Note-taking for Heart Of Darkness (Part I lecture five)

As discussed, the central problems posited by the group’s presentation may be broached upon through several questions: Why truth? How is modernism’s representation of truth relevant to our understanding of Empire and colonial imperialism and why is it important? How may language and in that sense, modernist techniques, obscure and bring us further and further away from Truth? Also, is there really an all-encompassing Truth reflecting reality – the essential reductive quality of Kurtz’s famous epiphanic vision, or are there simply many various versions of truth co-existing in a plethora?

Firstly, the examination of “Truth” in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness  is important because it helps us determine the extent to which the text may be deemed as critical to the workings and exploitations of colonialism if we accept Marlow’s judgments at surface value. Yet the deeper underpinnings of the text may be read by its “failure of representation and communication” – whether thematically, structurally or in terms of narration – and how the modernist concept of “Truth” evades and eludes us. The inability of Marlow to approach such moments of truth and admit to it, highlights the undercurrents of the novel, where far from merely criticizing the greed and ills of imperialism, actually unveils the way in which the text is complicit in and subconsciously reinforcing the ideological powers of Empire.

One prominent example raised by the group is the way in which the hypocrisy of the colonial enterprise not only differ in their altruistic ideas and actual practice, but also the insidious exclusivity of colonial imperialism, which seeks to demarcate between the white colonists who have the access to “truth”, against the ignorance of the wider public who are left to propagate the myth of Empire and harbor romantic delusions about civilizing the barbaric outside world. There is also a gendered aspect to this reading in the spatial and ideological demarcation within the text.

The issue remains that language cannot fully encapsulate the horrors of what Conrad is trying to convey, for while it is the modernist impulse to uncover the Truth, it paradoxically reveals how we can never actually get to it. Every reading and secondary interpretation have a way of defining the little truths about the text, but every determining statement for language necessarily eliminates other possibilities and as such, Truth remains mysteriously elusive, much like the dense fog which literally and metaphorically obscures Marlow’s vision in the novel. One question remains unanswered, that if modernism veers away from the Truth and contends itself with the plethora of perspectives, is it finally unable to adequately address the wrongdoings and guilt of colonialism? Finally, the point is raised that while the novel may be read as a critique against imperialism and Empire, there is also a competing narrative to the story in the personification of Africa (effeminate, wildly sexual but also untameable), which does not fully spell out the secrets the land promises within the engulfing darkness of the novel.

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