There is nothing quite like Gordon Rohlehr’s Musings, Mazes, Muses, Margins in Caribbean writing; probably its nearest neighbours are Kamau Brathwaite’s The Zea Mexican Diary and Trenchtown Rock. Over a period of more than forty years, Rohlehr, supreme public critic of the post-colonial Caribbean, its creative writing and the historian and deep analyser of calypso, has been paying quiet attention to his inner consciousness, a fictive journeying that has much to say about outer personal and wider Caribbean realities. It is a book that ranges over a variety of forms – diary, recorded dreams, poems, a kind of flash fiction, polemics, prophecies, and philosophical reflections -- all enriched by a lifetime of reading, thinking and articulate writing. As befits the slippery connections between inner and outer worlds, Rohlehr’s writing is distinguished by an infectious humour and a delight in puns.
In the act of questioning what the years of “wuk” have achieved, Rohlehr asks himself and us the most profound questions – not the unanswerable metaphysics of “What are we here for?” but the material, ethical question of “To what end do we exist?” In the context of a Caribbean of disappointed post-colonial hopes, Rohlehr both confronts an existential void and records the increments of creativity and achievement that offer future hope.
The book begins with the Guyanese child, born with a caul over his face, gifted with a prophetic vision deeply immersed in the African being that is part of his inheritance. He records how he was told – beyond his memory – how family members “steamed” his eyes to destroy something embarrassing to a colonial, lower-middle class family. The visions and intuitive knowledge disappeared, but if the family elders believed that they were cauterising something to destruction, they failed utterly to kill the visionary dreamer, the Daniel Lyonnes-Denne, who is one part of the triumvirate that also includes the public Gordon and the reticent Frederick.
In his previous books, Gordon Rohlehr confronted the Caribbean world head-on. Here, he approaches from the margins, and who is to say his dream-work doesn’t tell just as powerful truths about Caribbean reality?