Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Heart of Darkness (excerpt)

I've been reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness these last couple days. It's a terrifying novel. I've read it before, but its potency is just as sharp today as the first time I read it. Like Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness tears long, jagged strips off the flesh of human society and fills these bleeding gaps with terrifying images of what, as Marlowe reminds us, is all too bleakly human. I'm not sure there is any hope to be found in this novel, but its terror is grand and apocalyptic nonetheless. Enjoy.

"The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver - over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a sombre gap glittering, glittering as it flowed broadly by without a murmur. All this was great, expectant, mute, while the man jabbered about himself. I wondered whether the stillness on the face of the immensity looking at us two were meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who had strayed in here? Could we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn't talk and perhaps was deaf as well. What was in there? I could see a little ivory coming out from there and I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enough about it too - God know! Yet somehow it didn't bring any image with it - no more than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there. I believed it in the same way one of you might believe there are inhabitants on the planet Mars. I know a Scotch sailmaker who was certain, dead sure, there were people in Mars. If you asked him for some idea how they looked and behaved he would get shy and mutter something about 'walking on all-fours.' If you as much as smiled he would - though a man of sixty - offer to fight you. I would not have gone so far as to fight for Kurtz, but I went for him near enough to lie. You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appals me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies - which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world - what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose. Well, I went near enough to it by letting the young fool there believe anything he liked to imagine as to my influence in Europe. I become in an instant as much of a pretence as the rest of the bewitched pilgrims. This simply because I had a notion it somehow would be of help to that Kurtz whom at the time I did not see - you understand. He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream - making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams..."

He was silent for a while.

"... No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence - that which makes its truth, its meaning - its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream - alone."

Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. 26-7.


nevis said...

I don't think I've ever read this book, but it sounds really interesting...!

dcornelius said...

It's an amazing book. It is the novel that the movie Apocalypse Now is based on. The two are pretty similar, but the movie changes the setting from the Congo to Vietnam.