"Reading" and "interpretation" have common meanings that are, at best, secondary or even tertiary to academic literary criticism. Authors sometimes give readings from their work before a live audience. Audio books have been common for years. Such a reading requires that the lifeless text be interpreted if the reading is to sound at all natural, if it is to be listenable. And that's how I first became acquainted with some of our canonical texts. My father read them to me at bedtime – Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Moby Dick (I bet he skipped the whale taxonomy), plus a ripping good yarn or two, such as King Soloman's Mines. I marveled at how natural his voice sounded.
For better or worse, however, aural reading doesn't have much presence in literary criticism, not even among critics of drama.
Which brings me to Heart of Darkness. Jeb and I have been having a little discussion in the comments to one of yesterday's posts and he starting talking about how one would interprete, that is read aloud, that crucial line from the text: "My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—" And that sent me off in search of an audio version. And I found one, one that's free on the web, courtesy of LoudLit.org, which offers other texts as well.
It's been uploaded in 10 segments, 1-4 for chapter one, 5-7, for chapter 2, and 8-10 for chapter 3. The Nexus paragraph, as I've been calling it, is about a quarter of the way into segment 7. As you may recall, that paragraph enters the text in the course of an attack. We get that attack at the end of segment 6, so you might want to start at, say, 17:53, which is just before the attack.
There's a brief pause at c. 2:24 in segment 7 and we shift from Marlow to the (unnamed) frame narrator; back to Marlow at 2:56; frame narrator at 4:30 for a short remark ("He was silent for a long time."), then back to Marlow at 4:36. That begins paragraph 103, The Nexus. This paragraph is the structural center of the text. Our phrase is at 6:42.
There's lots to say about what's going on here. In that interval between the two interruptions by the frame narrator, Marlow talks about Kurtz and says this:
Oh yes, I heard more than enough. And I was right, too. A voice. He was very little more than a voice. And I heard—him—it—this voice—other voices—all of them were so little more than voices—and the memory of that time itself lingers around me, impalpable, like a dying vibration of one immense jabber, silly, atrocious, sordid, savage, or simply mean, without any kind of sense.
The voice, and that's what this story is, a succession of voices.