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Apr. 7th, 2004

Finished Conrad's Heart of Darkness, originally picked up because TM often mentions Conrad in his diaries. The favourite author's favourite authors thing sadly doesn't work out often, or at least it rarely has for me, but in this case it did, at least to some extent.

Although I must say I like the writing maybe more than the story itself. The prose is powerful, direct, yet somehow poetic, and there are images of a stark brutality that are like a slap in the face. Personally I think the best passages are before they embark on the actual search for Kurtz, Marlow's descriptions of the absurd insanity of european colonialism.

Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech - and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives - he called them enemies! - hidden out of sight somewhere.

Curious to read, too, because once I realised that Apocalypse Now was based on the text, the images of the movie kept intruding, foreshadowing and overlaying the story, like reading a novel knowing it, even while never having read it. The problem for me is maybe that the fascination Kurtz seems to exercise over almost everyone in the story is never quite conveyed to me; the story of a man being thrown back entirely upon himself, going mad in the solitude... it never really connects.

What irritated me is the end... it's perhaps only a logical conclusion of Marlow's (Conrad's?) belief that women live in some separate, beautiful world of their own; and maybe too most women of that age woiuldn't have guessed or understood, yet at the same time to me Marlow's lie about Kurtz's last words, and even more Kurtz's fincée's ready, unquestioning, happy acceptance of the lie is such a total and enormous dismissal of any possibility of real understanding and, perhaps, real love, between men and women, of as opposed to the immediate sympathy, or, in any case, much deeper rapport, that the men in the story share, that it makes her deep and lasting grief over a man she never really knew very hard to read.

Still, however possbily misogynist (if the term can justifyably be applied at all to a text a hundred years old), it makes for a very powerful and ambivalent ending, because whatever Marlow's professed reason for not telling her the truth, there's (I think) a quality of almost-possessiveness in not sharing that knowledge/experience...

[And yet, I still resent it. It's an enormous lie, and not a kind one. ]


solitary summer

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