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Why is this book a classic on the literature circuit ? 
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I think this is the message Marlow gets, yes.


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Last edited by Ophelia on Sat May 03, 2008 5:15 am, edited 1 time in total.



Sat May 03, 2008 1:06 am
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Yes, I think you are are right Dwill - Marlow was not admiring of Kurtz but fascinated - I kept thinking of the line from the Joni Mitchell song:-

Quote:
I'm frightened by the Devil and drawn to those ones who aint afraid.



Sat May 03, 2008 5:11 am
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Thomas Hood wrote:
Isn't 'the horror' that if the darkness can strip the veneer of civilization from one so strong as Kurtz then it can do the same to anyone? Tom

Hello again Tom, this is a pleasant trawl. Here is my latest theory about Heart of Darkness, building on discussion of fate and horror. Chatting with a friend last night, I commented that the European eruption over the world was like a volcanic eruption, and the colonial invasions were like lava flowing unstoppably. However, and this gets to our earlier free will discussion, lava has an id and no ego, whereas people imagine they direct the path of their lives. Conrad is presenting the Belgian Congo as an inexorable outflowing of the modern id, watched in horror by the ego. The horror is partly the lack of awareness of the forces at work, partly what happened to Africa, partly, as you say, our bond with the thin mask stripped off in Kurtz.



Sat May 03, 2008 6:02 am
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I agree, Robert, that the European eruption was foredoomed for both perpetrator and victim and that psychological satisfactions were as important as ivory and rubber. Empires are popular because in in remoter regions of empire the lower class European/American could lord over the natives like a noble.

In Marlow-Conrad's comparison of the Congo invasion to the Roman invasion of Celtic Britain, he invokes the myth of the eternal return, but in taking this philosophical standpoint, he is in effect saying that it is possible for a person who is aware to step outside the course of history and transcend limitations.

Tom



Sat May 03, 2008 7:58 am
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Thomas Hood wrote:
I agree, Robert, that the European eruption was foredoomed for both perpetrator and victim and that psychological satisfactions were as important as ivory and rubber. Empires are popular because in remoter regions of empire the lower class European/American could lord over the natives like a noble. In Marlow-Conrad's comparison of the Congo invasion to the Roman invasion of Celtic Britain, he invokes the myth of the eternal return, but in taking this philosophical standpoint, he is in effect saying that it is possible for a person who is aware to step outside the course of history and transcend limitations. Tom

Hi Tom, I hadn't thought of Conrad's discussion of Roman Britain explicitly as an idea of eternal return. Does he use that term? Now that you mention it, there is value in exploring the comparison. My own view on eternal return is set out on a recent web thread http://www.bautforum.com/against-mainst ... story.html . I link eternal return to astronomy, and the cyclic pattern of the great year. By matching events separated by 2147 years, my view is that the nineteenth century compares well with the time of Alexander's conquest of Asia and the Hellenistic Empire. This is a highly speculative, but I think interesting, line of enquiry. On my view of eternal return, the USA is now analogous to Rome in 140BC. At that stage, Rome was still a Republic, but had recently sacked Corinth and Carthage to show its imperial potential and might. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were preparing to exercise tribunician power on behalf of the Roman people against the leading corporate interests. China was in the seventh decade of the multi-century Han Dynasty. The Roman Empire was over one hundred years in the future.



Sat May 03, 2008 8:45 pm
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Robert, Marlow doesn't use the term 'eternal return' but the story assumes it:

"Marlow was not typical (if his propensity
to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not
inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it
out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these
misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination
of moonshine."

('Moonshine' is self-depreciating humor.) I take this to mean that Marlow's
tales are evoked by atmosphere, the spirit of place. And the spirit/history
of the place they are in (Thames estuary) contains the Roman/Belgian identity:

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is
done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun"
(Ecclesiastes is a meditation on the zodiac).

Memories of the dead inspire creativity.

Was there a Greek or Roman Marlow 2147 years earlier telling tales
of recurrence as the crew waited for the tide to turn? Probably.
Is all recurrence a consequence of the great year? That I'll need to look into.

Tom



Sun May 04, 2008 8:44 am
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Thomas Hood wrote:
Isn't 'the horror' that if the darkness can strip the veneer of civilization from one so strong as Kurtz then it can do the same to anyone?


Do you see strength in Kurtz? I see him as unusually gifted, with a dangerous charisma, but on the other hand lacking almost totally in moral strength. I think that's why Marlow hates him, hates him until the end, when Kurtz faces himself and what he descended to. The horror is Kurtz's reflection on all that he did. That redeems him in Marlow's eyes. Maybe that is also why he goes to the extreme of visiting the Intended in Brussels.

