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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Heart of Darkness (1899) by Joseph Conrad

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The Francis Ford Coppola film, Apocalypse Now, is largely based on Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and the success of the film has done much to secure the status of Heart of Darkness as a canonical book. 
Book Review
Heart of Darkness (1899)
by Joseph Conrad

  I listened to Heart of Darkness as an audiobook narrated by Peter "Robocop" Weller.  Don't forget he also played William Burroughs in the movie version of Naked Lunch.  I've noticed that the older the underlying text, the more difficult the audiobook.  On the other hand, Heart of Darkness is a novella, not a full length novel, so that the audiobook version clocks in at under five hours.  Length, I've come to learn, is much more significant for an audiobook than it is for text, at least for me, because I read faster than the audiobooks run.

   Despite having five book in the 100 Books list, only one has appeared on this blog because I'd read all of them before this project had crystallized: Nostromo, The Secret Agent, Lord Jim.   There is no question in my mind that Joseph Conrad is one of those authors who has been done dirty by recent trends in North American academia.   As I've written on many occasions, I'm not adverse to the diversification of the canon- indeed, I think expansion and revision is the main point of a 21st century canon, but Conrad should be seen as an avatar of that process, rather than a last gasp of the "old white males" of the 19th century.

 Conrad took an audience that had been habituated to see the developing world as an "other" and made it possible for audiences to imagine them as real places, where morality should apply.   To get the point of decolonization, there needed to be an understanding of the reality of those places, both in terms of factual reporting and in the life of the Western mind.  There's no question that Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness as a cutting critique of Western Imperialism.  The fact that even his sympathetic characters have attitudes that squarely qualify as "racist" today were liberal in the context of Conrad's time. 

  And of course, one should not attribute the statements of Conrad's characters to the author himself. The horror that Kurtz envisions as he expires on the riverboat back to "civilization" is the intersection of the western thirst for ivory with the eagerness of locals to abet in their own destruction.  Ivory camps in the Congolese jungle was the earliest stage of the colonial exploitation of Africa.  The early days vibe of Heart of Darkness is also established by secondary images: The early description of a French warship literally firing into the African jungle, apropos of nothing, hitting nothing, accomplishing nothing, is just as evocative as the later meat of the story.

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