Friday, November 30, 2012

2012 Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lecture

These Lectures were organised 2yrs after Mittelholzer's death in 1965 by AJ Seymour. They have been staged sporadically, since presumably there is a dearth of writers to maintain a good enough academic standard as a fitting tribute to the man who can be considered the first 'born-Guyanese' writer - Egbert Martin  publishing poems in 1883 being in a different category ( he wrote the last stanza of the British National Anthem).
It was mentioned that VS Naipaul said that writers are necessary to record the nation's history and experiences- the actual quote from 'An Enigma of Arrival' : 'Men need history; it helps them to have an idea of who they are.'    and I remembered that Chinua Achebe was provoked into writing his classic novel 'Things Fall Apart' after reading the derisive account of a Nigerian by an English writer and Chimamanda Adichie's  thoughts: -- so easy to stray off my subject...
Both UG lecturers who did presentations moaned that the town of new Amsterdam where Mr Mittelholzer hailed from showed no evidence of him-- not even a major street name? - but that New Amsterdam exists for perpetuity through his writings. Sadly like most Caribbean writer from that era, he was not appreciated in his lifetime and committed suicide in 1965. Interestingly he had to become a 'writer in exile' to be taken seriously-- there is a local writer who thinks ex-pat Guyanese writers writing about their Guyanese experience ought not to be considered Guyanese and be eligible for National Prizes and Awards!
So the topic of this lecture was Guyanese Literature, Magic Realism and the South American connection. Pauline Melville noted that we tend to align ourselves with the Anglophone Caribbean instead of tapping into the wealth of the South Ammerican connection. But interestingly in Mittelholzer's classic book 'My Bones and My Flute' - that tapped into one of 'the local spirits' - Dutchman and the even older pre-Columbian Amerinidan flute. She noted that the environment tends to influence writers in addition to what they have previously read. The Latin American environment and particularly Guyana where the popular 'hassar' or flat-headed armoured catfish has been known to walk at the speed of man towards a new pond for quite a distance, lends itself well to 'magic realism' but in fact could just be the realism of a different sort. She noted also that the language of the ancient/first peoples in the Americas lent itself well to explaining the Theory of Relativity as expounded by Einstein rather than the rational 'standard' languages and ended calling for more Guyanese writers and particularly women to express themselves.

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