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X- 1 HD: Racist Author? Controversy: Chinua Achebe.
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Author:  Ophelia [ Sun Feb 03, 2008 1:48 pm ]
Post subject:  X- 1 HD: Racist Author? Controversy: Chinua Achebe.

X-1- Is Conrad a racist author? Controversy, Chinua Achebe.


"In a post-colonial reading, the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe famously criticized Heart of Darkness in his 1975 lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", saying the novel de-humanized Africans, denied them language and culture, and reduced them to a metaphorical extension of the dark and dangerous jungle into which the Europeans venture."
Wikipedia.


I highly recommend reading the following document , and I hope you will feel like discussing it, as it is a gold mine: Chinua Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness."

http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/wyrick/debclass/achcon.htm


It is also interesting to read a biography of Achebe, who was a teacher and a writer.

http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/achebe.htm

Author:  DWill [ Thu Feb 07, 2008 11:59 pm ]
Post subject: 

That is a powerful essay by Achebe. I think he must be correct in much of it, as far as I would be able to judge. In the book, there is, regarding the African people, certainly that generalizing and simplifying that is a hallmark of racism. The native people are, as Achebe says, distinguished not by any cultural achievements, but by their status as emanations of the jungle, described in zoological terms. It is true that the Europeans don't come off well, either, but theirs is the more dramatic and significant failure of the superior race.

Achebe may also be right about Kurtz being a hollow figure and in no way worthy of the awe that Marlow shows for him. Big deal, Kurtz goes nuts and loses all his fine principles. He ends up a mass murderer who may discover what a bad character he was upon his own death. Marlow tells us over and over about Kurtz's effect on him, but he does little showing of Kurtz's supposed magnificence. It's hard to see any tragic quality in Kurtz that would so affect Marlow. In that regard, the book may not be even the complete artistic success it is reputed to be.

This book is a triumph of the rendering of a setting, of atmosphere, and the portrayal of Marlow's psychological state. I find the message of the book the less impressive part.

Will

Author:  Ibid [ Fri Feb 08, 2008 5:51 pm ]
Post subject: 

Ok, I have a few problems with this. First, you always have to be careful when attempting to judge someone writing in 1902 by the standards of today (or in the case of this essay 1977).
Second, the treatment that Conrad has his narrator give to the natives actually furthers and enhances the effect of the novel because you see the Africans through the eyes of the colonizing forces, not some third party who is cleaning everything up and making it politically correct.

Author:  Ophelia [ Sat Feb 09, 2008 6:24 am ]
Post subject: 

I'll quote a few important passages from Achebes's 36 point essay (1977).

Author:  DWill [ Sat Feb 09, 2008 10:29 am ]
Post subject: 

I didn't answer the question Penelope put directly: Is Conrad a racist author? To that, I would say no. I believe that HD reflects the common racism of the day, but that does not to me make it a racist book (it is more than its observations on race) and certainly does not make Conrad a racist author. That seems ridiculous to me, as if one aspect of a writer's rich output should be considered sufficient to hang a label on him.

What Achebe seemed to be trying to achieve was simply ackowledgement that Conrad didview the African people through the lens of European racial superiority. Achebe says that in the critical discussions of the work, little is mentioned about the distorting effect of European prejudice on the portrayal of the Africans. I would have to take his word on that, not knowing much about the critical literature.

As to Penelope's quote from Achebe stating that Conrad goes beyond the background level of prejudice in his world, showing some special animus against black-skinned people, I don't know how Achebe can really guage this. The examples he gave do not convince me in themselves. Elsewhere in Conrad's work, or even in his letters, do we find confirmation that he was adamant about the inferiority of blacks? I'm no Conrad expert, so I couldn't say.

Will

Author:  Ophelia [ Sat Feb 09, 2008 11:59 am ]
Post subject: 

Ibid and DWill,
I quite agree with you. Of course, somebody like Achebe draws great respect because of his writings and the cause he fought for, but still we may disagree with him.
As Ibid notes, the date of publication of Achebe's essay is important. In the 1970's, in the context of anti-racist movements in many countries, a voice like his was necessary, and in the field of literature he probably started a renewal of interest for Conrad and the theme of colonialism. Conrad deserves to be studied, and colonialism must be confronted rather than pushed under the rug, so this is all to the good.
Yet Achebe does not convince me in his accusation of racism on Conrad's part in Heart of Darkness. Now and then, I find a sentence or a phrase which could not have been written by someone who sided with the Europeans in Africa.

Have you found such sentences?

