Leonie V. 28. Oktober 2011 um 15:03 Uhr

Madness Revisited

‚Heart of Darkness‘ is above all a novel about Madness. Francis Coppola seemed to realize this very well when he made his movie ‚Apocalypse Now Redux‘. Instead of giving us a precise adaptation of Conrad’s novel, he took the essence of the story and retold it in modern settings. By doing this, the madness is portrayed in an even more haunting way. In this essay I will point out how this representation of madness in ‚Apocalypse Now Redux‘ goes beyond that of ‚Heart of darkness‘.

Conrad shows us that when one becomes too far removed from society’s mores and restrictions, good and evil become relative terms. By traveling into the dark heart of Africa’s wilderness, Kurtz and Marlow’s moral boundaries begin fading. And by losing this foundation, they become mad. Coppola shows us more or less the same story, except that his main character Willard is searching for Kurtz in the Vietnam War.

While in ‚Heart of Darkness‘ we can find clues of others turning mad, Conrad focuses mainly on the journey into madness of Marlow and Kurtz. In ‚Apocalypse Now Redux‘ the madness is omnipresent, almost everyone we see is mad, or turning insane. The movie focuses more on the inevitable character of madness. Becoming mad has nothing to do with any personal weaknesses, but it is the logical consequence of being exposed to the horrors and absurdities of a war like in Vietnam.

Contrary to Marlow’s character, Willard is already having a mental breakdown when we first meet him in his hotel in Saigon. He has already been fighting in the Vietnam War, and couldn’t function in his normal life in America anymore. This psychological effect of the war obviously refers to reality, were it turned out the majority of veterans from the Vietnam war struggled with mental illnesses for the rest of they’re lives. Viewers of the film are thus already struck by this sense of realness that Heart of Darkness never accomplishes.

Coppola gives a special role to the different army camps boat crew passes. They’re symbolic for the different stages of madness. In the first camp we meet the tough and invulnerable colonel Kilgore, who’s showing us the absence moral judgement. The expectancy of surfing is for him more important than helping a severely wounded man and in order to surf he attack a village and askes for a whole treeline to get blast away. This particular scene grasps the absurdity of this empty, hollow state of a mind without any moral obligations, better than any of the passages in ‘Heart of Darkness’ with a similar purpose.

The second army camp is a mess. The rain has turned everything into a mud pool, and the soldiers are running around like monkeys. Even the boat crew starts fighting for no reason after just been in the camp for a couple of minutes. There is no one in charge and there isn’t really anything happening. It’s an inefficient camping site. It’s symbolic for the loss of restrictions and obligations.

It is night and pitch-black ass the boat crew passes the last army outpost, the Do Lung Bridge. The perfect example of what a heart of darkness could look like; the messenger calls it ‘the asshole of the world’. Again there is no one in command here and this contributes to the complete disorientation of the soldiers. They’re either aphetically staring at nothing or hysterically shooting in the air. We’ve arrived at the core madness here, which Coppola emphasises on by portraying it as a circus, complete with colourful lights, fireworks and circus tunes.

So in addition to the story of Marlow and Kurtz, Coppola gives us a more detailed view on concept of madness. He shows us how real, inevitable and horrific this specific madness really is, not only by showing us more specifically the horrific crimes committed, but especially by the symbolic use of the army outposts which systematically show us the different stages of depravation of moral boundaries. Coppola shows us the impossibility of wars, for in order to act efficiently in one you need to be untouched by all the horrors of it and this is almost impossible without eventually turning mad.

Works cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Penguin, 1999

Coppola, Francis Ford, dir. Apocalypse Now Redux. 2001

Athena Z 31. Oktober 2011 um 9:36 Uhr

Heart of Darkness: A web of alterity

J.Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, has proved to be an excellent source of exploration of alterity in its broad sense. I will use the term “alterity” in its plasticity, will stretch and mold it, to address a variety of movements and concepts such as feminism, orientalism, colonialism, identity, the self and “otherness”. The text itself, through its words and their underlying meaning, provides much food for thought for it releases its arrows in more than one directions and aspects of “otherness”, thus wounding women, natives and even imperialism and its failure, both conducted by white people. As far as the latter are concerned, the text seems explore the psychology, morality and corruption among the white and further split them in the ones who live in the comfort of the “sepulchral city” (Conrad, 66) and the others exposed to the wilderness of Africa.
First of all, women barely appear in the book and have either a symbolic role: the two women knitting at the beginning of the story and the recollection of this same image by Marlow at the end; the women are symbolic of the Fates from Greek Mythology and remind Marlow of his “Destiny. My destiny!”(Conrad, 65); or, decorative: Kurtz’s “Everything” (Conrad, 63), his lover, the “savage and superb” (Conrad, 56), The Intended and above all the sketch of a woman drawn by Kurtz. Marlow famously states: “It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over.” (Conrad, 10).
Many things have been written about the representation of the indigenous people in the book to the point that Conrad was even accused of being “a bloody racist” (Achebe, 788). It is indeed true that the image is not flattering the moment they are described as “savages”, “cannibals” and even “brutes” that need to be exterminated. Still, neither is the image of white men (with Kurtz as a leading figure) and/or the sepulchral city where Marlow returns at the end of the story: “I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretense, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance” (Conrad, 66).
The portraits of Marlow himself, torpid and later “becoming scientifically interesting” (Conrad,17) and of Kurtz, that “voice” and finally that beast of light and darkness, along with the other – either greedy or, mentally disturbed – white people Marlow encounters from the beginning till the end of the story, are barely sympathetic. Moreover, there are also instances when the text becomes clearly opposed to the concept of imperialism and its conductors for “strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others” and “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”(Conrad, 4)
To conclude, the text weaves an beautiful web of alterity, manifesting how the self is constantly threatened by the other, or one’s “otherness”. A threat responsible for many fears, misconceptions, mental decline and absurdity. And it is frightening to realize that a heart of darkness hides in the chest of every living being on this earth.

