Friday, October 2, 2015

Revised Working Paper on Heart of Darkness

Note, Oct 3, 2015: I've revised the revisions mentioned below. The revisions are reflected in the current version of the working paper, but not in the material below.
I’ve made two changes from the original version of this working paper, which I originally posted to the web in August of 2011.

First, I have revised section HD5, The Heart of Heart of Darkness. At the time I’d done my original work I hadn’t examined the narrative closely enough to pick up a significant formal difference between the narrative before and after the nexus, which is the heart of The Heart of Darkness. The Outer Narrator opens the narrative, discoursing about Sir Francis Drake and introducing us to Marlow. He closes the narrative with brief remarks. The Outer Narrator also intervenes between the opening and the nexus, but not between the nexus and the end.

Second, I’ve added the short section below, as HD12. You can download the revised working paper at

The Shape of the Tale, Triangulating the Buddha

To a first approximation, then, the story
  1. opens as the Outer Narrator invokes the Roman settlement of Britain and invokes primitive humankind in ancient Africa;
  2. moves into Marlow’s tale, which the ON interrupts periodically, as Marlow informs us of how he got this job through an appeal to an aunt, and then takes us to the Congo and heads upriver, only to interrupt the narrative
  3. with the nexus, as women are explicitly excluded from this business and Europe, in the person of Kurtz (and his story), is weighed against Africa, in the person of the (only marginally competent) helmsman; and then
  4. Marlow continues the tale through Kurtz’s death to a meeting with his Intended; and concludes
  5. when the Outer Narrator compares Marlow to “a meditating Buddha,” an image the ON had evoked at the very beginning.
Why the Buddha? Does it/he serve as a mediating term between ancient Africa, Rome, contemporary Europe, and women? The Buddha is not European, nor Roman, nor African, but is as foreign to contemporary Europe as the other two. And women, what about the Buddha and women? The Buddha is male, of course, but he’s also, if not a god, godlike, and so perhaps that aligns him, as an imaginative presence, with the Intended, as an object of attachment. But, of course, the Buddha taught detachment, not attachment.

This arrangement strikes me as being impossibly elegant and worthy of further exploration, exploration that encompasses a greater range of details than I’ve managed to incorporate into these working papers. What about the African, for example, or Marlow’s aunt? And what’s the significance of the fact that the ON disappears after the nexus until the very end, which is a single short paragraph and not a disquisition on world history like the one that opened the text? Why did Conrad need the ON’s intervention in the first half but not the second?

Details, details.

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