THE RHYTHM OF SOCIETY AND LANDSCAPE (Mittelholzer, Carew, Williams, Dathorne)
O.R. DATHORNE AND DENIS WILLIAMS
The novels, Scholar Man by O. R. Dathorne and Other Leopards by Denis Williams show the quest for self in identification with Africa; for both of the protagonists of these novels, Adam Questus and Lionel Froad, pursue the long road of return from Guyana to Africa. They are in search of a freedom in which all times fuse — past, present and future —leading them to an instant of truth.
Adam Questus, on flying to West Africa to become a lecturer at a university, realizes that
“For most of the passengers, it was just a journey across two continents, but for him it went across past, present and future”. [p. 10]
Lionel Froad is caught in the enigmatic web of time where he feels
“…the past was ashes; a mystical future sending wave-impulses back to a hopeless past. The future hardening, tick-tacketed like an alarm clock to its hour. Every one saturated, the alarm would work off to the ultimate consummation: the orgasmic flood, the freedom realized, the old thing butchered, the new-thing born”. (p. 74)
But before this new thing could be born, Adam Questus and Lionel Froad had to go through triple baptisms — sprinkled with the creek waters of their Guyana; lashed by doubts and questionings about African independence and freedom and their point of belonging in this freedom; and finally, washed clean by consummation with the rhythms of Africa.
For Adam Questus, the past is the remembrance of Egor for whom he comes seeking and who had given him his first baptism in Guyana:
“That night he dreamt of Egor, cutting through brown river waters, and swimming naked in the sun. Egor had met him, and they had gone into the dark river that moved and sounded with the creak of spring-tide and love was like liquor in his head for a day of waves. Soon after that Egor had left and that was the end — a sudden thing like a full-stop”. [pp. 23 and 59]
The past is also three hundred years of separation which have brought with them forgctfulness of the ways of Africa. Now, Adam Questus fears the dark African night, no longer understands the spiritual sacrifice by which an African servant saves his life. In the dance of the Comfa, the Guyanese Adam feels the lash of the whip, whereas those who were never separated from the earth rhythms only feel its caress. Therefore, symbolically, Adam on re-entering Africa faints —even as he faints when touched by the whip.
Lionel Froad is an archeological draughtsman, a man of Guyana pursuing the unravelling of the ruins of Old Karo, an offshoot culture of Merbe, living in a country Jokhara, set in the Sudanic region of Africa. of Old Karo, an offshoot culture of Merbe, living in a country, Jokhara, set in the Sudanic region of Africa. His past is linked to the 3,000 years from which some of these ruins date. The past and the present merge for him in the figure of Eve, the daughter of an African Christian minister, who seems a replica of some drawings of figures of old Merole, and whom he sees concretely represented when he confronts the statue of Queen Amanishakete. But the confrontation reveals the paradox of his relationship to the past — the not-knowing the enigma of its pull:
“I looked at the gold figurine of Queen Amanishakete and sensed something of the same confusion and depth agitation that had first surprised me in the pages of the Lepsius. I knew that this image of Eve, this persistent female, would never leave me as long as 1 lived. And I resented this”. [pp. 134—135]
Thus he is impotent to fertilize Eve, to locate her in time, grasping her essence, for she is also the evocation of Guyana waters and foliage:
“…I liked to compare her to physical things: to the gloom on forest floors, to dark silent creek-water, to the immense black rivers of my South American home; the virginal strength of our equatorial forests. But Eve should more accurately be compared to certain sombre psychological states, to the nausea of inspiration, say, or to the nameless yearning for origins that beset most of us”. [p. 90]
Neither is Lionel able to decipher the enigma of his second self, Lobo, a baptismal Guyana name given him by his sister:
“I am a man…. plagued by these two names, and this is their history: Lionel, the who I was, dealing with Lobo, the who I continually felt 1 ought to become. [p. 19]
Thus, like Adam Qucstus, he, too, Lioncl-Lobo is searching in Africa for that other self.