Work Cited:
1. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover, 1990.
2. Achebe,Chinua. “An Image of Africa:Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Eds. Vincent Leitch et al. 1st Ed. N.Y. Norton & Company, 2001.(1783-1794)

Fleur Jonker 31. Oktober 2011 um 14:14 Uhr

I would like to focus on the influence of the ‘other on the “essential identity of the self” as discussed by Anne McClintock (44) in Heart of Darkness. The other can be defined in many ways: very concrete, the confrontation with the natives as the colonial other; or more abstract, everything that is foreign, unknown. In this sense ‘otherness’ is defined as something that is not your own. I would like to adopt the latter definition and discuss Marlow’s crisis of the self when confronted with the unknown, as argued by Anne McClintock, and suggest that Kurtz’s importance to Marlow is partly based on the fact that he functions as a handle to retain a grip on the known.
According to Anne McClintock, “the effort to give voice to a landscape that is unspeakable […] creates a deep confusion, a kind of panic”(42). In her analysis of Marlow’s description of the landscape she argues that he represents the “moment of verbal and visual crisis as the colonial intruder stands dumb-founded before an inexpressible landscape” (McClintock 42). She argues that the language at Marlow’s disposal is unable to cover any description or definition of the continent since the words and terms in it are not applicable to the unfamiliar. According to McClintock, this creates not only a cognitive crisis but extends to a crisis of the self: “Marlow is stricken by his inability to interpret the landscape, this failure occasions the infinitely more severe crisis of not knowing who he is and his companions were themselves”(45). It seems that to McClintock a language has strong ties to its culture, rendering it impossible to describe with that language aspects of a hitherto unknown landscape or culture. Therefore, for example, she argues, Marlow hedges his sentences with modals such as ‘perhaps’ or ‘it seems’ because his language can only try to approximate that what he is seeing and experiencing (41).
I would like to propose that during his journey into the darkness, the unknown, as language seems to fall short, Kurtz becomes increasingly important to Marlow because he functions as a tool for self-definition. As Marlow transcends deeper and deeper into the unknown interior of Congo, his preoccupation with Kurtz grows and throughout his journey, as he learns more and more about him, Kurtz becomes a symbol of western civilization. When Marlow fists arrives in the colony, Kurtz is presented to him as “a first class agent” (Conrad 16) and the company’s chief accountant predicts a great future for him. From then on Marlow’s image of Kurtz is expanded with many other talents and capacities: he is a painter, a musician, a journalist. In short, the personification of civilization. This is also symbolized in his nationality, which is half-English, half-French: “all of Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” (Conrad 45). Since all the information that Marlow acquires on Kurtz comes from characters other than Kurtz himself, the harlequin, the manager, it can be argued that his image of Kurtz is completely self-constructed along the way. As his journey progresses and his ability to describe and place his surroundings in a referential framework diminishes, Kurtz becomes increasingly important to Marlow since his need for a link with the known also increases in order to stay sane. Thus, Kurtz becomes a pillar of reality to Marlow and a goal at that; if Marlow finds Kurtz, his journey ends and he will have regained a connection to the familiar.


Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Dearkness. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. Print.

McClintock, Anne. „Unspeakable Secrets: the Ideology of Landscape in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness“. The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association. 17.1 (1984): 38-53. Print.

Sharlene Alam 31. Oktober 2011 um 21:59 Uhr


This essay will focus on how Marlow’s narration, in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, portrays the savagery of the conquerors and colonizers rather than the natives. In spite of what critiques like Achebe have boldly stated, namely, that Conrad is a “thoroughgoing racist,” (Achebe 1618), if we take a closer look into some of the crucial moments in the novella, we will see that it is untrue. By putting aside one’s prejudiced emotional attachments with the author and with the words he uses in his work of fiction, and the denotations of the words used, the cynicism behind the sentences will be clear. Instead of taking personal offense and clouding one’s judgment, one should take a closer look and see what the protagonist cynically connotes by what he says. A personal prejudice on the author or the words his protagonist uses is not substantial grounds for dismissing a work of fiction and calling the author a racist.

Marlow was amazed by the restraint demonstrated by the cannibals (Conrad 51) on board the steamer and appalled by the atrocities performed by Kurtz in the Inner Station (Conrad 71). He was horrified by the “unsound methods” (Conrad 77) employed by Kurtz, allegorically and cynically reiterating the “unsound methods” used by Belgian colonizers to uphold their rule on the Congo Free State, a personal property of their King, Leopold II. Marlow reveres the cannibals for their self- control, admires them for being able to restrain the “exasperating torment” of starvation and hunger (Conrad 51). The carefully chosen words in that particular passage (Conrad 51) has a lot of cynicism. The nouns like “dishonor” and “perdition” (Conrad 51) were carefully chosen to sarcastically allude to the “conquest of the earth” (Conrad 7) being an action which eventually leads to immoral tendencies like being dishonorable and in Christian terms, corrupting of the soul, which we have seen in Kurtz’s case. Marlow is also saying that, being immoral and unjust is easier. To be evil, vile and violent is much easier but it is a lot more difficult to restrain from hunger. And restraining it for no other reason but solely out of respect for another life form, is much more noble. He says it takes “all… inborn strength” to fight hunger and these so called savages have managed to do exactly that. The cannibals could have very easily eaten the white crewmembers, but did not because of a “primitive honour” (Conrad 51). Marlow is being highly cynical when he calls honour “primitive,” we can assume he sarcastically means to say that, feeling honour and respect for another human being’s life has become a primitive tendency, one that is almost extinct in the modern world and in modern life style. What has replaced it is being inhuman, literally no longer being humane to one another. Ironically, the people who are regarded as most inhumane, because they culturally eat each other, are in fact more humane than the most civilized, the Europeans, who had violently tortured and butchered over three million Congolese in fifteen years (Ascherson 1963). Historically making “the Belgian Congo… the scene of the most spectacular misrule and devastation that the world had seen yet” (Watt 90)

Comparatively, when the natives brought out Kurtz in a stretcher, his wide- open mouth looked like he could, “swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men before him” (Conrad 74). This description and the descriptions of his actions make it seem like Kurtz is more of the cannibal in his tyrannical ways than the cannibals themselves. Clive Barnett in his essay ‘A Choice of Nightmares’: Narration and Desire in Heart of Darkness, paraphrases what Claude Rawson in his review Eating People, stated, that “the metaphorical insinuation of the cannibalism of the tyrant has long served a critical function by suggesting that it is the conquerors who are more savage than the savages, more cannibalistic than the cannibals.” One, who has closely read the novel, cannot but agree with this statement. If Kurtz’s actions are taken to be allegorical representative of the actions of the colonizers then, one cannot help but feel sympathy for the victimized natives who had to endure such horrors. Watt states “if we judge comparatively, we must surely make them [Congolese] superior as human beings to their white masters” (Watt 88) as this essay tries to show.

