Ms. Gentian Miller - Meditating on the Fate of the Earth and its Species: Wilson Harris’ Jonestown

4th October, 2018 comments

Ms. Gentian Miller lectures in the Department of Language and Cultural Studies and continues to produce research that informs the work she does.  Her research paper, “Meditating on the Fate of the Earth and its Species: Wilson Harris’ Jonestown”,  has been published in the journal titled, The Jonestown Report, Volume 20, October 2018,

This research is a significant achievement that recognizes the work of Guyanese writer, Wilson Harris, who passed away in March of this year.   This research paper is also important because it contributes, in large measure, to marking the fortieth anniversary of the Jonestown tragedy in November 2018.


Meditating on the Fate of the Earth and its Species: Wilson Harris’ Jonestown

by Gentian Miller


With no claim to being a fictionalized account of the Guyana tragedy, Harris’ dream text, Jonestown (1996) works as a “theatre of the arts,” scathingly ridiculing the upsetting of the deft balance between humans and environment. The novel’s ghost narrator, Francisco Bone, a Lazarus figure acting as emissary, returns from the Jonestown dead to warn us of the fate we should avoid. Bone’s name also calls to mind the vision of dry bones coming back to life. Essentially Bone revisits the day of the dead, shoulders responsibility for the tragedy, and sets the stage for spiritual atonement for the trauma visited on the land. Bone therefore becomes the scapegoat for the healing of the land. When Harris’ Jonestown is read in consort with “The Music of Living Landscapes” (Harris, 1999), “Theatre of the Arts” (Harris, 2002), “The Argument to the Outboard Motor” (Walcott 2005), and “Subjection and Resistance in the Transformation of Guyana’s Mythological Landscape” (Jackson 2005), recommendations for the coexistence of humans and environment become available.Harris’ quantum fiction, Jonestown, thereforeallows for a dispassionate assessment of what we are doing to the earth and its species.

The setting up of the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, another Utopia, actually involved the conscripting of Amerindiansto clear the forest and build “troolie huts” (Miller, 2016); a painful repeat of earlier times. And it is this enigma that causes Harris to strike parallels with Jonestown and other examples of community breakdown in Central and South America, such as the demise of the Maya; the disappearance of the Caribs; and the Amerindian massacre of the 1840s at Kukenam Valley, Roraima (Harris, 1996:4). As quantum fiction, Jonestown captures these “times” by way of Bone using a “Virgin Ship” to traverse boundaries of time and space, “as if blended times are the solid threshold and elusive foundations of holocaustic Jonestown” (Harris 1996:82). Harris’ placing of Jonestown in such a rotational matrix works well as it provides scope for examining the specific tragedy within the context of other such catastrophes.





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