Whereness of Heart of Darkness

There is a kind of fascinating scene, around paragraph 58, involving the brickmaker.

Whereness — What’s so interesting about this scene is that it thinks about a few different ways of thinking about what we’ve been calling ‘criminality’. So let’s talk first about this “brickmaker” of the central station. Marlow doesn’t really like him but you can’t blame him, I guess. He is a pragmatist, regards himself as a pragmatist, and has a great deal of resentment towards Kurtz, who he considers a kind of unaware hypocrite on some level. What’s interesting is the question of “whereness”, he isn’t fascinated with what Kurtz is, but he is troubled by where he may be, or where his influence may extend — and so he ends up mistaking Marlow for Kurtz’s co-conspirator.

So there is that — on the other hand, there is the literariness of the book itself, or of Marlow. There is an insight to be had involving certain passages, especially certain descriptive passages, where one realizes that Marlow might be choosing words that are evocative but not all that visual. The problem with intentionality here is comparable: again, we seem to know Marlow, so we are not really concerned with any kind of exotic intentionality. And yet even within this narrow field we still don’t really know where he is going. Again, the issue might be “whereness” rather than “whoness” — the book is on some level “about Marlow”, but Marlow is at the same time, not all that interesting, fairly well understood, yet still capable of anything here. There is Marlow the worker, or Marlow who expresses a kind of irrational hatred, or Marlow who maybe fucks with us, etc..

There is also a brief moment in those passages where there is a kind of grandiose moment that, unfortunately, may also be somewhat banal: “Beyond the fence the forest stood up spectrally in the moonlight, and through the dim stir, through the faint sounds of that lamentable courtyard, the silence of the land went home to one’s very heart, — its mystery, its greatness, and the amazing reality of its concealed life. The hurt nigger moaned feebly somewhere near by, and then fetched a deep sigh that made me mend my pace away from there.”

So this is definitely an interesting paragraph, on typing that out I was struck by the combination of the natural sublime and the lack of empathy. But these passages, recall, all started out with a hut catching on fire and one of the natives getting arbitrarily beaten for it. And so this native is here recovering from his wounds, but he will later go out back into the wilderness — “and the wilderness without a sound took him into its bosom again.” What itnerests me here is the the description of the forest that stands — “spectrally” — as if at attention, perhaps watching us or something else. The idea of a silence that “goes home to one’s very heart” reminds us of Wordsworth’s Boy of Winander, certainly. It goes home to one’s heart because the forest becomes a kind of intentionality that — is most definitely present, on some level, and perhaps even in this book. It is somewhat linked, for example, with the natives, who pass into its “bosom”.

There are two things I want to talk about here — the first is whether this form of intentionality is “greater” in some sense, or more important, than the “Kurtz problem” as conceived by the brickmaker. It might conflict somewhat with the “whereness” problem, since this seems more a matter of whoness. And yet whereness is definitely there still. But the way that it stands over the colony seems to remind us that there is something greater — but I don’t want to use the word greater here — but rather, something foreign, or maybe something related to what we called the “psychotic” earlier, and associated with a more fundamental, more alien manipulation — as opposed to what the bricklayer conceives of Kurtz as doing, as basically being a hypocrite. But this sort of manipulation still involves symbols — and that’s sort of like a big insight we had — that an alien, manipulative presence is not “before” or “more primitive than” language — we brought up Nietzsche’s metaphor of a coin that has been rubbed out so that it resembles metal in this regard, as a metaphor for language.

The other thing is the word “heart” — heart, bosom — in any case, this is a distinctively Marlowian word, it feels like. Sort of like the word, “bewitched” from a few paragraphs earlier, when he tells us that the pilgrims stood, as if bewitched, within a fenced in courtyard. There are certain moments when one realizes that, and maybe this is an aspect of the recollection of the text, that there is nothing to see in this text. A heart is an object, and it seems there, but it is absolutely invisible. The book is far from an objective account where we are free to form our own judgments, but rather, is a memory of Marlow who seems to be trying to peice together something — a Marlow that seems more interested in significance, and who, perhaps, is not so much describing as establishing a kind of correspondence between that moment and the present retelling. So this word also links this scene to more literary problems,

So, in conclusion, what is intersting in this scene are the ways in which these three levels of intentionality — those of the company or the project, that of nature, and that of Marlow, all seem to coexist and seem to inform one another. Are they fundamentally “about” one thing? And how are they related to history, and to power?


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