Ian Watt in his essay titled “Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the critics” states that “the major aim of the story as a whole- [is] Marlow’s sickened disgust with the colonizers in Africa and then with Kurtz” (Watt 88). From the moment Marlow enters the Inner Station he can see the horrors employed by Kurtz during his raids. Marlow concludes his assessment of Kurtz as a man who “lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts,” a man whose “soul… knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear” (Conrad 83). He is “shocked” and “surprised” when he sees the “heads on the stakes” (Conrad 71). Kurtz had used brutal force and tyranny as a means of controlling the villagers and making them submit to his rule, assist him in gathering ivory so he can advance “in the dust-bin of progress” (Conrad 62). Ian Watt also writes, “There is nothing said of them [the white Europeans] which doesn’t show them to be cruel, inefficient, mindless and self-seeking” (Watt 94).

The Russian confessed that in the wilderness, in such isolation and silence, “there was nothing on earth to prevent [Kurtz from] killing whom he jolly well pleased” (Conrad 70). Marlow understood how Kurtz felt like he was a god to these people; feeling invincible because the natives feared obeyed his every command. Carrying out such atrocities also made him feel omnipotent like god. Never being reproached, nor having moral conscience, nor having to justify any of his actions to either himself or anyone else made him feel like he could get away with everything. It was said that “he had the power to charm or frighten rudimentary souls” (Conrad 62) into doing anything, going through any lengths to please him. The natives themselves were willingly making human sacrifices to him, to pledge their allegiance (Conrad 61). And since he was a white colonizer, he felt that his deeds were sanctioned by the most powerful place on earth; Kurtz felt that Europe wanted him to do exactly what he was doing and so proudly and unflinchingly carried on with his work in the Congo.

Conrad is subtly shows exactly how disgusted Marlow was with colonizers and especially the allegorical figure of Kurtz. The protagonist states that, the whole situation is “Deplorable” and that “Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good” (Conrad 77). From a close reading of these passages, one can very easily decipher how Conrad truly felt about the concept of colonization. Although he cynically mentions that, “it was ordered” “never to betray” and only to “be loyal to the nightmare [of colonization]” (Conrad 80), it was still not possible for him to stay silent and not pass judgment about the horrors that he witnessed. This uncomfortable, hypocritical loyalty could be one of the reasons why the protagonist never blatantly declares the horrors and atrocities performed by the Europeans as unjust and downright inhumane. He felt like he was a part of the colonial movement where he pulled his aunt’s strings to join. This uncomfortable loyalty made it difficult for him to voice his true feelings. However, he could not help but honestly confess that the ever revered, “fellow [Kurtz] was not exactly worth the life [of the late helmsman] we lost in getting to” (Conrad 62). Marlow valued the ordinary helmsman, whom he befriended, taught and travelled with, more than he valued the “universal genius” Kurtz (Conrad 33). In fact, the loss of the “savage who was no more… than a grain of sand in a black Sahara” (Conrad 62) was more unbearable for him than the loss of Europe’s perfect creation- Mr. Kurtz (Watt 88). His exact words are that he felt saving Kurtz “was not exactly worth” the loss of his comrade (Conrad 62). Although these sentiments and true feeling surface very seldom and subtly in the novella, it’s presence is undeniable.

Watt states “The African novelist Leonard Kibera indeed says that he studies Heart of Darkness as ‘an examination of the West itself and not as a comment on Africa’” (Watt 88). In doing so, one can objectively look at the whole novel and not obsess over whether and how Conrad is a racist by judging what the protagonist of his novel is made to utter. And if one wants to be really petty, it must be remembered that, “The term ‘racism’ was not known to Conrad; the word was not mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary until the 1983 Supplement” (Watt 86). The vernacular used by the protagonist was the actual way people spoke back then; that was the culture. And even then, the protagonist and his words are all part of a created work of fiction and cannot be judged according to the racial terms of the twentieth century. This particular work of fiction needs to be read more closely and if one is able to put aside personal prejudice and not take offence to certain racial slurs, then one could see the subtle cynicism used to describe colonization. Like V. S. Naipaul states in his essay, “Perhaps it doesn’t matter what we say about Conrad, it is enough that he is discussed” (Naipaul 227) because no matter which way one wants to look at it, most importantly, there is a crucial story about the concept of humanity in Conrad’s pages, which cannot be ignored.

Work Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007. Print.

Watt, Ian. “Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the critics.” Essays on Conrad. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 85-96. Print.

Ascherson, Neal. The King Incorporated: Leopold II in the Age of Trusts. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1963. 251. Print.

Barnett, Clive. “‘A Choice of Nightmares’: Narration and Desire in Heart of Darkness.” Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 3.3 (1996): 277-292. Print.

Rawson, Claude. “Eating People.” London Review of Books. 1985: 20-22. Print.

Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010. 1612-1623. Print.

Naipaul, V. S. The Return of Eva Peron. New York. 1980. Print.

Jesse 01. November 2011 um 9:22 Uhr

It is no wonder that Chinua Achebe objects to Heart of Darkness on racial grounds when people like Louis Greiff are having their ideas published. Greiff compares Apocalypse Now with Conrad’s novel saying that it “distorts the original text” (Greiff, 194). His basis for this is to say that Marlow is not represented in the film as he is in the novel, as a “solid and internally unified hero” (Greiff, 189). If Greiff thinks that Marlow is a hero, then maybe he read a different Heart of Darkness from the one I read. Of course there is only one Heart of Darkness, and, while it has been interpreted in many ways, I would like to show the errors of Greiff’s interpretation.
Greiff makes many claims about Marlow’s character without giving evidence for his conclusions. He thinks that his interpretation is obvious, and shows this with remarks like “without question, distorts the original text,” (Greiff, 194) and “this clear contrast” (189). He also claims to know exactly how Conrad intended to portray Marlow: “For Conrad, Marlow is the consummate salt-water sailor who has crafted his own identity in the very act of perfecting his trade” (Greiff, 189). This statement is questionable even if we omit “For Conrad.” Has Marlow perfected his trade? Has he perfected his trade of salt-water sailing? These qualities might be displayed by Marlow in another story of Conrad’s, but they are unclear in relation to Heart of Darkness. Marlow says that when he looked for work as a sailor, “the ships wouldn’t even look at me” (Conrad, 35), and had to solicit his aunt to find him work. Greiff tries to establish Marlow as a moral center based on a “belief in a proportion between man’s endeavor and the quality of his being” (189). He says that Marlow’s craft has the effect of “deepening and completing his humanity” (189), but offers no evidence to demonstrate such an effect.
I first questioned Greiff’s sense of morals when, on describing Chief and Chef’s first meeting, he says, “they seem so unlike one another, even incompatible. One is black, while the other is a white Southerner” (191). The evidence he offers for their incompatibility is the color of their skin. Racism is ingrained into many societies, but for Greiff so say that their skin color makes them incompatible is reminiscent of a time decades before. This essay was published in 1992, not 1920. Being was published after Achebe’s essay, it is even more surprising that Greiff would make such racist claims.
Greiff makes numerous comments about Marlow’s “fullness of character” (189). From calling Marlow immune to the “darker human possibilities” (195) to distancing Willard from Marlow by saying that the former seems “morally tainted … and hardly acceptable as a source of wisdom or human value” (190), Greiff has shown that he reveres Marlow as a role model, someone with “restrained judgement and good sense” (191). Greiff’s obsession with Marlow is not too different from Marlow’s obsession with Kurtz. Both see the other’s faults, but don’t seem to want to acknowledge them.
While Greiff may have some valid insight into the creations of Coppola and Conrad, it is lost in his ignorance of Marlow’s slights against the Africans. He does not even significantly mention the natives in the novel or the movie other than an occasional reference to “becoming primitive,” or “reversion” (Greiff, 194). It seems that Greiff himself is the one who has reverted, not to a primitive self, but to a racist, colonial mindset.

Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa.” The Massachusetts Review Vol. 18, No. 4 (1977): 782-794. Print.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness & Other Stories. Hertfordshire :Wordsworth Editions, 1995. Print.
Greiff, Louis. “Soldier, Sailor, Surfer, Chef: Conrad’s Ethics and the Margins of Apocalypse Now.” Literature/Film Quarterly 20 (1992): 188-198. Print.

marije 01. November 2011 um 10:11 Uhr

The use of women in a militant society

‚In their way, the girls are the corresponding characters of those young boys on the boat, except they’re being exploited in sexual ways. But it’s the same thing, you know how they’re being consumed—used up by a society that calls itself moral and yet isn’t‘. (Coppola, 2001)

According to Pamela Demory (2007), the white women* in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) and Francis Coppola’s movie Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) perform a similar paradoxical function: on the one hand they visually bring to mind their exclusion from the war and the narrative. On the other hand they are associated with certain „humane“ values that the film and the book seek to criticize (Demory 2007: 345). I, however, think that not all women in Redux function according to this paradox, as to remind us of their absence. One of the values the novella insists on (albeit in vain), but which the movie explicitly unravels as unattainable, is the value of men to help women ‚to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse.‘ (Conrad 1994: 69)

When reading Heart of Darkness from a feminist perspective, one aspect that could attract your attention is the stationary role women play. Although the female characters are situated in two different places (the colony as well as in Europe), they do not cross their own national borders. Marlow’s aunt is in Belgium, the knitting women are in the Company’s office, the African women stay in Congo, and Kurz’s Intended never visits the colony. The women are bound to their own continents and thus, as Gabrielle McIntire has suggested, metonymically embody ‚the separate cultural, racial and geographic identities‘ (McIntrie 2007: 258-9).

The geographical separation of the women alludes to the insistence of main character Marlow on women to ‚live in a world of their own‘ (Conrad 1994:18), to be ‚out of it‘ (69), ‚out of touch with truth‘ (18), but also to stay out of the masculine dark narrative of imperialism. As has been analyzed by Clive Barnett, Heart of Darkness indeed imagines women to live in a place save from the (insightful) story of the men: ‚Women are explicitly excluded from the circuits of narrative in which men confirm for each other the value of knowing the awful emptiness of the dark recesses of the human heart.‘ (287)

How different this is with respect to two women in Coppola´s Redux, the extended version of Apocolypse Now (1979), a movie strongly inspired by Heart of Darkness. I am pointing towards the two Playboy bunnies – Terri (who calls herself Miss May and whom Chef calls miss December) and Carrie – who appear when Willard has ‚negotiated two barrels of fuel for a couple of hours with the bunnies.‘ Whereas Conrad’s women are chained to their own territory and ’savely‘ imagined outside the darkness of imperialism, Coppola’s two bunnies no longer live (geographically) separated from the masculine war. This sequence instead shows the women to be as much instrumental to and victim of the war machine as men are, a machine that forces the girls to ’sooth‘ and remind traumatized men of some imaginary safe place back home (a place that is often constructed as a woman’s place, see Massey 1994).

The two bunnies thus visually demonstrate, exactly through their presence, how women cannot stay ‚out of it‘, ‚in that beautiful world of their own.‘ The movie does not insist on women to occupy a feminine place save from the male narrative of imperialism. It instead unravels this value as being unattainable. Women are part of the same military society as men, ‚a society that calls itself moral and yet isn’t‘ (Coppola 2001: 1)

* I added ‚white‘, as Demory mainly discusses the white female characters. This essay also chiefly focusses on the white women.


Barnett, Clive. ‚“A choice of nightmares”: Narration and Desire in Heart of Darkness‘, in: Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, vol. 3 (no. 3), 1996: pp. 277-292.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. London: Penguin Books, 1994

Coppola, Francis Ford. Apocalypse Now Redux: Production Notes. Downloaded from www.apocalypsenow.com, at October the 30th, 2011

Coppola, Francis Ford, dir. Apocalypose Now Redux, 2001

Demory, Pamela. ‚Apocalypse Now Redux: Heart of Darkness Moves into New Territory‘, in: Literature Film Quarterly, vol. 35 (no. 1), 2007: pp. 342-350.

Massey, D.B. Space, place, and gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994

McIntire, Gabrielle. ‚Women do not Travel: Gender, Difference, and Incommensurability in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness‘, in: Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 48 (no. 2), 2002: pp. 257-284.

