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Edward Said, “Two Visions in Heart of Darkness”

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on 7 November 2014

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Transcript of Edward Said, “Two Visions in Heart of Darkness”

Edward Said, “Two Visions in Heart of Darkness”
Marlow's Narrative Structure
Starts by commenting on Marlow's circular narrative structure; it both draws attention to itself & allows us to see something different, outside of his time (We will return to this later).
“On the one hand, the narrator Marlow acknowledges the tragic predicament of all speech…yet still manages to convey the enormous power of Kurtz’s Africal experience through his own overmastering narrative” (423).
Summary: “Marlow moves backward and forward materially in small and large spirals very much the way episodes in the course of his journey up-river are then incorporated by the principal forward trajectory into what he renders as the heart of Africa” (423)

Before we move on, what does this circular structure remind you of? How might it inscribe and also counter-inscribe imperialism?*
Narrative Structure & Conrad

“But because Conrad also had an extraordinarily persistent residual sense of his own exilic marginality, he quite carefully...qualified Marlow’s narrative with the provisionality that came from standing at the very juncture of this world with another, unspecified but different” (425)
“…a Polish expatriate…an employee of the imperial system, he was so self-conscious about what he did” (424).

Second implication of narrative structure (open):
“…if, like narrative, imperialism has monopolized the entire system of representation…your self-consciousness as an outsider can allow you actively to comprehend how the machine works, given that you and it are fundamentally not in perfect synchrony or correspondence” (426)
Archimedean point, Storytelling, Hannah Arendt
"Two Visions" of the Future
: Western imperialism will prevail and continue to point back to itself as the center: “…allows the old imperial enterprise full scope to play itself out conventionally, to render the world as official European or Western imperialism saw it, and to consolidate itself after World War Two” (426).
Nothing lost by colonialism because “the colonial world was in some ways ontologically speaking lost to begin with, irredeemable, irrecusably inferior” (426)
: “local to a time and place, neither unconditionally true nor unqualifiedly certain” (426)
Conrad couldn’t “imagine a fully realized alternative to imperialism” but “he permits his later readers to imagine something other than an Africa carved up into dozens of European colonies” (426).

-Cultural critic. Wrote doctoral dissertation on Conrad, and his first book was

Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography
-Essay is in
Culture and Imperialism
& focuses on the larger implications of imperialism in this story.
-Said uses Conrad to speak to the present moment, imperialism’s modern echoes and “new forms” (422). While there are “no big empty spaces, no expanding frontiers, no exciting new settlements to establish”, we have “patriotism, chauvinism, ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds” (422). Nationalism is an “appalling tribalism” “fracturing societies” (423).
Heart of Darkness
exemplifies the modern imperial attitude & power inequality within "a handful of powers" (423).
-Mentions a variety of scholars, making clear that he is well informed and situated in the critical conversation (Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Julien Benda, Ian Watt
Ali Shariati, Jalal Ali i-Ahmed, Taueb Salh, Kenyan Ngugi, Rushdie, Derek Walcott, Aime Cesaire, Chinua Achebe, Pablo Neruda, Brian Friel).
-Makes use of paradox and dichotomies in many of his sub-arguments.

An Open Vision
Open Vision
a result of Conrad's marginality:
Narration: “Conrad’s narrators are not average unreflecting witnesses of European imperialism. They do not simply accept what goes on in the name of the imperial idea: they think about it a lot, they worry about it, they are actually quite anxious about whether they can make it seem like a routine thing” (427)
Language: “Conrad’s way of demonstrating this discrepancy between the orthodox and his own views of empire is to keep drawing attention to how ideas and values are constructed (and deconstructed) through disloactions in the narrator’s language” (427)
Tension: Instability between the ideas about empire and its reality also reflect a greater tension… “we are in a world being made and unmade more or less all the time” (428)
Power: Realize that “ ‘the darkness’ has an autonomy of its own” (428).

Implications of Narrative Structure

First implication for Marlow's Narrative (Limited):
“…what Marlow does is contingent, acted out for a set of like-minded British hearers, and limited to that situation” (424)
“...neither Conrad nor Marlow gives us a full view of what is outside the world-conquering attitudes embodied by Kurtz, Marlow, the circle of listeners on the deck of the Nellie, and Conrad.”
“...Heart of Darkness works so effectively because its politics and aesthetics are, so to speak, imperialist…inevitable and unavoidable” (424-5)
“Conrad could probably never have used Marlow to present anything other than an imperialist world-view, given what was available…to see of the non-European at the time” (425) “…he could only imagine the world carved up into one or another Western sphere of dominion” (425).
Closed Vision
a result of his cultural context:
“But Marlow and Kurtz are also creatures of their time and cannot take the next step, which would be to recognize what they saw, disablingly and disparagingly, as a non-European ‘darkness’ was in fact a non-European world resisting imperialist so as one day to regain sovereignty and independence, and not, as Conrad reductively says, to reestablish the darkness” (428).
A Closed Vision
Writing to
the Center
A reciprocal debate within "nineteenth-century imperialism" and "resistant native cultures"
Reciprocal scarring: "the formerly silent native speaks and acts on territory taken back from the empire" (429).
Reciprocal interaction with canon: "...now these great writers can truly read the great colonial masterpieces, which not only misrepresented them but assumed they were unable to read and respond directly to what had been written about them" (429).
**How do we see these reciprocal interactions in
Heart of Darkness
**What are some other ways you see this "closed vision" at work in the texts? Other critics we read for today?**
Full transcript