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Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Modern World by Maya Jasanoff


Book Review
The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Modern World
 by Maya Jasanoff
Published November 2017

   I love Joseph Conrad, and so does author Maya Jasanoff, the excellent Harvard Professor of European History.  Jasanoff begins The Dawn Watch, which is a combination of literary criticism and literary exploration, by apologizing for liking Joseph Conrad, even though his books feature racism in a prominent position.   Her answer to, "Why Conrad?" boils down to an argument that Conrad was instrumental in helping the world places see places: colonial Africa, Asia and Latin America that were blank places on the map, as far as literary imagination went.

  I agree with Jasanoff, and I've said on this blog- before reading this book- that the pleasure of Conrad is the pleasure of discovering these new places.  Conrad did we might call "raise awareness," and by doing so he set the stage for the explosion in the literature of the global south.  I found a particularly telling moment near the end, after Conrad died, when Virginia Woolf, arch-modernist, penned a hateful obituary in the Times Literary Supplement.  When Jasanoff quotes her, you can hear the sneering voice of the high modernists across the decades.

 I listened to the Audiobook version- my first non fiction Audiobook, but Jasanoff is such a skilled writer, and the subject is so interesting, that I felt like I was listening to a work of fiction.  I would recommend The Dawn Watch for anyone interested in Joseph Conrad, his life and his works.

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