Anna 01. November 2011 um 10:28 Uhr

In his essay An Image of Africa Chinua Achebe very clearly states that Heart of Darkness is a racist novella and should not be read. He feels that it cannot be a great work of art, because it “depersonalizes a portion of the human race”. Today it is almost impossible to read Heart of Darkness without also reading Achebe. The two texts are often thought together in classes at universities. This however causes a very one-sided way of looking at the novella. Achebe was one of the first to point out that Africans are ignored, just part of the scenery and have no voice in Heart of Darkness, and that is important. But he comes on too strong and overlooks the possibility that Conrad’s book might have a critique on the system, instead of supporting it.
By reading Achebe, even when one does not fully agree, the thought that Heart of Darkness is racist and promoting a negative view of Africans is established. It becomes very hard to look at the novella in a different way. But what if, instead of promoting a racist view, Heart of Darkness might actually show people something else? Is it not possible that through the narrative and through the structure of the novella it is pointed out that the system and the thoughts of the colonialists were wrong? And is it not possible that by reading Heart of Darkness people become aware of certain ways of thinking and might not turn racist but the other way?
In his essay „‚A Bloody Racist‘: About Achebe’s View of Conrad“ critic Cedric Watts argues that „If Achebe had recalled that Heart of Darkness appeared in 1899 when Victoria was on the throne when imperialism fervor was extreme and the Boer War was soon to begin he might have been more prepared to recognize various unconventional qualities of Conrad’s Tale.” Of course Heart of Darkness should be viewed from it’s time, and when this is done we can see that in various ways Conrad is attacking the system he is living and working in. According to Watts “Conrad’s tale asks whether civilization may be merely a hypocritical sophistication of savagery and whether the organization entailed, with its technology, its commercial empires, and its vast conurbations, may actually sap the vitality of its people.” Thus it is not necessarily so that Heart of Darkness promotes a racist view on Africans.
One also should consider that the term ‘racist’ did not even exist in 1899. Therefore it is important to look at Heart of Darkness as a time-document. Is it even possible to call it racist when such a term did not exist in the time it was written?
I think it is important to read Achebe when reading Heart of Darkness, but it is also important to put things in perspective, and allow a different view of Heart of Darkness to be able to co-exist. Achebe could give his audience a little more credit and trust that they have the capacity to view things from multiple sides.


Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa” The Massachutes Review, vol. 18, 1977: 782-794

Watts, Cedric. “‘A Bloody Racist‘: About Achebe’s View of Conrad” Yearbook of English Studies, vol.13, 1983: 196-209

Frank 01. November 2011 um 11:36 Uhr

Is there a deep metaphysical connection between Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now Redux, and if so, how deep does it run? On first appearance there certainly is. McClintock argues – rightly so – that Heart of Darkness ‚prefigures the imminent collapse of the idea [of interiority, FK] in western thought‘, revealing the precarity of one of the West’s central metaphysical ideas. Apocalypse Now Redux certainly makes a similar case for the precarity of the west’s belief systems in times of moral extremity, but as I will argue, the film also takes the critique of metaphysics into new terrain.

While it is true that Apocalypse Now Redux borrows much of Conrad’s imagery, including the metaphors of penetration and darkness, what I would like to argue in this short essay is that the film – written and produced at a time when the collapse that Heart of Darkness prefigures had become a cultural given – shows the implosion of the moral questions that Heart of Darkness poses. To put it bluntly: I think the crucial difference between Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now Redux at this point is that by the sixties and seventies, the idea of metaphysical presence and interiority had given way to the spectacle – that is, to pure exteriority – in which everything has come to be implicated, war and war movie included.

Note for example the startling juxtaposition of warfare and atrocity with sex shows (the famous Bunny scenes), surfing and references to Dinseyland – facts of domestic life in the US, seeping into the film not infrequently. If McClintock reads Heart of Darkness through its ideologically troubling representations of landscape, maintaining that it acts as a screen for the text on which to project the struggles of the colonialist undertaking, often disguising them as – and thereby attempting to come to terms with – the eternal struggles of mankind, Apocalypse Now Redux presents us with a much more banalized landscape. It does not hide some unspeakable secret or hidden meaning, but is conspicuously flat and meaningless, not the site of metaphysical inquiry or redemption.

There is a spirit – the spirit of lofty ideal – behind Heart of Darkness that is wholly lacking in Apocalypse Now Redux. Note that Marlow’s childhood idealism, to which McClintock refers, is thoroughly absent in Apocalypse Now. Willard is cut off from his past and his sentiments are of a resigned kind. There is no history or grand project behind his actions, in which he invests affectively or morally, like Marlow does in Heart of Darkness, which hoards with strongheaded affect. There is a sense of empty professionalism, but not of ethos. The eulogy of craftmanship and the bonding in a community of peers in Heart of Darkness is markedly different from the disaffectedness and utter alienation that is experienced by Willard – an alienation that is completely in line with the regimes of production and consumption that mark the era of the Vietnam War.

To get back to my starting point: alienation in Apocalypse Now Redux is not so much something that can be experienced when traveling to an outside – located in an Other, imaginary, projective Africa – but a fact of consumer capitalism. Where Heart of Darkness is about coming to terms with an unspeakable darkness at the heart of mankind, where ‚coming to terms‘ implies a sadder continuing of colonialism, Apocalypse Now Redux seems indifferent towards the moral questions that Heart of Darkness raises – or rather, it is oblivious towards the positivity of its the moral stance. Instead, Apocalypse Now Redux confronts nihilism: there is no former ideal to be corrupted, only its cynical exploitation. That is where it runs counter to the metaphysical beliefs of Heart of Darkness, and where resides what could be called its amoral spirit.

Works cited:

McClintock, Anne. 1984. „Unspeakable Secrets“: The Ideology of Landscape in Conrad’s „Heart of Darkness“. The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 17 (1): 38-53.

Guus 01. November 2011 um 12:00 Uhr

The horror! The horror!

In the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A filmmaker’s Apocalypse scriptwriter John Milius recalls the difficulty that filmmakers encountered while trying to turn Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness into a movie. The novella became notorious for being ‘unfilmable’ after several high profile directors, including Orson Welles, showed interest in the material but just couldn’t produce a workable script. This is surpising because, as I will claim, if any literary work is suitable for adaptation it is Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – for both his novella as the medium of film itself show a particular compatibility with the idea of ‘horror’. In this short essay I will bring to light the connection between ‘horror’ as presented by Conrad and the ability of film to induce a feeling of horror in its spectator.

Which idea of horror is being invoked in Conrad’s novella? According to Anne McClintock Marlow is confronted the absurdity of the world when he suffers a identity crisis while traveling through Africa. During his trip he is confronted with an unknowable, unspeakable landscape – a landscape that he tries to grasp and contain, but he discovers to be ‘vast irrational’ and this discovery ‘threatens the essential identity of the subject itself’ (McClintock: 44). The discovery of an absurd, unrational world which is at the heart of reality, brings about cultural loss in Marlow. ‘What one finds in Marlowe’s representation of the landscape as mute is’, according to McClintock, ‘both the imminent recognition of an absurd world and a traumatic resistance to such a recognition’ (McClintock: 48).

