HeartofDarkness and death
I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine.
It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, nothing
around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the
great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere
of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in
that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a
greater riddle than some of us think it to be. (Joseph Conrad, Heartof
This book analyses black Atlantic studies, colonial discourse analysis and postcolonial theory, providing paradigms for understanding imperial literature, Englishness and black transnationalism. Its concerns range from the metropolitan centre of Conrad's Heart of Darkness to fatherhood in Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk; from the marketing of South African literature to cosmopolitanism in Achebe; and from utopian discourse in Parry to Jameson's theorisation of empire.
Works of travel have been the subject of increasingly sophisticated studies in recent years. This book undermines the conviction with which nineteenth-century British writers talked about darkest Africa. It places the works of travel within the rapidly developing dynamic of Victorian imperialism. Images of Abyssinia and the means of communicating those images changed in response to social developments in Britain. As bourgeois values became increasingly important in the nineteenth century and technology advanced, the distance between the consumer and the product were justified by the scorn of African ways of eating. The book argues that the ambiguities and ambivalence of the travellers are revealed in their relation to a range of objects and commodities mentioned in narratives. For instance, beads occupy the dual role of currency and commodity. The book deals with Henry Morton Stanley's expedition to relieve Emin Pasha, and attempts to prove that racial representations are in large part determined by the cultural conditions of the traveller's society. By looking at Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, it argues that the text is best read as what it purports to be: a kind of travel narrative. Only when it is seen as such and is regarded in the context of the fin de siecle can one begin to appreciate both the extent and the limitations of Conrad's innovativeness.
In an age of Imperial confidence, the social rhetoric of Victorian Britain frequently manifested a perceptible unease when considering cultural problems within the home nation. The imagery of ‘darkest England’, dependant as it was upon a powerful colonialist discourse, authorised and transmitted a register of language whereby an internal Other might be configured as uncivilised, and thus capable of being subject to the explorer and the missionary. Much, of course, has already been written upon the Gothic possibilities of this phenomena which characterised an Imperial age which allegedly declined with the nineteenth century. No similar consideration, however, has yet been made of its continuation into the twentieth century, a progressively post-colonial era in which the Imperial (or Imperialised) Other, in consequence, functions differently. This article considers two Gothic short stories, one in a reprinted Edwardian collection, the other a component of an original collection, both of which were issued in volume form in the late 1940s. The two narratives examine classic ‘cultures-within-cultures’, pockets of resistance within the fabric of the Imperial nation, though in a cultural context radically different from their Victorian predecessors. Algernon Blackwood‘s ‘Ancient Sorceries’ (1908), published in the 1947 reprint of his John Silence, and L.T.C. Rolt‘s ‘Cwm Garon’ published in Sleep No More (1948) share a preoccupation with the casual, localised, travelling which has replaced Imperial adventure, and with the decline of identifiable Christian institutions and landmarks themselves the products of earlier missionary activity in a familiar, though threatening, European landscape. In both short stories a form of devil worship is enacted before the eyes of the traveller, and in a landscape which fascinates and somehow holds him. In ‘Ancient Sorceries’, where the Devil does attend the bacchanal, the protagonist is almost seduced into willing participation but, on evading the sexual lure of the sabbat, vows never to return. Rolt, writing after the recent horrors of the Second World War, discards the presiding Devil in favour of a mortal substitute, but still leaves open the possibility that, in Kilvert‘s words, ‘an angel satyr walks these hills’. Neither welcomed nor seduced by the satanic community, Rolts protagonist finds himself fascinated by the land, and thus drawn into unwilling participation. In colonial terms, these two narratives explore the frequently rehearsed dangers of ‘going native’ that lie at the core of, among other works, Kipling‘s ‘The Mark of the Beast’, Rider Haggard‘s She and Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness. A subject people is identified, but their strength either supernatural or merely cultural, the ability to preserve a distinctive and resistant way of life tests the limits of the perceiving power. These are, in a sense, Imperial fantasies for a post-colonial world, a reflexing of colonised culture back in upon the formerly colonising nation.
’, in Bunce ,
M. , Franks ,
S. and Paterson ,
C. (eds), Africa’s Media
Image in the 21st Century: From the ‘HeartofDarkness’ to ‘Africa
Rising’ ( London :
Routledge ), pp.
129 – 31 .
R. ( 1977 ),
Image/Music/Text ( New York :
Hill and Wang ).
Bunce , M. ,
Scott , M. and
K. ( forthcoming ),
‘ Humanitarian Journalism ’, Oxford Research
Encyclopedia of Journalism Studies ( Oxford :
Oxford University Press
Nine years after the controversy of
the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition and nine years after Conrad’s own
journey to the Congo, 1
HeartofDarkness was published. This novella has been described
as ‘the most over-interpreted literary text of the last hundred
years’, 2 so
a little more interpretation surely can’t do much harm.
For the benefit
Marlow: ‘Youth’ and the
For a long time already he, sitting apart, had been no more to us than a
voice. (Joseph Conrad, HeartofDarkness)
Marlow: character or narrator?
The description of Marlow given in the Oxford Reader’s Companion
to Conrad, distilling, as it does, decades of critical discussion, provides
a useful place from which to begin a study of his role, its authors tell
He has often been seen as Conrad’s autobiographical alter ego, since his
narratives are based on Conrad’s own experiences in the ill-fated Palestine
supposed political opinions that have led so many scholars to set him
apart from the rest of the imperial artists. Conventional opinion
opposes Rudyard Kipling the imperialist to Joseph Conrad the
anti-imperialist. Just as Kim occupies the first rank among
‘novels of empire’, HeartofDarkness heads almost
every list of literary critiques of colonialism. Some of Conrad’s
closest friends shared the
Tale of the city: the imperial metropolis
Many decades ago, in Discourse on Colonialism, Aimé Césaire drew attention to the ‘boomerang effect’ of imperialism. His account suggests that
the boomerang operates at two speeds. The fast boomerang returns as
soon as it is dispatched: the brutal dehumanisation to which the
colonised are subjected is immediately visited upon the coloniser, leading Césaire to the conclusion that ‘colonization … dehumanizes even
the most civilized man: that the colonizer, who
afterwards? Who holds the Empire and guards it? Who does the dirty work?
Who sweeps the colonies ‘clean,’ who keeps the savages in
The self-contained fictions of
going out, discovering, and returning had as their counterparts more
episodic accounts of dealing with trouble on the spot, just as the