Author:  Ophelia [ Sat Feb 09, 2008 12:31 pm ]
Post subject: 

Dwill wrote:

Quote:
As to Penelope's quote from Achebe stating that Conrad goes beyond the background level of prejudice in his world, showing some special animus against black-skinned people, I don't know how Achebe can really gauge this. The examples he gave do not convince me in themselves


Yes, I also find Achebe's examples unconvincing, and also confusing in their presentation: in the text I have there are no quotation marks, and he moves from one thing to another, only sometimes giving a source.


So far I have one example from HD:

Author:  Ophelia [ Sat Feb 09, 2008 1:13 pm ]
Post subject: 

Achebe,

Author:  WildCityWoman [ Sat Feb 09, 2008 3:11 pm ]
Post subject:  I wholly agree

Ibid wrote:
Ok, I have a few problems with this. First, you always have to be careful when attempting to judge someone writing in 1902 by the standards of today (or in the case of this essay 1977).
Second, the treatment that Conrad has his narrator give to the natives actually furthers and enhances the effect of the novel because you see the Africans through the eyes of the colonizing forces, not some third party who is cleaning everything up and making it politically correct.


I haven't been able to do so much as a few pages, so far this weekend - going to see how far I can get tonight, but I just wanted to say that wholly agree with the first paragraph ofyour post here.

Books from the early 70's are a world away from today's writings.

In the '70's, we were still writing and reading about very primitive places in Africa.

I think though, that when a writer places a story in the mid-century - say, 1940, things would be more primitive.

Another thing that's hard to deal with in novels, is writers who insist on putting modern-day values and ethics into stories that are placed in times like the late 1800's or early 1900's.

To have somebody say 'No way, Jose' in a novel that takes place in 1949, is just plain out of place.

That saying came from the late sixties, early seventies.

So you have to figure on the dialogue of the times when you write a story.

Best way to study that is to read books from that time in history.

Author:  DWill [ Mon Feb 11, 2008 10:54 pm ]
Post subject: 

It's a little bit odd to me that Conrad, while clearly showing us the moral bankruptcy of the Europeans and their cruel explotation of the Africans, does not seem to have a lot of sympathy for the victims. He doesn't appear to believe that what has been taken from the Congo people is much of a loss. I have some trouble with the moral viewpoint, after all. I don't know what to make of Kurtz' descent into the heart of darkness. Is it a descent to the level of the native people, as Kurtz adopts their "unspeakable rites"? I can't credit this view as valid, because I think Conrad/Marlow's depiction of the indigenous people is heavy on caricature and shows the racism of his day. I would rather see Kurtz' own destructiveness and depravity as constituting the heart of darkness, that he brought this in himself as a foreign quality, but I am not at all sure that is really in the book that Conrad wrote. Maybe others see this differently. Is the theme of this book a muddle, or does it have a satisfying ambiguity for you?

Will[/i]

Author:  WildCityWoman [ Thu Feb 14, 2008 6:15 pm ]
Post subject: 

I kind of see the 'darkness' as being all of that which we do not know.

Ignorance and racism are two different things.

Racism, to my way of thinking, is a sense of 'meanness' toward people who are different.

Ignorance is what you do not know.

We are now exploring Mars - sending our robots around, digging, prying - we say 'there is no life there'.

There IS no life 'as we know it'. For all we know 'life' could be 'vibration' in rocks, a 'warmth/heat', just plain 'vibes'.

So in a way, as far as Martians are concerned, we are racists. We are ignorant of their existence, of their form of 'life' and therefore, we are mean beings who are all too ready to jump up and say there IS no life.

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Sat Feb 16, 2008 12:12 am ]
Post subject: 

Thanks for sharing Achebe's article. In my opinion it presents a coherent but incorrect reading of Heart of Darkness. Conrad is slamming racism by taking us inside the mind of the racist. This is highly discomforting, and gives no basis for Achebe's reading that Conrad is somehow justifying European colonialism as a 'purveyor of comforting myths'.

The na

Author:  Ophelia [ Sat Feb 16, 2008 4:47 am ]
Post subject: 

Robert wrote:

"Achebe presents a political reading of HD by identifying Conrad with Marlowe, a plausible line but in the end wrong."

Robert, I agree with everything you wrote in this posting.

One clear example that Achebe was wrong can be found in the following quote:

" All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz; and by and by I learnt that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had entrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance." (p 69)

Conrad is not someone who writes a diatribe in modern antiracist terms, but to me the name " International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs" is better than a speech. How could Achebe have missed it?

I laughed when I read it, and, just in case the Europeans had indeed invented such a farcical name, I turned to note nb 100 provided by the Penguin edition:

"Conrad might have had in mind the International Association for the Exploration and Civilizing of Africa, of which King Leopold was the president".

The name invented by Conrad is probably exactly what the Europeans had in mind; it shows he had no illusions about how colonizers thought, and it shows that he disapproved.[/quote]

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