The Final Scene of the Heart of Darkness (Progress Report)

Well — boss — there are a few things I’m thinking about: the final scene of the heart of darkenss, the theory of relativity, and the Amazonian tribesmen. Yes, I feel they are all linked somehow, going through these things peice by peice is not opitmal and we may get trapped in talking too fast, knowing too much, thinking we’ve accomplished something, but I also feel it’s really the only way I can make progress at this point.

(1) The final scene of Heart of Darkness — I have in my notes here that this final scene seems to answer all the questions. It is, indeed, a scene of lying, which is something that Marlow isn’t really comfortable with. But maybe it’s about time that we got our our discomfort with nihilism — nihilism is okay, and some forms of hihilism are more okaythan others. I mean, there is the sense in which, if you’ve ever expereinced this, women have a way of evoking things, they seem to make things real — that’s part of it. There is also the way in which this scene seems to provide a solution to another problem. I mean, consider that, well, consider a few elements: (a) The jungle (b) Kurtz, stability, emptying out (c) Reading too well (d) Historiography.

Now, the jungle is something that seems to disrupt, it is sort of like a kind of overwhelming nature, we feel so small in the jungle, if we are able to feel that. It is interesting that it is precisely at this time of crisis, or at this moment, that Kurtz makes his appearance — so that, for example, what is so surprising about the Russian is just how oblvious he is to the general chaos around him. In the midst of a time of great dispiritedness, Kurtz provides a kind of stability. Kurtz is not the jungle, nor is he a return to cynicism, but he is a kind of cynicism or a kind of nihilism that survives — a lie that we believe in sincerely. I used to give the example of “historical speculation”, such as for the Mormons — however ridiculous the Mormon doctrine may be, for example, however much in bad faith they carry on their lives, the aspect of sincriety to them is the way in which they have taken out a lottery ticket for the future, the way in which they believe they are on the verge of some kind of arising truth. As a consequence of this those caught up in such a moment are often notoriously bad — we must not trust them — at explaining their actual motivations.

The final two terms are linked as well, I mean, (c) and (d). We must not read too well, I mean, there is a moment when we believe that the book is simply agreeing with us. But this suggests the impossible problem of always reading the book anew. As a solution to this problem I want to suggest this notion of ‘historiography’: of understanding a point i nhistory, which is the moment when Kurtz arises in the jungle which is also the final scene of the Heart of Darkness. That scene is all about defining what occurred at a partciular point in history, under specific conditions — and maybe there is an ineffability there too, and certainly a kind of nihilism (which is what makes Marlow so uncomfortable) — assomething that is evoked in the final stanza of Boy of Winander, when the speaker pauses in silence, for a good half-hour, unable to recover that moment, despite having just written it down quite vividely. That poem is sort of about that very same situation in a sense, I mean, the second half of that poem is very easy to overlook.

So that this is how we should understand Heart of Darkness as well, I mean, as a historical thesis, about a moment in the past, something we can barely see, or almost see, or see only with a woman that sort of makes us content with nihilism.

Well, that final scene is all about reliving a moment in the past that did not crystallize until the present, I mean, until that moment of visiting the Intended. When it does crystallize it seems a moment of reliving the past, a moment when “all games are emptied out” but no longer by the jungle. One has forgotten by that point the devstation of the jungle, so that all that’s left from that experience seems to be Kurtz, for some odd reason. When we look back on the past we like to reember a specific moment of negation, something that is impossible with the jungle itself. There is a sense perhaps that a specific negation is the only way we have, the only way we can stabilize the past, or maybe something that we always seek. (TBC)

(2) Let’s talk a bit about relativity. There is a sense that the cards were stacked from the beginning with regard to such a theory, which oppurtunized on the empirical discovery that the speed of light was constant — I mean, in the sense that every disruption to our intution will resolve itself in a certain way. The argument above is that the women are facillitators to the way in which we control our past, the way in which we understand the past as a kind of specific moment of negation (Kurtz) rather than as a general kind of disruption. Applied to relativity, this principle suggests that the function of physics is to — not so much incorporate external elements into an established system, but rather — the attempt to reach this moment of negation or of emptying out. I mean, certainly physics can be considered a kind of game too, math and physics can be considered a kind of game. You can publish hundereds of perfectly correct papers and there is still the sense that something may be missing, and the question is what the particular form of this negation could be, if it does not derive (of course not) from the introspective correction of errors.
For relativity, the specific form of negation involves the identification of a moment of “pure representation” (which is itself a “nihlistic” moment, as we said — yet the cards are stacked, somehow, in favor of this.) It is a clearer image of the world that becomes, well, secular. “The multitude of secular trees looking patiently after this grimy fragment of another world” (the steamer) — from the Heart of Darkness. Secularism is the emptying out or the vacating of “games” of particular nihilistic circuits, of illusions that are carried on only so far as they are useful, of fitter happier, of the colusion of metaphor and formula. Secularism, the secular vision, is precisely that which no longer allows for metaphor. I just said a bunch of stuff really fast, but I am actually not bullshitting. I mean, the idea is that there is some absolute vision that no longer allows for the convinient switch between metaphoric, pragmatic vision, a short moment when the world ceases to be populated by metaphors.
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