Heart of Darkness
by, 01-09-2011 at 05:08 PM (2733 Views)
Following is one of the books on my list of unfinished books of 2010. I am proud to say that I did return and finish "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad and enjoyed it very much. It is a full, rich book. I have to say in my defense of this particular book that I stopped reading it due to events in my life, not because it was difficult or did not hold my attention. Herewith my review of the book.
This small book was written as an allegory to the human heart. I think some, in revisionist theory, consider it racist, Chinua Achebe most notably. Although I haven't read in full his refutation, I can in part understand his taking exception to having his country co-opted as an allegory for barbarianism
On the other hand, why bother with such a minor concern? As someone who has done some writing I feel that the whole world is mine in the making of a metaphor.
And this was written at the turn of the century, although that begs the question: would political correctness allow us to use it as such today?
I don't know. It's a beautiful book and one well-worth reading. Conrad's prose is gorgeous, all the more so when one considers that he is writing in his second language.
The story is told by a narrator who in turn tells the story of Marlow, who as a young man was charged by his company with traveling to Africa and bringing back Kurtz. He explains how, even as a child, he was fascinated by the continent of Africa. "It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery-a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depth of the land. And as I looked at the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as snake would a bird-a silly little bird"
And as he enters the interior in search of the elusive Kurtz, a man who "had come out equipped with moral ideas of some sort," he writes: "Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings...there were moments when one's past came back to one...but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants and water and silence...and this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace."
As Marlow nears his destination and Kurtz, another apparition appears. "And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman. She walked with measured steps..treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments...she was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent..." and it is to her I return once Marlow has encountered Kurtz, has traveled with him downstream in his vain effort to return Kurtz to safety and civilization and life, as he watched Kurtz through the rent veil and saw on his face the "expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror-of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper 'The horror! The horror!' "
Is she then his true mistress, more so than the one who held his memory dear even as he did not return to her? Is it she of whom he cries "Oh, but I will wring your heart yet!" as he travels to his death? And does he die because he was rent by this savage wilderness, because it took him and ate him, because in his hubris he underestimated what it would take to civilize his own wildly beating heart? That fusing this "wild-eyed and magnificent" untamed, uncivilized country of our hearts with that part of our selves that raises its eyes to the heavens is mankind's true work?
Or is it as Marlow says, "No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life sensation of any given epoch of one's existence-that which makes its truth, its meaning-its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream-alone."