Novelist speaks on Garden of Eden myths

Jamaica Kincaid has often said that if she hadn’t become a writer, she wouldn’t know what to do with herself. She finds writing to be a kind of self rescue and a way of being.

She displayed the love of writing in her lecture Monday at 7 p.m. at the Special Events Center. Titled “The Garden as Metaphor and Paradox: A Source of Peace and Disturbance, Knowledge and Escape,” the lecture was given to a fairly large number of students who often encouraged and praised Kincaid.

Born in 1949 as Elaine Potter Richardson, Kincaid hails from the island of Antigua. Later she moved to New York to work as a servant for a wealthy family. Her writing ability or “way of being” was discovered by George W.S. Trow, a writer for The New Yorker.

This lead her to becoming a well-known novelist and short story writer. Her books include My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love, Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya (Directions), American Garden Writing, Expanded Edition: An Anthology, A Small Place and The Writer in the Garden.

As can be seen in Small Place, much of her writing is based on the themes of her homeland: desire for independence from British control and British cultural identity. She was adamant in her support for her own people to identify with their native culture. The only part of the British culture she ever adhered to was British literature, which could be called her self-salvation. If anything could compete with her love of writing, it might be her love of gardens, both in the physical form as well as a metaphor, Kincaid said.

Kincaid often expressed her points by reading large sections from her garden-themed books. The event was followed by a book signing.

Kincaid used the symbol of a garden to convey several varying and unique ideas. To begin, she took into account the most famous garden throughout history, the Garden of Eden.

“I can’t step-by-step remember how my understanding of the Paradise garden came to be, but once it did, all my garden writing became clear,” Kincaid said.

The Garden of Eden is expressed as the ultimate peaceful ideal, without trouble or conflict, she said. Tapping into the parallels this story offers, she often mentioned the role of the Gardener, or the Creator, in the overall picture. According to Kincaid, the Gardener often tires of the creation, and thus, that is why many gardeners rearrange their gardens by shifting flowers and pulling out weeds.

Another main point in the lecture was the symbolism of names. When one culture dominates another, the dominating culture often extinguishes the local names of items given by the controlled culture. They then enforce names used by their own culture. This is especially true of plants brought over from other countries. In the past, historical names of native plants have been exchanged for European names. According to Kincaid, taking control of a name is similar to taking control of your own culture and destiny.

Kincaid was able to successfully tie society and culture to the basic principles of gardening. She expresses them not as the commonly though place of tranquility, but as tangled, competitive environment. The latter represents society more.

“I don’t really take the Yoga approach to the garden,” she said. “A garden is more like a warrior.”