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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Two things before I get to today's review:

1) I'm trying to promote my two most recent books, Dark Remnants and Quantum Entanglement. There are lots of sites where you can list them for promotions, but most of the Amazon ones require that you have a certain number of reviews on Amazon. Unfortunately, because my books are still so new, I'm falling a bit below the bar. So, if you've read either and feel so inclined, could you cross-post your reviews to Amazon? It would really help me out. Also, if you'd be willing to read either in exchange for a review, I'd be happy to send you a free electronic copy. You can contact me at my email, lkhillbooks@gmail.com for questions or inquiries.

2) I finally got the cover for book 1 of my historical fiction trilogy, entitled Citadels of Fire. This is the saga set in Russia in the middle ages. Guys, it's AMAZING! I'm so pleased with it. I'm going to do a cover reveal the first week in November. I'm thinking the 6th or 7th. If anyone would like to help me do a cover reveal blitz, let me know. I'll be sending the stuff out in the next few days. Just email me, again, at lkhillbooks@gmail.com.

So I've read this book probably a dozen times, but this is the first time since I started blogging, so I'm going to write a quick review.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is the semi-autobiographical account of a young man who travels into the heart of the Belgian Congo looking for adventure. And he finds it. The book is set during the notorious era of the Ivory trade, a dark time that included the exploitation of thousands of African natives, and may have left as many as a million corpses in its wake. Conrad's narrator, a man known only as Marlowe, sees the genocide that's going on first hand. He hears about and later meets a man named Kurtz, and has a spiritual and philosophical awakening as he realizes how evil Kurtz has become in the heart of the jungle, and how close he has come to following in Kurtz's footsteps.

Now, there's been volumes written about this book, especially as it relates to racism. Myself, I don't see Conrad as a racist, but what's more, I think any discussion on the topic is really missing the point. This book isn't about racism, though we see a great deal of it through Marlowe's eyes. It's about evil in general, but that evil is discussed on an individual level. Not the evil done to other people, but what a person must do to themselves before they can stomach such evil. It wouldn't have mattered what the evil was--he might have been speaking about serial killers, slave owners in America, or any person who appreciates human life so little that they can commit genocide. 

Now, there are plenty of people who hate this book. And I get it. There are parts of it that are very dry. We're talking page-long paragraphs and small print. But if you can get past that--and just do it because it's a classic novel, not some newbie author who doesn't know how to edit--and to part three of this, actually very short, novella, it's totally worth it. Conrad goes into what I think is the best discussion ever written down about the natural of individual evil. In order for a person to be able to do violence of any kind to other human beings, they have to become apathetic. They have to not care anymore. And where apathy reigns, there is no passion, which also means no progression. But Conrad says it better than I can. Here are his words about the death of passion:
"I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness, with nothing underfoot, with 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 skepticism, 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..."

He also comments on the nature of evil in a way that shows how well--almost creepily so--he understood it. 
"Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of a candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all hearts that beat in the darkness..."

The end of Heart of Darkness is, well, very dark. It's actually very tragic, and doesn't give much closure. I think Conrad did that on purpose, even if it does frustrate most readers. What he saw in the Congo haunted him, and he probably never had much closure from it, even as he wrote his immortal book. Though, as a writer, I have to believe that writing at least made it better.

T.S. Eliot wrote a poem in response to Heart of Darkness. It's supposed to be from the point of view of evil men (or women), like Kurtz. The kind of people who basically sell their soul to the devil for a mortal power trip. They do murder and rape and violence and plenty of terrible things. I've posted the poem below for anyone who wants to read it. Warning: it's creepy and will probably give you chills!

The Hollow Men

by T.S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.
A penny for the Old Guy
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—
Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Has anyone else read Heart of Darkness? What do you think of the poem?

1 comment:

  1. Great poem, had never read it. I need to read Heart of Darkness again as it's been so long. Thanks for the intriguing post!