A Semi-Organized Essay on Heart of Darkness

I was talking the other day with a freind about Silence of the Lambs, and I dropped by insanity argument as a way to understand Hannibal Lector. Actually, I’ve realized since then that insanity isn’t quite necessary: this I thought a big realization at the time though I haven’t blogged about it. Insanity suggests a quantitative difference between those who pursue rigor and those who do not — such as Hannibal Lector, who is positioned in the movie to be this absolutely amoral character (who does not pursue any line of rigor) and yet is a sharp reader of human desire. But there is no qualitiative difference because of the aboutness principle: we never have an encounter with rigor, we are onlay aware of being about rigor. Note that an “encounter with rigor” is already “removed” in a sense, since rigor is something that one vaguely senses, “ruleness without rule”, some “other”, etc.. So to say, “to have an encounter with rigor” is already using “encounter” metaphorically, but even that is too definite, w have encounters about rigor.

What this means is that one need not postulate insanity, since everyone is already hovering about — and in a sense, since all our actions are thinkings before they are pursuits, we can never be wrong — even if we can mistarget. But outside of targetting, we have, instead — what we eluded in “The Return of Creativity” — what we whimsically termed “thinflaction” — the creation of a new virtual world, which involves the oneness of thinking, reflection, and action. This is what I would imagine the unwritten blog entry would have been about.

Let’s move on to Heart of Darkness. The biggest difference between HoD and the texts that we’ve been used to examining is that in HoD the author is Marlow, for the most part — ie, rather than in Bartleby, where the author is probably Bartleby.

The book is mostly about Marlow, actually — it’s not really about Africa. Marlow never really steps onshore — and he never really gets involved in Kurtz’s project or schemes, nor, on the other hand, a la Avatar or Dances with Wolves — does he involve himself much with the Africans. (The “-ject” of project means, to throw — to take aim — related to “targetting” above.) All the while he is aware of things happening on his periphery — things which he inevitably regards as being about what he is fascinated with. So, for example, whenever he encounters the Africans, he understands them as being enthralled by something too, he “sympathizes with them” I guess. When he speaks of drums that sound out in the night whose meaning is indiscernable, whose significance may even be like that of “bells in a Christian country”, then the point seems to be that he is saying he doesn’t understand, or it’s mysterious, or that Africans have their own culture, but what he’s really doing is suggesting that they are after the same thing as he is. This may be correct or incorrect, but in a sense it doesn’t matter — not only in the sense that what matters is that “makes sense” — but also in the sense that this is the way in which “aboutness” works — it could either be a personal feeling of rigor, or it could be communal, what matters is that we see many things about. And furthermore, consider that this is Conrad’s basic “action” in the book — his “thinflaction” — to bring forth, to establish a virtuality about — the heart of darkenss — rather than more humanistic elements (which we called “mistargetting”.) What this means is that — as with any virtuality — it doesn’t really matter those positions exist or not, they will be represented if it gains power. This is, again, getting at the sense that it doesn’t really matter whether Marlow is correct or not in his assessment of the Africans.

… let me remark here that we should divorce ourselves from the yearning for a more scientific historiography — the primary question for us in the evolution of language, for example, is how language and culture codevelops — and to understand this, one necessarily has to resort to the type of thinking here, that is the essential question, the begged question, and not the construction systemic models.


Let’s get to out semi-organized chat on HoD. I mean, I am not writing this as I read, I have a few notes I’m working on, but I certainly don’t have a fixed conclusion right now. I haven’t the read the book in a few years, so a rereading is certainly in order. Right now, I have the full text of the book from project Gutenberg on my smartphone, and I am mostly reading random passages. I’m actually reading it VIM, so what I do is I type in “40%” and that brings me to a random part in the book. I think that we tend to overemphasize the beginnings and the endings when we read books.

So 40% of Heart of Darkness is a scene where Marlow is leeping on the steamboat and overhears the manager and his uncle talking. The misanthropy is quite intense for Marlow, he really can’t stand these people — white people, I mean. I can relate to that, I hate most Chinese people — I mean, you know, your “usual” Chinese — a great deal — to the point where I sometimes can’t even maintain civility. There is this line where he says, “all the donkey died in a week, but I’m not sure what happened to the less valuable animals” — regarding the El Dorado exploration company manned by the manager’s uncle, and I get the impression he means it (I mean, when he says, “less valuable”).

But anyways, enough background, there are a few things that are interesting here:

1) the idea of Marlow, lying on steamboat, half-awake, overhearing the manager and his uncle talking, and catching bits and peices of it.
2) The moment when the manager’s uncle — the uncle for short — gestures his “flipper of an arm” towards the wilderness — which causes Marlow to leap up, as if expecting a response from the jungle.

The whole scene becomes rather ridiculous, as there are maybe 4 layers of nested quotes, as the narrator quotes Marlow quoting the manager quoting Kurtz, for example. My point is simply that there is something going on — everyone has to resort to quotes, exact repetitions for some reason. This gets at the sense of “aboutness”, the mere sense, but the question is, we should think, the particular sense of aboutness. Or rather, because that is a dead end, the intentional virtual action of Marlow — or whatever we choose to call the author agent — which we called “thinflaction”.

One of the interesting consequences of the narrator and the author being the same person (as opposed to the case in Bartleby) is that the text itself becomes this moment of thinking. The conversation that the manager and the uncle have is about particular things, but the action of the book here is to divert this. I don’t want to talk about the aesthetic elements here (I mean, how the artist uses artistic license to alter our attitude towards, say, the manager’s mindset), but rather I want to think conceptually. I mean, there is very little alteration of “facts”, we would like to believe, this thinking is the agent’s distortion and conceptualization of these moments.

In the middle of an immense jungle, there is a kind of dark prayer, a dark liason, between the manager, whose sole source of power and authority, apparently, derives from the fact that his health is charmed — he simply doesn’t get sick — and the jungle itself, some kind of God of death or something. For example, he doesn’t have to actually kill Kurtz — he simply has to wait until Kurtz dies from exposure.

The scene is about this moment when Marlow fully expected the jungle to answer back, he leaps up, turns towards the jungle, and unwittingly exposes himself when the uncle gestures towards it and utters “trust to this”. One expects the jungle to do certain things — namely, to crush the plans of men. It is yet another case of somone seeing something in the jungle, in the same way that, from the beginning, the jungle was understood to be a source of profit. This is not what we are used to thinking of as “rigor” — we tend to think of rigor as a kind of critical, reflective moment. But the jungle like the river, here, becomes a means of concrete action or action at a distance. One resides, or goes into the jungle, but not as home, but rather as a means of accomplishing something or getting somewhere.

But on the other hand, one never has an encounter with the jungle, which means, the jungle is not really the jungle. {Mistargetting, Insight and Blindnes, Virtualty ????} TBC


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