That leaves the question of how much of Kurtz's descent was brought on by the physical darkness of the jungle; what did the environment have to do with his becoming so brutal? It's not easy for me to see Conrad making this equation between Kurtz's moral decay and some decay inherent in the jungle, but maybe. Marlow himself seems to be fighting off this reaction himself throughout the book. Perhaps it is just that being is so out of his element made Kurtz vulnerable to the urges that had been buried in him.
DWill



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DWill wrote:

Do you see strength in Kurtz? I see him as unusually gifted, with a dangerous charisma, but on the other hand lacking almost totally in moral strength. I think that's why Marlow hates him, hates him until the end, when Kurtz faces himself and what he descended to. The horror is Kurtz's reflection on all that he did. That redeems him in Marlow's eyes. Maybe that is also why he goes to the extreme of visiting the Intended in Brussels.

That leaves the question of how much of Kurtz's descent was brought on by the physical darkness of the jungle; what did the environment have to do with his becoming so brutal? It's not easy for me to see Conrad making this equation between Kurtz's moral decay and some decay inherent in the jungle, but maybe. Marlow himself seems to be fighting off this reaction himself throughout the book. Perhaps it is just that being is so out of his element made Kurtz vulnerable to the urges that had been buried in him.
DWill


Yes, I do see strength in Kurtz. The qualities attributed to him by
the Intended and the harlequin are real. He is the best and the brightest
but has succumbed to the power of environment -- just as Marlow
succumbs to the power of environment on the yawl and tells his story.

>what did the environment have to do with his becoming so brutal?

Kurtz has assimilated. He has absorbed the culture, and that is the
reason for his power over the natives and his success in producing
ivory. He has taken on native morality. His capacity for common
humanity has made him inhumane.

Tom



Mon May 05, 2008 6:46 am
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In the environment of the Congo, a palisade of skulls around
the Inner Station was not exceptional:

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/ ... 3220080422


"Lynchings in Congo as penis theft panic hits capital
Tue Apr 22, 2008 1:21pm EDT

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.

Reports of so-called penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, where belief in traditional religions and witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to obtain blood or body parts still occur."

Tom



Mon May 05, 2008 7:08 am
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DWill wrote:
Do you see strength in Kurtz? I see him as unusually gifted, with a dangerous charisma, but on the other hand lacking almost totally in moral strength. I think that's why Marlow hates him, hates him until the end, when Kurtz faces himself and what he descended to. The horror is Kurtz's reflection on all that he did. That redeems him in Marlow's eyes. Maybe that is also why he goes to the extreme of visiting the Intended in Brussels.

So Kurtz repents of his sins and is forgiven? I am not sure. I said before that "the horror" is the key statement of conscience in the book. However, trying to psychoanalyze Kurtz, it is hard to tell if this statement is an emotional eruption from his unconscious id or a rational product of conscious guilt. I tend towards the former: Kurtz is so wrapped up in buckling his swashes, to the point of pathological piratical madness, that he is incapable of remorse or sorrow, except as self-pity. Repentance is a precondition of forgiveness, by and large, so the question is whether Kurtz really does face himself or just give vent to a broader archetypal statement.
DWill wrote:
That leaves the question of how much of Kurtz's descent was brought on by the physical darkness of the jungle; what did the environment have to do with his becoming so brutal? It's not easy for me to see Conrad making this equation between Kurtz's moral decay and some decay inherent in the jungle, but maybe. Marlow himself seems to be fighting off this reaction himself throughout the book. Perhaps it is just that being is so out of his element made Kurtz vulnerable to the urges that had been buried in him. DWill

Of course, there is a level at which Kurtz "goes native". The unholy trinity of imperialism were the missionaries, the mercenaries and the misfits. Kurtz gives us the three in one, incorporating strands of these three perverse European identities. His moral decay arose more from his sending than from his relation to his environment. The decay of the rainforest is part of a cycle of life, while the decay of Kurtz has a much more destructive trajectory. You can't blame the resilient natural systems of the Congo for their effect on a crazy lost messiah figure who tries to redeem Africa by destroying it.



