Notes without Introduction on Heart of Darkness

(P1-P3) A meditative state, a moment of stillness or halting (as that which characterizes philosophical rather than ciritcal thought — an attempt to halt the progress of knowledge).

(P4) Again, a state of beginning or halting, the first step. Mentions of archeticture and bones. Later on, Marlow will talk about the sea reach as the launching point, the first step, of great projects — ushering in the question of the way in which progress is conceived, but in a perhaps retrospective sense. The temporality here is complex: at the end of the era of exploration, Marlow then looks back to the very beginning. This is the same way that Cartesian meditation occurs, well, of course. One is already familiar with thinking and its movements before looking back to the first step. But then this first step is a moment of looking foward, or rather, of halting before movement. And finally, the entire book then looks back, I mean, in the realm of personal experience, on the act of meditation — an act which itself, despite being a return to the step (to the first step, or to every step) seems so much like the beginnings of something. Philosophy is something that comes after but that derives its imaginative power from attempting to reach back to the before.

(P6) The question here really is how the river can be related to something as complicated or massive as the general trends of exploration. Are we talking about actual origins or the retrospective origin we speak of above? I am reminded of Flaubert’s effort with Madame Bovary, which I finally realized was political and not in the ‘feminist sense’. To go back to a life already lived, and to reorganize its details, while leaving the superficial appearances intact. Here the effort is perhaps much the same: to go back to the age of exploration, to put the past in services of an arising power.

(P8) A provocation — is Marlow about to offer a synopsis of his argument?

(P11) The description of those who enter into the darkness, and those who are saved by ‘efficiency’, or maybe pragmatism, is still an introductory offer. The darkness is not really a single thing, but it is an acceptance into meditation or a state of longing. It emphasizes that meditation is fundamentally waiting for something.

(P18) I mean, what is the spirit of exploration anyways? Is it a chance to work at something, or to get at the roots of something — maybe the origins of trade, or the origins of all that talk? I mean, Marlow did not really go out there with an high and noble ideas. I think of it as a chance to do an honest day’s work or something like that: sort of like what I’m doing with this book. Perhaps Madame Bovary can be compared to the Heart of Darkness in that the latter is a retrospective rethinking of Marlow’s life as meditation. (And note that that suffices to think about power, it is not necessary to explicitly consider how the past influences the choices of the present.) The question then arises: what is Marlow meditating on?

(P21) Origin of Trade — In a partial response, so far, we have an understanding of this notion of getting into the heart of the company, the origin of ivory and trade, but there is also, of course, the attempt to get at the cause of this mystery, such as that of Fresleven.
This suggestion is actually quite fascinating, since it suggests an organization built up around the idea — and not ‘sentimental pretense’ of something occuring at the origin — the origin of wealth, or the origin of trade, of exploration, cultural contact, and so on — some sort of transformation of the cities, for example, that takes place elsewhere. Rather than seeing, say, London as a launching point or the origin, we could perhaps see London as orbiting or fascinated by this origin — which is, oddly enough, perhaps well understood despite its mystery (cf, the final scene with the Intended). Basically, this is a way to think beyond cartesian meditation.

(P25) Women and the Power of the Past — The description of the two fates, the women dressed in black — very interesting, as this seems to suggest that, as above, when we say that it “suffices to think about the past”, that the woman have a hand in the transformation of this into power: the two secretaries, the introducer, and concrete workers of this powr.

(P27) The doctor passage really sort of reminds me that nothing should be taken for granted here, and that everything should be significance. Ie, there is no need to red in value judgments here at all. One feels that one can almost vaguely make out what the doctor is getting at here. There is a richness to this scene, is what I’m saying.

(P29 — halt) Summary: This has given me really quite a lot to think about. Conrad seems to offer a very real analysis of the project of exploration and the role of meditation / philosphy on that project!


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