Friday, April 11, 2014

[Review] Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Rating: 3 Stars
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Cynical yet condescending sailor faces existential and moral dilemmas in the middle of Africa, meets crazy sociopathic nutjob, cannibals, and gets owned by mother nature.

If there was ever a book that has been so debated upon, it would be Heart of Darkness. It is the book that has plagued me through my years as an English Major--a work that I should've read a long time ago, but haven't. I've tried, God knows I've tried. I must've started this book a hundred times, but I've only just gotten around to reading it.

Is Joseph Conrad racist? (ooh look colors!) Dear God this is probably one of the most racist things I've ever read. There is the argument that Conrad isn't actually racist, his narrator is, but let's not split hairs here. Saying the depictions of Africans in this book is distasteful would be putting it mildly. Though still, there is the argument that Conrad is only being truthful, that it was not so uncommon for Europeans to view Africa as a country full of savages. Is it important to acknowledge this work? Yes, lest we forget our literary history and how it is used to subdue other cultures. It's like in the novel. Marlow's obsession with Kurtz and his eloquence. Words are his power. Use it to subdue the brutish savages.

This idea that certain cultures are superior to another is still widely prevalent today. I know, I know, some of you might gasp at such a thing, but it's usually unintentional and subtle compared to Conrad's novel. One look at the English canon and it just screams white supremacy. Culture is a tool of power that has been used to oppress others for a long time. The English Major was offered first and foremost in British colonies abroad because Shakespeare was going to civilize them. Fun fact, I'm learning how to oppress myself. Whoopie. So why did I choose English and why am I reading this racist book? Cultural capital. I might make a post on this at a later time when I'm not feeling so lazy.

So why in the world do we still study this book a hundred or so years after it's been published? Especially if it is radically racist?

Who knows. Conrad was a visionary, and scholars have nothing but praise for his style and narrative innovation, whatever that is or means.

Though, to be honest, I do think Joseph Conrad's a master of prose. I enjoy reading it even if I get lost in the plot points. The man knows how to write. The only qualm I is that I cringe whenever I read "darkness". Maybe because it's in the title, but every time he writes "heart of darkness" it feels heavy-handed and tired.

The book is not so very much about character development or plot as much as it is about the great big in your face metaphor that is "the heart of darkness", which is a euphemism for the great unknown inaccessible to humankind. There are constant references to the heart of darkness, i.e the center of Africa, as the earth's beginning. Marlow parallels traveling deeper into the the Congo with going back in time in a similar fashion to walking down a museum exhibit on history. The people are primeval, supposedly devolving early humans, and the land is untameable and has an almost sentient wildness. In other words, the heart of darkness is the dark origin of life on earth. It promises existential and very real dangers that make it compelling for explorers, but of course, the explorers all eventually get their asses handed to them by nature. The ending was okay, a little silly, but I get it.

Anyway, here's an example where Conrad really shines.
"Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is--that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic fora futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself--that comes too late--a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be."
All in all, I give it 3 Stars because I really did enjoy the way he wrote. I might take a look at Conrad's other novels just for that reason.

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only."

Does the idea redeem it though? I don't know about all that. In conclusion:

No comments:

Post a Comment