The Voiceless Savage.

In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I was most struck by his allusion to the concept of a “voice”, a kind of tool for empowerment. To Conrad, the ability to speak and more importantly, to be understood is affirmation of one’s place and power. This is why Marlow describes his impression of Kurtz as being primarily one of “voice… of all his gifts the one that stood out pre-eminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words – the gift of expression” (107). Kurtz is most powerful to Marlow as far as he is able (and certainly at this point in the novel merely imagined) to communicate. By contrast, Conrad reduces the native to a series of grunts, and in his article “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”, Achebe makes this point most strongly: “It is clearly not part of Conrad’s purpose to confer language on the “rudimentary souls” of Africa.” (341) 

If the means to communicate is of such importance in according status to characters in Conrad’s novel, then by extension the inability to communicate (as portrayed in the “savages”) is ultimately demeaning to their position in relation to the Western “adventurers”. Conrad then does not merely participate in effectively silencing the native voice since only speakers of English receive any measure of merit in the plot, he is an active promulgator of such a message. The native is thus a victim of the silencing of his own voice since he is unable to communicate in a way that Conrad believes is necessary for any measure of status to be accorded to him. He will always be inferior to the Western narrator because he is excluded from being heard.

Modernism: the new?

Simon Gikandi’s article, “Picasso, Africa and the Schemata of Difference” mentioned that “even when artists such as Picasson questioned colonial practices, they seemed to reproduce the colonist model of African societies; they questioned the practice but not the theory of colonialism. This structure- the questioning of practice and the aceptance of the theory- tends to be reproduced when we don’t interrogate the idea of Africa in modern art.” This passage particularly caught my eye as I felt that this aptly decribes the changing relations between countries with the advent of modernism. To me, I feel that modernism is not just about revelations in art and the literary forms but it also encompasses the change of political, economic and cultural forces in the world. in these sense, modernism not only gave rein to the freedom of space and time, but the world war which preceded it shattered a world view built on foundation of illusions. To me, the freedom of space and time in modernism enabled people to discover the world in new perspectives which were repressed. It can perhaps be suggested that the “new forms” being discovered in the world as a mirror to the establishment of “new forms” in literary works and art even though they are not really new.

With this in mind, it can also be suggested that just as the reading titled “Mimesis” suggested, modernism is not a new concept. Rather, it is an expansion of the old of which artists and writers try to pass of as a novelty. Yet, it is interesting to note that many consider it to be a breakthrough period because as all the three readings have shown, at least for me, that it is a circulatory system of power beneath all the fancy terms that are being endowed on it.