But both have been caught by their relationship with and opposition to their second baptisms. Adam Qucstus, even though leaving the “darkness of London for the light of Africa” returns in his memory to his seven-year stay in England, and constantly juxtaposes (the material problems faced in Africa with a certain sense of “at-homeness” in England. In addition, it is Helen, the daughter of an cx-patriate English lecturer, who symbolizing England brings about his second baptism and to whom he almost becomes wedded. Lionel Froad, also, almost accepts the comforting embrace of Catherine, the Welsh expatriate, like Eve, the daughter of a minister. For a long time too, Lionel is dominated by his disciplined, rational-thinking pragmatic English boss, the archaeologist Hughie who symbolizes Western success and who has definite directions and beliefs. Hughie attempts to make Lionel validate the past cultural existence of Sudanic Africa, even though Lionel is totally resistent to giving himself to the task of justifying his race, and by extension himself.
Hughie has injected a feeling of inferiority into Lionel who has ambivalent feelings toward Hughie, alternating between deep resentment and admiration approximating love, but at the point where he has almost deified Hugh, Lionel frees himself from control by an act of violence. It is also in an act of violence — the destruction by fire of the university — that Adam Questus perceives, if somewhat ambiguously, the meaning of independence:
“. .. that was what was needed here. Fire. To burn and sound cauldrons of fury, to uproot and contaminate, to destroy and make good — for the new world that must come, if Africa was to wake into the dream of the black man. At present what was the good of their precious independence? he wondered. Did not the word “European” still continue to be shipped and worshipped?” [p. 160]
For the novelistic time of both novels spans the period just prior, up to and after independence — the time in Other Leopards leading up to an Army coup after independence.
The novels are written on two levels with two voices. On one hand, Dathorne parodies certain absurdities which disillusion his quest: the rigid bureaucracy of the university, the educational system, the manner of thinking of the students of the university and the way of living of the ex-patriate lecturers of the university. On the other hand, he employs a more serious style in which he is in pursuit of self and deliberates about the meaning of independence of new countries and the freedom of their peoples.
In Other Leopards, the style unfolds in ironic asides in an impressionistic and satirical way in which thought and word sequences collide and clash. Williams, too, views with scepticism the shrewd manipulations of political leaders, the tension between the Muslim part of the country and the Christian and the certainties of the black-skinned Christian minister, Chief, and the assuredness of the army colonel, Hassan. On the other hand, his quest for self is a continuous, interior monologue, taut with doubts and uncertainties and multi-layered with symbolic imagery
Then, after periods of doubts, after the parody and irony, after the homosexual yearnings of Adam and impotent spasms of Lionel, in both novels, the protagonists undergo their third baptisms, a freeing of selves in a return to the earth rhythms. With Lionel:
“I thought of….Original Sin; the New Baptism; the Cleansing from Menace. There was this cleansing from Menace before us all… I felt the anger rising again. But I didn’t want this anger; it didn’t comfort, it was no longer mine. I’d done with it. I was free of even that”. [p. 219] and with Adam:
“Then the rain fell and he lay lost in this, his third baptism of mud and water: and he lay flat clutching her, feeling the shape of her huge breasts and the rain tickled his eyes, and smoothed his face and the blessing of water poured down his mouth, and his nostrils and the lightning itched and thunder eased and the wind blanketed them; and in the madness of that rainy moment, in the slush and the lighted dark, the wet and the testimony of thunder, he knew”. [P. 181]
After this he knew. Will the now independent Guyana also know, will it discover the vibrant silences of freedom? Can it rid itself of the absurdity of the colonial social order which Mittelholzer presents in his novels? Can it feel the pull of the secret rhythms of its vast lands without succumbing to the spiritual malignancy which Mittelholzer sometimes describes? Will it explore the vast resources which drew many of Jan Carew’s characters away from the villages?
Here with independence, the power of fire, blood and the consciousness of creative genius must fuse. The bloods of the many races must not clash and jar against one another. The country must strive for freedom, deriving from the co-ordination of all its diverse elements. It is in the coordination of all things that man and country achieve the ultimate of being.