Sunday, November 5, 2017

Heart of Darkness as a ring-composition

In the process of preparing a PowerPoint presentation for my talk at HEX01, the First Workshop on the History of Expressive Systems, I took another crack at analyzing Heart of Darkness as a ring composition. Here it is:
1. Frame Tale (Buddha)
2. Women hook Marlow up with a pilot’s job
3. Journey from Europe to the Congo
4. Travel upriver
4’. Central Station
3’. Return from the Congo to Europe
2’. Marlow lies to the Intended about Kurtz’s last words
1’. Frame Tale (Buddha)
Note that the arrival to and departure from the central point of the geographical journey, Kurtz’s trading station in the Congo, is displaced from the narrative center. The narrative center, as I’ve been arguing, is that longest paragraph in the text, the one I’ve called the Nexus. That’s it, at the center of the chart:

HD whole envelope

The Nexus where we first learn much of anything about Kurtz; it gives us a capsule history of his life. In a way what we’ve got – and here I’m just thinking out loud – is references to the Buddha in the frame tale at the beginning and end and the Nexus in the middle. Here’s a fragment from paragraph 13 (in the text served up by the Gutenberg Project):
“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower—“Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect.”
And the final paragraph (198):
Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. “We have lost the first of the ebb,” said the Director, suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.
More later.

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