Monday 9 February 2009

My favourite classic - Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a perfect fusion of symbolist aesthetics, first-person confessional narrative, political critique, high Greek tragedy and, most devastating of all, twentieth-century irony. On a yawl moored outside London, the old sea-hand Marlow tells his story of a journey to the African interior in search of wayward ivory station-master and general European visionary Kurtz. As civilization’s trappings peel away, signs, language and meaning itself start drifting and crumbling just like the tin-pot steamer on which Marlow chugs towards his assignation.

Mangroves writhe in impotent despair; warships fire cannons at imaginary enemies; the earth seems unearthly; giant trees loom above the river like primordial kings. Kurtz himself, it turns out, has let the jungle whisper to him things about himself – about us – that we’re not meant to know. They echo loudly within him, because he’s “hollow at the core”. He dies, uttering the immortal lines “The horror! The horror!” – and Marlow, having glimpsed the darkness to which Kurtz has succumbed, is faced with a choice: reveal to Kurtz’s fiancée and, by extension, Europe, the truth about its heart, or smooth the darkness over with a lie…

Tom McCarthy

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