing to Lose But Our Chains: Bryant and Catalena

If within the province of upward mobility the preservation of property rights over women operates with the centralization of her value in the hands of the man to whom she is bound by law, so within the depths of the worker’s camp, in the process of reading and speaking a locus for the brewing menace, the narrative eye seizes on the control and distribution of Catalena’s sex/pleasure value as the locus of a break in the social contract. Fenwick wants to extend his ability to dictate policies to men’s relations with women and so the exploitation and management of women’s value. This is the moment of his feminization, the seed of his undoing, and the jungle is a womb. If Perez disappears from the narrative once he is dismissed by Fenwick, the centrality of Catalena as a new horizon in the national perspective holds her in its grip, and so she becomes the ruse on which the surveyor’s men will achieve the assassination of Poseidon as much as a key to a new future and a new nation, a criminal-Eve in the interior. [End Page 154]

The rebels know Perez as “that monster, her husband” (456), and Catalena’s return to the camp in the company of Bryant, earlier the self-chosen son, is the catalyst for the disaster that will end and create the world, as it will cast them, weeping, out of Eden (452). Bryant, as a black worker, had always recognized Poseidon as the limits of his/national history, and from the very beginning he understands all Poseidon says and the nature of his freedom, his administrative choices, as well as his exploitation at the hands of the workers. Bryant, from the start, is the one who sees the men farming the interior as deserving of a social pact, and, beyond that, he recognizes in Poseidon his own ancestry. Poseidon in turn sees Bryant as a man he can trust, and Bryant returns this trust with a love even Fenwick can see. Captured after killing Poseidon, confronting the rebel leader’s body dead by his hand, he confesses it openly for the first time (459). If Poseidon brings Fenwick’s gamble with modernism to a crisis—“Time and history have made us all equally ignorant about who really exploits whom” he babbles to Bryant (375), and “it is still slavery, don’t you understand?” (395)—Bryant recognizes both Fenwick’s liberal emotions and Poseidon’s desire for fair play, just as the narrative eye recognizes Bryant as Adam and as Poseidon’s “apotheosis” (457).

In Bryant’s misreading of Fenwick and his commitment to the creole nation-state, he fails to anticipate the destruction of this ancestral community as the ground for the development of the new country, to see that, when the government man looks at Poseidon, he sees dense bush, jungle, a “black wooden snake of skin” (371), a madman possessed by “a runaway African slave who had succeeded in evading capture and had turned into a wild cannibal man in the swamps, devouring melting cocerite flesh” (369). Bryant’s oscillation between Fenwick/modernity and family/his ancient roots leads to the destruction of those roots by his own hand, when Poseidon recognizes the ubiquity of Catalena Perez’s body—“half-priestess, half-prostitute” (454)—and so strikes out against her as she trespasses into the rebel center, an opening in the bush guarded by the stench of dung that burns the lungs of foreigners, a fetid threshold Weng’s platoon, followed by the government’s police, is coming to storm. Bryant suppresses his inclination to join the circle of black man-warriors debating strategy in order to cement his relationship with Catalena, and so his betrayal of his heritage locates itself on her body. When Poseidon rises to lash out at Catalena as the terrain of his undoing, Bryant, in striking out to defend her, is already “one of the surveyor’s men” (456).

Catalena is a sacrificial victim in battles between men: Bryant kills Poseidon, the workers declare war, and she is to be raped in the redeclaration of their determination to fight. Poseidon joins the men from the coast in projecting betrayal onto her body as an easy target, a body without history of its own, and the depths of her subalternity are clear in this moment: she is lower than maroons obliterated in the name of progress and the social pacts of the new country. Her rape and murder is a safe vehicle for their declaration of war against a state that does not represent her (460–61).

Catalena’s betrayal of Poseidon is a result of her attempt to free herself, to bring about her own emancipation. Here in the jungle, a penniless, homeless woman finding herself trapped without choices in conceptualizations of proper government that exclude her as a dis/ease, she discovers that the three “c’s” governing women’s value, encapsulated by Nicaraguan ruling class novelist Gioconda Belli, still apply: [End Page 155] cara/cuerpo/capital: face, body, money. Bereft of this last, Catalena capitalizes on her ability to generate sexual and therefore emotional passion in men, through her sex, her breasts, her inscrutability to the male gaze and her ancient secret of possession (gold/god), metaphors for (a) precious body part(s) that so far has(/have) guaranteed expulsion from the citizenry and from the perception of her need to know:

Bryant found himself unable to withstand her. His greed for ancient remembrance and love possessed many dormant signals, now coming to primitive life, beauty as well as lust. Catalena was a model of his compulsive derangement, a living projection and vessel, nevertheless, to offset the last impending signal of all, which was to be a god’s [Poseidon’s; his grandfather’s] death.

(. . . ) Bryant suddenly fell on her . . . and possessed her with the utmost resolution and rigor. . . . He had been dreaming of her for a longer time that he cared to admit. From the moment he plotted to find room in the river for her. Long before she herself actually knew.


The liberating social pact is worked out here, in the exchange of sex for haven. For her part, Catalena, desperate and impoverished, Guyana’s new woman after the (re)creation, seeks only marriage, a modern social pact, the power “to work upon and expand in another’s governing brain” (454). These mean freedom: “She would do anything, beg anyone, lie with any man to ensure for herself a flying start” (454).

Robert Carr

Robert Carr received his Ph.D. in English this past year from the University of Maryland. His translation, with Ileana Rodriguez, of her study Eroticism and Patriotism: The Hermeneutics of Gender in Central American Literature, is forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press.


1. Wilson Harris, The Guyana Quartet (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1985), 24; 365–66.

2. L. Searwar, Co-Op Republic: Guyana 1970. A Study of Aspects of Our Way of Life (Georgetown, Guyana: no publisher named, June 1970), 192.

3. See, for a contrast that is nevertheless revealing of the issues and character of Guyanese territorialization, Jan Carew’s “The Third World: Its Facade and Its Landscapes Within” in his Fulcrums of Change (Washington, DC: African World Press, 1988).

4. See Gordon K. Lewis, Main Currents in Caribbean Thought: The Historical Evolution of Caribbean Society in Its Ideological Aspects, 1492–1900 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983).

5. See Leo A. Despres, Cultural Pluralism and Nationalist Politics in British Guiana (Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1967).

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