A shape which represents an eternity of riddles: fractals and scale in the work of Wilson Harris

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This article undertakes a geographical investigation of the potential application of the concept of fractals to Wilson Harris’ understanding of the relationships between language and landscape. Alan Riach, briefly describing a fractal as ‘an irregular action or shape, such as a cloud or a coastline . . .’, has famously argued that Harris’ poetry and prose (his work notoriously blurs this boundary) ‘. . . is caught up by the shifting fractals of political energy on a global stage . . .’ Retracing this essentially metaphorical use of the term fractal back through its physical geography routes, the article begins by briefly exploring the complex meanings of the term as it is used to describe dynamic geomorphological processes, particularly the changing shapes of coastlines and rivers. Bringing this into relationship with Wilson Harris’ most recent work The Ghost of Memory, as well as his own commentaries on his work as a whole, the article argues that the application of the adjective ‘fractal’ specifically to landscape as it is described in Harris’ work is not purely metaphorical, but usefully describes the conditions for the relationships between language and landscape that Harris has spent a lifetime expressing. This tentative and contested geographical understanding of natural features of the environment as in this way not static but ‘in constant motion and unfinished’ can therefore form the beginning of an understanding of Harris’ critique of environmental degradation as disconnection. The article will end by briefly exploring the potential value of Harris’ work in relation to literature and spatiality.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1474474015593389
JournalCultural Geographies
Early online date2 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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