Philosopher Paul Santilli goes one step further when he identifies this unknowable absurdity of nature, this gap between appearance and knowledge, with the experience of horror. Horror for Santilli is not a certain emotion directed towards a specific object, but a way of being in the world. ‘When Marlow echoes the famous last words of Kurtz in the Heart of Darkness—“The horror! The horror!”— ’, Santilli explains, ‘Conrad’s narration makes clear that the horror lies not in Kurtz’s own heart, but in the very depths of reality itself’ (Santilli: 179). When the distinction between subject and object is broken down, when the cultural codes that structure a subject are stripped away, reality shows its true ontological face: ‘It is not as though Conrad is referring to a something, a particular item in the world that horrifies; rather, it is being itself that is the horror’ (Santilli:179).

Here lies a perculiar connection to film. Just like the landscape decribed by Marlow, movies, David Laverty obeserves, have a certain power over its spectators. Movies ‘are always at least potentially, horror movies’, because they are an access to a world unkown to rational man, a world we cannot grasp (Lavery: 48). Because movies project reality, they hint to ‘another way of seeing, and hence to another world; it spoke of an vision and of another side of things to which we are not yet adapted’ (Laverty: 54). Therefore, just like the landscape described by Marlow in Heart of Darkness, movies have the abilty to defy rational interpretation. And ironically, the novel that earned a notorious reputation for being unfilmable, shows at the same time a special relation to the medium of film: they both point to the horror that is to be human in a world that escapes his understanding.

Works Cited:

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York, Dover Publications, 1990

Hearts of Darkness: A filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Dir. Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper. American Zoetrope, 1991

Lavery, David. ‘The Horror Film and the Horror of Film’ in Film Criticism 7, no. 1 (1982): p. 47-55

McClintock, Anne. ‘“Unspeakable Secrets”: The Ideology of Landscape in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”’ in The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1984) p. 38-53

Santilli, Paul. ‘Culture, Evil, and Horror’ in The American journal of economics and sociology Vol. 66, No. 1 (2007), p. 173-194

Luke 01. November 2011 um 12:42 Uhr

In An Image of Africa (1972), Achebe criticises Heart of Darkness (HoD) as racist and, whilst these claims are completely legitimate the historical context seems to have been overlooked. ‘Conrad was a bloody racist,’ but so were many others at the time of publication, far worse. It was both a product of imperialism and ignorance. Achebe’s anger that the book can ‘be described among scholars as “among the half dozen greatest short novels in the English language”’ is a little over-emphatic. The novel has historical and moral value in the critique of imperialism. Fiction allows readers to analyse offensive and deplorable acts with freedom, allows them to be brought out into the open. Conrad does not go far enough to criticise racism yet it is a step forward and nobody can be expected to jump almost a century in civil rights and political ideology.
Harrell claims in The Social Basis of Root Metaphor that Conrad’s novel is superior to 1979 movie Apocalypse Now (AN) due to the use of metaphor and because, ‘Coppola… fails toward the end, particularly in the scenes involving Marlon Brando as Kurtz.’ Willard and Kurtz are seen as too similar; they are violent, they are in turmoil and ‘they represent professionalism without moral or political duty’ (1982). In Soldier, Sailor, Surfer, Chef (1992), Greiff would argue that this similarity is precisely the point. Willard, Kilgore and Walter E. Kurtz represent the Kurtz of HoD because of this ruthless professionalism as well as the inability to pinpoint a specific job title for either character and they appear as shells of men.
It is a narrow but popular reading to claim that Willard is Marlowe in this tale. The characters Chef and Chief represent Marlowe due to their moralistic, duty bound professionalism etc. Harrell suggests that the representation of Kurtz failed, this is because he is only analysing a fraction of the character. This also explains why he could not understand Willard as Marlowe. AN could not rely upon narration as heavily as HoD for obvious reasons, so the multiple characters make up for the minor appearance of the named Kurtz.
It would be impossible for the adaptation to truly live up to the original as they speak to different eras. Kurt’s turmoil can not be the same because they are not under the same circumstance, however AN shows depth and development of characters beyond the insubstantial Marlowe, and other cardboard representations of humans in HoD.
Harrell further criticises the adaptation:

‘The Heart of Darkness is not about Africa [or] the darker side of human nature. It is about Victorian England in conflict… Social boundaries are under attack, class conflicts are especially important, and the relationship of England to her colonies is beginning to be questioned.’

By this logic AN is a faithful adaptation cleverly applying the Victorian conflicts experienced by Conrad to a contemporary subject. The description of Victorian England seems similar to Vietnam-era America, including the hippie-movement attacking social boundaries and class, protesting against the war and further American imperialism.
It is natural and understandable that Coppola would want the adaptation to say something unique to itself, after all, there are many differences, and irrelevancies between the Congo and Vietnam. The violence that the crew in AN descend into is a comment on America turning it’s men into killers for the sake of the nation, not it’s people. This juxtaposition can be seen in Willard’s reluctance to return home, like many soldiers of the period. Greiff also criticises, like Harrell, saying Kurtz and Willard ‘seem morally tainted by the film’s end and seem hardly acceptable as a source of wisdom or human value’. However, it would be foolish, insensitive and propaganda to try to make sense of a horrific conflict. This is a subversive war-movie, we are not meant to be inspired to fight but to question.
In reaction to Harrell’s criticism regarding failure of AN to use metaphors as Conrad did, the use of cows throughout AN proves a sharp metaphor. The soldiers in Vietnam were valued similarly to cattle, a commodity (albeit, in war), and with a very short life expectancy, they were little else but meat for butchering. It would be hazardous claiming AN as superior to HoD, but it is plain to see that the former will last longer both as art and critique for reasons including expansive US imperialism versus the dismantled British Empire providing more contemporary and historical context. Another is the fact that any racism in AN remains fictitious rather than a reflection of the author’s position.


Achebe, C., 1977. ‘An Image of Africa.’ The Massachusetts Review, 18(4), pp. 782-794

Apocalypse Now, 1979. [Film] Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Hollywood: Zoetrope Studios.

Conrad, J., 1899. Heart of Darkness. London: Penguin.

