Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)

I have read the Heart several times but it keeps me coming back for another look. I am doing a deep dive into Conrad with Victory, The Heart, and now Lord Jim. His stories are what I would call real time blogs of what was the new thinking surrounding his time and place.

After the Out of Africa experience I decided to continue with the "last gasp" of  Imperialism theme; going from East Africa to West Africa and up the Congo.

I picked up an Eaton Press Leather bound 1980 printing with illustrations by Robert Shore and introduction by Leo Gurko. Leo's intro is outstanding, a huge insight into a story that requires multiple readings to own. He helps us see "darkness and light" juxtapositions used thru-out the story, everything is described in opposing terms.

I did not know that Conrad was given to using characters over from one tale to another until I ran into Captain Marlo in Lord Jim!
Conrad was really just writing from experience; he did all this stuff!

Conrad (in the spirit of his time) seems very aware that the "savages" may be human, and the "civilized" persons may be the most savage of the lot. No other book guides us thru the world of civilization and out of it, out into a vastness, a vastness that can only be written about, a vastness that like the early American West can only be imagined. Yes I understand that a person can be lost in a ravine 100 yards from the road and never be found, I'm not talking that, I'm talking about a whole portion of the earth that was empty of human traffic.

It now occurs to me that the road to world over-population was really begun at the turn of the 1900's when the medical establishments had finally figured out the basics. So now we live in an immensely overpopulated world, a place that has no secrets, has no uncharted waters, and no where to adventure to, at least not in the way the 1900's man could. With YouTube as our guide we can see and hear the outer world, from the couch.

During the description of Kurtz that ends with "he was hollow to the core" Conrad eludes to the "whisper" of a place or situation that allows us to set free inhibitions that without Internal (or as important) External checks and balances (at least for some) allows one to take a turn down a darker road. As in drug counseling it is stated that "it starts out easy in a comfortable place" but only those that see the unfortunate potential outcome turn back. Kurtz had striped the gears, jumped the tracks, and gone over to the other side... of humanity to inhumanity; a place where under just the right circumstances almost any of might join him.

Along comes the Eldorado Exploring Expedition
 "This devoted band called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, and I believe they were sworn to secrecy. Their talk, however, was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them,"
So yes Imperialism is institutionalized piracy; move into a virgin territory, gather the easy pickings and move on. In Conrad's "Victory"the ill fated venture was called the Tropical Belt Coal Company, but best of all is in "Lord Jim" where a couple of schemers intend on scooping up an island made up entirely of bird droppings; free for the taking!

And Conrad at his best:
"Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of in-extinguishable regrets."
Argh matey, them words ring true!