Brick by Brick


NATIONS, and the children of nations, are built brick by brick, to summarise an Emperor of Ancient Rome.

Many who have actually been bothered to read the worthies mistake the “brick by brick” saying as meaning actual bricks, but the bricks are really ideas.

Nations are built upon ideas; all nations, without exception. Ideas are not one-liners and BBM or Facebook platitudes that always seem to be more about self-admiration and hubris rather than anything of substance. Ask anyone to expand upon these one-liners and you will get nothing, because to write thoughts really is about development and coherence. One brick does not a wall make. One trite or half-baked idea does not a nation create.

There was this man, said to be the finest mind that ever lived, writing about movement and weight, he wrote: “No element possesses gravity or levity in its natural state. Gravity and levity are caused by one element being drawn into another.” Sheer brilliance in its accuracy and succinctness! This man’s name was Leonardo da Vinci, and he wrote that in the 1400s!

Leonardo invented the first camera, designed the first aeroplane, the first submarine, the first armoured vehicle (it’s in the British Museum), designed a mask against biological warfare, charted the first human musculature system; charted the human vein structure, pre-empted Newton’s theory of gravity, pre-empted Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, charted air and water flow with precision, engineered drainage systems that saved European cities; and there are too many other inventions to mention here. Oh, and he also painted that masterpiece, The Mona Lisa! That painting represents the perfect coming together of Art and Mathematics.

The Faculty of Princeton University, after a great deal of work, drew up a list of ten men of all time who have done most to advance human knowledge: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Galileo, Leonardo, Pasteur, Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein. These people have built the world that we have inherited by their imaginative and intellectual genius and sheer work, yet we do not have the simple decency of knowing or remembering their names, much less what they have bequeathed to us. We drink milk and take it for granted. We use cell phones and cameras with such glibness! We turn on light switches and fly in planes without a second thought.

In Guyana, we are mere consumers of things invented by others, but we show no respect by acknowledging the inventors. We simply consume but do not create. We may repair, but do not bother to begin to create. We have no bricks. And those who may have created are quickly ignored or forgotten in Guyana, while the world acknowledges.

A good example is the writer Sir Wilson Harris. Harris has produced a formidable body of work — novels and essays. His most remarkable novel is called Palace of the Peacock. It is a spectacular work, changing the English Language and the form of the novel forever. It is recognised by people outside of this country as being one of the finest works to have been produced in the post-colonial era. We have scoured the bookshops for that book. It is not to be found anywhere in this Guyana. Someone at Austin’s Bookstore promised to order a copy — that was five months ago. If you meet people on the streets, or in schools or these workshops and seminars and such, and mention Wilson Harris, hundreds of them would give you a blank look. Who? Mention the name in the UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand and people know!

But here is the thing: Sir Wilson Harris is a Guyanese from New Amsterdam. His Palace of the Peacock is set right here in Guyana. So are many of his other works, including his essays. There is a journal in Guyana called The Arts Journal. It is the best journal in Guyana, hands down! Who reads it? The Arts Journal has several articles on Harris, some of them quite good.

Here is the other thing: Almost all of Harris’s body of work — the novels, the lectures, the essays — has to do with heterogeneity, or what we today call “Social Cohesion”. So in addition to holding these well-meaning “conferences” on social cohesion or ethnic relations, we would do well also to obtain all of Wilson Harris’s works and we can all sit down for a day and read.


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