Greiff, L.K., 1992. “Soldier, Sailor, Surfer, Chef: Conrad’s Ethics and the Margins of Apocalypse Now,” in Literature/Film Quarterly, (3)

Harrell, B.J., 1982. The Social Basis of Root Metaphor: An Application to Apocalypse Now and The Heart of Darkness. Journal of Mind and Behaviour, 3(3)

Todor 01. November 2011 um 12:51 Uhr

Contemporary Rereading of Apocalypse Now Redux

Edward Said frames Pamela Demory’s analysis of Apocalypse Now Redux by pointing to the continuing evolution of (neo)colonial attitudes and behaviours within ‚economically dominant‘ states. Specifically, Said argues that “remorselessly selfish and narrow interests [such as] patriotism, chauvinism, ethnic and religious racial hatreds – can in fact lead to mass destructiveness” (Demory, 342). Apocalypse Now shows that such destructiveness manifests itself on both sides of the divide with the colonized feeling the direct brunt of Said’s statements while the colonizers depict the narrow interests that ignore human rights and bolster culturally imposed ideas that “erode human substance to hallowness” (Greiff, 189). Viewed in this way, the binary divide “conflates nightmare with normalcy,” exposing the troubled ideology fueling Said’s argument (Greiff, 189). Remaking Conrad’s Heart of Darkness illustrates these points to a much larger audience, optimistically increasing accessibility in the hopes of social change. Indeed, showing the transfer of colonialism to neocolonialism, the ‚projected dominance‘ of western ideology, dehumanization based on wealth, ethnicity, and politics through recontextualization also points to the resistant malleability of these forces. Further, increased accessibility raises political awareness about the glaring ethical violations occurring around the world to maintain an exploitable workforce that is allegorically similar to the feudal lord and his peasants. Vietnam is just one case in which imperialism is cloaked by reasoning about protecting the western world and/or spreading democracy. But how do years of such priming effect subject position? Or more specifically, what are the consequences of noxious ideological propaganda? Character analysis of Willard and Lance exposes the effects Said’s arguments especially when considering subject position. Specifically, Willard’s characterization is deeply rooted in dominant ideology, and no matter how powerful his analytical prowess may be, when faced with the years of military involvement and the contradictions brought forth by scenes of race inspired bloodshed, Willard emerges damaged at best. In the case of Lance, Said’s statement illustrates the effects on frightened subjects clinging to social idealizations in the first place.
In Apocalypse Now, the subject is literally confronted with scenes of bloodshed, violence and so forth to depict the contradictions of troublesome ideology guiding functioning and the disorienting consequences. For example, Captain Willard is forced into a borderland of existence. Louis K. Greiff argues that within this state he “recovers” only when presented with a mission (Greiff, 190). Yet, I do not agree with Greiff’s use of ‚recovery.‘ I argue that Willard’s ‚recovery‘ defines his borderland status and as such, it is not really about recovery but rather, the totalizing destruction/displacement of the psyche that war and ideological stratification brings. For example, Willard, in his damaged and drunken state at the opening of the film, states that his wife left him, and that he is waiting for a mission for some sort of purpose. The damage of military ideology constructing meaning becomes evident here. He is unable to identify his old self, and is confused about what he has become. Yet, existing in the borderland is empowering to some degree. For example, Greiff’s analysis of Willard’s refusal to replace Kurtz “as the salvage king” (Greiff, 190) not only allows the audience to question what is savage, but also the troublesome process of making the category of ’savagery‘ to rule.
Lance’s characterization illustrates the destructiveness of clinging to ideological representations. Specifically, his ’shallowness‘ speaks to a perversion driving American consciousness. Embodying dominant cultural values, Lance performs the role of an idealized American icon: the surfer, ‚always free‘ and in search of amusement. But surfing in Vietnam? What does this say about the portion of America he represents and the corresponding portion that idealizes his representation? This shows imperialist ideals co-opting agency and creating the psychic damage that fuels further imperialism and ignorance. Lance exemplifies one side of this split at the onset of the film. Yet, the similarity of his dances near the close of the film to Willard’s at the onset shows that he too, perhaps unknowingly, is placed into the borderland separating reality from ideological fantasy. Greiff argues that Lance depicts Conrad’s ideas about the “lapse into the primitive” (Greiff, 194). Yet, I think the films politics here are less about a lapse serving Conrad’s ethics and more about a subject’s degradation when troublesome ideals meet their contradictions. Lance’s drug use distances him from Vietnam and brings him closer to home. He performs the impotent and quiet ‚rebellion‘, unfocused, and lacking anything aside from distance and needs to gratify the now troubled ideological formations. Yet, Lance’s continuing “to live and flourish – apparently forever” is a powerful statement speaking to the entitlement of subjects performing the prescribed roles that scream dominance (Greiff, 189). Lance accepts his part in the dominant history that “is [actually] a narrative construction,” swallowing the sentences composing the whole to (re)secure the safety found it its ideological words (Demory, 347).
But what happens when such ideas are questioned? When the troublesome notion of military professionalism is attempted? Greiff shows that critique or the practice of professionalism leads to death. Thus, Apocalypse Now shows the “never ending cycle” of dominance, continuing in the corresponding realities of Mai Lai to the white phosphorus bombings in Iraq (Demory, 348). Further, the film shows that Vietnam was an attempt to remake Cuba prior to Castro. Vietnam was about communism, global hegemony, resources, vacations and cheap labour. Cuba was about the same. Iraq is about the oil to fuel further conquests. Each equally clouds the encouraged and ignorant American icon, swallowing the claim that these conflicts are about democracy. Presentation of these themes is important especially if following Said’s arguments that we “ought to understand in order to achieve a harmonious world order” (Demory, 349). Yet understanding the proliferating processes of unregulated free market capitalism and its imperialist parents isn‘t enough. The stability of ‚real‘ characters such as Lance, the damage to moral professionals such as Chef and Chief, and the ambiguity of borderland existence of Willard leads to pessimistic belief that the cycle is so entrenched, that meaningful change is close to impossible (Demory, 349).

Works Cited:

Grieff, Louis K., “soldier, sailor, surfer, chef. Conrad’s ethics and the margins of Apocalypse Now.” Literature Film Quarterly, 1992, Vol.20 Issue 3, p188.

Demory, Pamela., “Apocalypse Now Redux: Heart of Darkness Moves into New Territory.” Literature/Film Quarterly 35.1 (Jan 2007): 342–9.

Natacha 01. November 2011 um 13:16 Uhr

„Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.“
- Joseph Conrad

Conrad’s Heart of darkness is a complex novel with several meaningful layers which bring in ambiguity in the vision we get of the main characters. In her analysis of the ideological tropes in Heart of Darkness’ Anne McClintock argues that the representations of the Congo are “curiously contradictory” (HoD, p.38). Her article helped me to find my way into the novel and develop my own ideas on the go. I agree with McClintock that the novel expresses the conviction that the human condition is profoundly absurd. I also agree with her and other critics of the novel that certain ideological representations, like the descriptions of black people or women, in the novel can only be looked at as racist and sexist and need to be regarded as such. I do not agree with the conclusion of McClintock that the novel resists on accepting the consequences of the obvious view of the novel that our attitude in life is rooted in the absurd. What is to be found in the novel is what Marlow likes about work: ‘the chance to find yourself. Your own reality – for yourself – not for others’. The human heart is hollow because we do not want to know ourselves. We do not want to know that we are often selfish and irresponsible. Facing this might be painful and we just want to have fun and forget about death. It is this attitude what makes our life rooted in the absurd. Conrad is pointing at literature as a means of getting more in tune with our human condition (which means that we know that we will die) and we may still have some fun.

