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Book: Heart of Darkness

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This is an awesome book. I haven't read any of Conrad's other books, but they'll probably appear on my shelf soon. It was a bit hard to push Apocalypse Now out of my mind as I read this, but once I did I enjoyed symbolism and realism imbued from Conrad's own experience. I especially like the comparison between Marlow and Buddha: Buddha possesses knowledge of the path toward enlightenment; Marlow possesses knowledge of mankind's path toward baseness.

The version of the I read had copious end notes to help decode some of the allusions that Conrad makes, as well as point out where Conrad is including (and disguising) details from his own trip. It also has Conrad's diary from the journey, which I may get around to reading.

In the extended entry, I included my favorites excerpts from the book. Some come from near the end, so read no further if you want no spoilers.

Pages 111-115 is my favorite part of the book, so I have broken the order of the excerpts and placed the relevant excerpts here first.

p. 112

'"The horror! The horror!"'

p. 112

However, as you see, I did not go to join Kurtz there and then. I did not. I remained to dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyalty to Kurtz once more. Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is -- that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself -- that comes too late -- a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, 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 scepticism, 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. I was within a hair's-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up -- he had judged. "The horror!" He was a remarkable man. After all, this was the expression of some sort of belief; it had candour, it had conviction, it had a vibrating note of revolt in its whisper, it had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth -- the strange commingling of desire and hate. And it is not my own extremity I remember best -- a vision of greyness without form filled with physical pain, and a careless contempt for the evanescence of all things -- even of this pain itself. No! It is his extremity that I seem to have lived through. True, he had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible. Perhaps! I like to think my summing-up would not have been a word of careless contempt. Better his cry -- much better. It was an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable deaths, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a victory! That is why I have remained loyal to Kurtz to the last, and even beyond, when a long time after I heard once more, not his own voice, but the echo of his magnificent eloquence throw to me from a soul as translucently pure as a cliff of crystal.

p. 35

Near the same tree two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence.

p. 48

I let him run on, this papier-mache Mephistopheles, and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my finger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt, maybe...

p. 50

...Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me that 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...'

p. 60

...And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect...

p. 62

...We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break of day. Whether it meant war, peace or prayer we could not tell...

p. 63

The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there -- there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were -- No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it -- this suspicion of their not being inhuman...

p. 71
...Yes, I looked at them as you would on any human being, with a curiosity of their impulses, motives, capacities, weaknesses, when brought to the test of an inexorable physical necessity. Restraint? What possible restraint? Was it superstition, disgust, patience, fear -- or some kind of primitive honour? No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as to superstition, beliefs, and what you may call principles, they are less than chaff in a breeze. Don't you know the devilry of lingering starvation, its exasperating torment, its black thoughts, its sombre and brooding ferocity? Well, I do. It takes a man all his inborn strength to fight hunger properly. It's really easier to face bereavement, dishonour, and the perdition of one's soul -- than this kind of prolonged hunger. Sad, but true. And these chaps too had no earthly reason for any kind of scruple. Restraint! I would just as soon have expected restraint from a hyena prowling amongst the corpses of a battlefield...

p. 81

...Everything belonged to him -- but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. That was the reflection that made you creepy all over. It was impossible -- it was not good for one either -- trying to imagine. He had taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land -- I mean literally...

p. 82

...Of course you may be too much of a fool to go wrong -- too dull even to know you are being assaulted by the powers of darkness. I take it, no fool ever made a bargain for his soul with the devil: the fool is too much of a fool, or the devil too much of a devil -- I don't know which. Or you may be such a thunderingly exalted creature as to be altogether deaf and blind to anything but heavenly sights and sounds. Then the earth for you is only a standing place -- and whether to be like this is your loss or your gain I won't pretend to say. But most of us are neither one nor the other...

recrudescence: To break out anew or come into renewed activity, as after a period of quiescence. (p. 32)

declivity: A downward slope, as of a hill (p. 32)

bight: A loop in a rope, or the middle or slack part of an extended rope. (p. 33)

moribund: Approaching death; about to die. (p. 35)

propitiatory: Of or offered in propitiation; conciliatory. (p. 35)

tenebrous: dark and gloomy (p. 99, 110)

Comments (1)

The thing that really gets me is that English was Conrad's *third* language. He didn't learn it till he was about 21.

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