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Robert Tulip wrote:
So Kurtz repents of his sins and is forgiven? I am not sure. I said before that "the horror" is the key statement of conscience in the book. However, trying to psychoanalyze Kurtz, it is hard to tell if this statement is an emotional eruption from his unconscious id or a rational product of conscious guilt. I tend towards the former


I would agree that Kurtz's eruption in his final moments might not be indicative of remorse, but it is of awareness. That seems to be enough for Marlow, who comments that most men are too wrapped up in their own self-pity to learn anything new at the end. So maybe this is a kind of strength in Kurtz, after all.

Thomas Hood posted a modern-day story about brutality and "unspeakable rites" from the Congo. He thinks that the people there were already debased and that Kurtz was simply overwhelmed by this evil cultural influence, going over to the dark side. You think that the influence of corruption might flow in the other direction, with the Europeans being the initiators with their destruction of the culture. We saw in the U.S. what the native culture could look like after the Europeans had destroyed it: debased and degraded. So I lean toward your view.

It also isn't a matter of Kurtz merely adopting the native ways, but of doing so in order to attain immense power. He was still the dominator. He became an innovator who was so good at bringing in ivory that he posed a threat to the establishment and had to be stopped.
DWill



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Quote:


Thomas Hood posted a modern-day story about brutality and "unspeakable rites" from the Congo. He thinks that the people there were already debased and that Kurtz was simply overwhelmed by this evil cultural influence, going over to the dark side. You think that the influence of corruption might flow in the other direction, with the Europeans being the initiators with their destruction of the culture. We saw in the U.S. what the native culture could look like after the Europeans had destroyed it: debased and degraded. So I lean toward your view.



You misunderstand me, Will. I do not think that traditional African culture is debased or evil, although in terms of modern western thought it is metaphysically bizarre.

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/01/ ... 47245.html
Cannibals massacring pygmies: claim
By James Astill in Nairobi
January 10 2003

"Cannibalism has re-emerged throughout eastern Congo as the last vestiges of colonial influence erodes during the war. Much of the vast forested area is controlled by the Mayi-Mayi, a loose grouping of tribal militias united by their magical beliefs and taste for human flesh."

It isn't Virginia over there.

Tom



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Thomas Hood wrote:
I agree, Robert, that the European eruption was foredoomed for both perpetrator and victim and that psychological satisfactions were as important as ivory and rubber. Empires are popular because in in remoter regions of empire the lower class European/American could lord over the natives like a noble.

Tom, a further thought on this topic - I am currently reading a book by Julian Young, Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism, where he discusses Nietzsche's concept of will to power as the motivating force of civilisation, and looking at Heidegger's claim that Nietzsche was the culmination of Cartesian metaphysics. Considering these thinkers against a political framework, Descartes was riding the egoic wave of European conquest, presenting the map and gridlines as a powerful framework to represent reality, with the essential Cartesian magic consisting in the conflation between concept and reality. Nietzsche's effective deconstruction/continuation of Descartes set the cogito as an act not of reason but of passion, of will rather than logic. It gets back to how European conquest was built on denial of your earlier comment to the effect that we are much more buffeted by the winds of fate than we usually acknowledge, in no way controlling our destiny as Descartes seems to have imagined as an ideal. Taking these points of high philosophy to the Congo, to discourse with Mr Kurtz, it seems that your term 'satisfaction' occupies a conscious visible portion of the iceberg of motivation, but the enterprise of coin from trade evolved according to its own deep mysterious law. My sense, in terms of instinctive motive, is that organisms expand where they can, with morality a very secondary constraint compared to force. Hence Europeans did what they could - using the Order of the Garter motto Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense - Shame to him who thinks it shameful, or, I don't care what you think - to ride roughshod over human dignity in Africa.



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Thomas Hood wrote:
It isn't Virginia over there.


You can say that again. I'm sure I have no idea.

I have to remind myself at times that we're discussing a work of fiction. Conrad could have been an eyewitness to scenes like those depicted in HD, and surely formed an impression about what was happening in the Congo and why, but that is not to say that we need to accept one person's view as authentic historically, especially when the purpose is artistic.
Will



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Robert Tulip wrote:
Quote:
it seems that your term 'satisfaction' occupies a conscious visible portion of the iceberg of motivation, but the enterprise of coin from trade evolved according to its own deep mysterious law. My sense, in terms of instinctive motive, is that organisms expand where they can, with morality a very secondary constraint compared to force.


Robert, something can be a conscious satisfaction and yet we cannot say why it is a satisfaction. Much that we do is because of appeal to imagination, to fiction and not fact. Marlow says he was drawn to the Congo like a bird fascinated by a snake. Instead of a will to power, I'd vote for a will to imagination.

Tom



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