McClintock postulates that “the narrative contains traces of a deep nostalgia for the centre”. Next she argues then that “the trauma which the book suffers in its efforts to retain interiority may be seen to prefigure the imminent collapse of the idea in western thought.” (McClintock p.38). The ‘collapse of the idea’ she is pointing at is, I belief, the ideas of the Enlightenment, civilization and humanism in general. She connects it with the western believe in a secret centre of the universe where time and space are not measurable and where all the contradictions in the visible world are abolished, reminding us of the platonic Ideas. McClintock refers to the belief in ‘big stories’ which are carrying ideas about religion, politics and humanism. Especially the postmodern philosophers have brought into our consciousness that those ideas have failed specifically with regard to the victims and cruelness that came from revolutions and wars directly inspired by those ideas. Conrad’s aim is not ‘just’ to tell a story. He is not interested in ‘action’ as such. He wants to think and lets the reader think about people’s actions and their way of behaving. His story is a bridge which enables us to reach the other and ourselves. By making use of literary means as irony, bits of conversation, indirect descriptions and metaphors. By doing this he makes sure that the characters in his story get real. He also uses a frame-story. It is an old procedure, initially used by oral storytellers that ‘functions as a means of characterizing the teller and as a vehicle for the quarrels and topics of argument en route’.

Conrad insists on the fact that for Marlow ‘the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze’ (p.8). It seems to me that Marlow has the approach of a philosopher to who there is no sharp distinction between the inner and the outer. He is more precisely an empiricist who believes that ‘knowledge comes only or primarily via sensory experience’. The descriptions of the people he meets are always very specific and sometimes curiously detailed. He seldom expresses direct disapproval of the people he meets. He generally uses irony in a very effective way. He does not make his characters to unsympathetic in order that we can identify with them. He does this most clearly with his portrait of Kurtz, who personifies all possible contradictions of the colonial world. Kurtz is mostly identified by his voice and this makes him real and somehow sympathetic, because the voice is a very distinctive feature of a human being. Kurtz had started his carrier with good intentions and he is a gifted and sensitive man who loves music, poetry and women but he is also greedy, selfish and aggressive. People get fascinated, attracted by him. Kurtz has the features of a hero. What he lacks, Marlow insists on it, is restraint. He only wants to satisfy his lusts. And at the very end, Marlow says, Kurtz understood ‘that there was something wanting in him – some small matter’(…) ‘things about himself which he did not know’.( HoD, p. 83). What Kurtz finally found out about himself was that ‘he was hollow at the core…’ (HoD, p.83). Kurtz is a tragic hero of the absurd. Like Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who defied the gods, he lacks humility.

Works cited:

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Penguin Popular Classics 1994

Anne McClintock, “Unspeakable Secrets”, The Ideology of Landscape in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, The journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 17, no 1 (Spring 1984), pp. 38-53

M.H. Abrams, A Glossery of litterary terms. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. 1993, p. 195

Wikipedia: Empiricism

A. Camus, Le Myth de Sisyphe, Les Éditions Gallimard, Paris 1942

Léonie M. 01. November 2011 um 16:41 Uhr

Good and True

Achebe writes in his article ‘An Image of Africa’:

The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a pertion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot. I would not call that man an artist, for example, who composes an eloquent instigation to one people to fall upon another and destroy them. (Achebe 788-789)

This statement implies the following assumption: art has to something with the “good side” of humanity. And indeed, a few lines later we read: ‘For poetry surely can only be on the side of man’s deliverance and not his enslavement; for the broptherhood and unity of all mankind and against the doctrines of Hitler’s master races or Conrad’s “rudimentary souls”’ (789).
In this essay, I want to stress Achebes point about literature, or art in general, to be on the side of man’s deliverance and the implications and statements of this point. For Achebe, this seems most natural. I want us to ask ourselves the question: is it indeed? Why? And how?
Okay. Freedom vs slavery. Freedom is good, slavery is bad. We know this. Maybe it has to do something with colonialism. Men did many ugly things in the past. Men still do many ugly things. Men kill, men destroy. Men also paint, sing and make sculpture, but that is another thing and besides, only a small part of this “humanity” we are talking about. Men love. Although love maybe mostly leads or ends up in ugly and mean things. Or death. So this is maybe a very bad example.
I also hate the fact that men kill, destroy and colonialize. This is for me not enough to dismiss a novel – this is for me not enough to call a thing “good” or “bad”. As long as there are human beings livings in this world, there will be ugly things, there will be murders. There will be love, too. But what is good, is not necessarely true. In fact, most of the time it is not. This makes me think of another question: should we write about it? If Conrad was a racist, does that make him a bad writer? Is his novel bad, because it does not contribute to “man’s deliverance”? Does art need this kind of moral standard? In Twilight of the Idols, Friedrich Nietzsche writes: ‘Art is the major stimulus of life’: we therefore cannot convey art as something without goal or intention (§24). However, life has the small problems to have indeed many ugly and bad sides of it (§24). According to Nietzsche, we should not deny this, we should be brave and confront our own weaknesses. We may not capture art to make our own moralistic statements, no matter how we want to change the world.
Art is what people make. Art is what people do when something good happens. Something interesting. I do not really know. When I am sad, or mad, I think I write better than when I am happy. No: I am sure. There has to be a need to write. A need comes forth of something we miss. We want to complete things. This is not enough. What we have is not enough.
What exacty it is that we miss; never mind. It can be anything, anything, it can be then things at the same time, it can be nothing, sometimes. I think mostly it is peace of mind. Doing something with thought means you prblematize these thoughts. Making something out of nothing means that you want something – that you want more. This has to do with more, or at least something else than being on the side of man’s deliverance. And I am very sorry, but despite of his Nazi-past, Celine still writes very beautifully. Good and true, or at least good and beautiful, are not always the same, maybe more often not than they actually do. And maybe they should.

Achebe, C., 1977. ‘An Image of Africa.’ The Massachusetts Review, 18(4), pp. 782-794