Ritical essay on Edward Said Two Visions in Heart of Darknessculture and Imperalism
Read the essay carefully.
3. Write a summary of the essay.
4. Write on your own words the summary in a essay for, arguing either for or against the position of the writer of the essay.
5. The essay should comprise an introduction (thesis statement), five or six developmental paragraphs, and a conclusion.
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Edward Said, a?Two Visions in Heart of Darknessa?
Culture and Imperialism, (1993) pp. 22-31
This imperial attitude is, I believe, beautifully captured in the complicated and rich
narrative form of Conrads great novella Heart of Darkness, written between 1898 and
1899. On the one hand, the narrator Marlow acknowledges the tragic predicament of all
speech-that It is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of ones
existence-that which makes its truth, its meaning-its subtle and penetrating essence . . ..
We live, as we dream-alone-yet still manages to convey the enormous power of Kurtzas
African experience through his own overmastering narrative of his voyage into the
African interior toward Kurtz. This narrative in turn is connected directly with the
redemptive force, as well as the waste and horror, of Europes mission in the dark world.
Whatever is lost or elided or even simply made up in Marlows immensely compelling
recitation is compensated for in the narratives sheer historical momentum, the temporal
forward movement-with digressions, descriptions, exciting encounters, and all. Within
the narrative of how he journeyed to Kurtzs Inner Station, whose source and authority he
now becomes, 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
Thus Marlows encounter with the improbably white-suited clerk in the middle of the
jungle furnishes him with several digressive paragraphs, as does his meeting after with
the semi-crazed, harlequin-like Russian who has been so affected by Kurtzs gifts. Yet
underlying Marlows inconclusiveness, his evasions, his arabesque meditations on his
feelings and ideas, is the unrelenting course of the journey itself, which, despite all the
many obstacles, is sustained through the jungle, through time, through hardship, to the
heart of it all, Kurtzs ivory-trading empire. Conrad wants us to see how Kurtzs great
looting adventure, Marlows journey up the river, and the narrative itself all share a
common theme: Europeans performing acts of imperial mastery and will in (or about)
What makes Conrad different from the other colonial writers who were his
contemporaries is that, for reasons having partly to do with the colonialism that turned
him, a Polish expatriate, into an employee of the imperial system, he was so selfconscious
about what he did. Like most of his other tales, therefore, Heart of Darkness
cannot just be a straightforward recital of Marlows adventures: it is also a dramatization
of Marlow himself, the former wanderer in colonial regions, telling his story to a group of
British listeners at a particular time and in a specific place. That this group of people is
drawn largely from the business world is Conrads way of emphasizing the fact that
during the 1890S the business of empire, once an adventurous and often individualistic
enterprise, had become the empire of business. (Coincidentally we should note that at
about the same time Halford Mackinder, an explorer, geographer, and Liberal Imperia1ist
gave a series of lectures on imperialism at the London Institute of Bankers perhaps
Conrad knew about this.) Although the almost oppressive force of Marlows narrative
leaves us with a quite accurate sense that there is no way out of the sovereign historical
force of imperialism, and that it has the power of a system representing as well as
speaking for everything within its dominion, Conrad shows us that what Marlow does is
contingent, acted out for a set of like-minded British hearers, and limited to that situation.
Yet neither Conrad nor Marlow gives us a full view of what is outside the worldconquering
attitudes embodied by Kurtz, Marlow, the circle of listeners on the deck of
the Nellie~, and Conrad. By that I mean that Heart of Darkness works so effectively
because its politics and aesthetics are, so to speak, imperialist, which in the closing years
of the nineteenth century seemed to be at the same time an aesthetic, politics, and even
epistemology inevitable and unavoidable. For if we cannot truly understand someone
elses experience and if we must therefore depend upon the assertive authority of the sort
of power that Kurtz wields as a white man in the jungle or that Marlow, another white
man, wields as narrator, there is no use looking for other, non-imperialist alternatives; the
system has simply eliminated them and made them unthinkable. The circularity, the
perfect closure of the whole thing is not only aestherica1ly but also mentally unassailable.
Conrad is so self-conscious about situating Marlows tale in a narrative moment that he
allows us simultaneously to realize after all that imperialism, far from swallowing up its
own history, was taking place in and was circumscribed by a larger history, one just
outside the tightly inclusive circle of Europeans on the deck of the Nellie. As yet,
however, no one seemed to inhabit that region, and so Conrad left it empty.
Conrad could probably neverhave used Marlow to present anything other than an
imperialist world-view, given what was available for either Conrad or Marlow to see of
the non-European at the time. Independence was for whites and Europeans; the lesser or
subject peoples were to be ruled; science, learning, history emanated from the West.
True, Conrad scrupulously recorded the differences between the disgraces of Belgian and
British colonial attitudes, but he could only imagine the world carved up into one or
another Western sphere of dominion. But because Conrad also had an extraordinarily
persistent residual sense of his own exilic marginality, he quite carefully (some would say
maddeningly) qualified Marlows narrative with the provisionality that came from
standing at the very juncture of this world with another, unspecified but different. Conrad
was certainly not a great imperialist entrepreneur like Cecil Rhodes or Frederick Lugard,
even though he understood perfectly how for each of them, in Hannah Arendts words, to
enter The maelstrom of an unending process of expansion, he will, as it were, cease to be
what he was and obey the laws of the process, identify himself with anonymous forces
that he is supposed to serve in order to keep the whole process in motion, he will think of
himself as mere function, and eventually consider such functionality, such an incarnation
of the dynamic trend, his highest possible achievement.”) Conrads realization is that if,
like narrative, imperialism has monopolized the entice system of representation-which in
the case of Heart of Darkness allowed it to speak for Africans as well as for Kurtz and
the Other adventurers, including Marlow and his audience-your self-consciousness as an
outsider can allow you actively to comprehend how the machine works, given that you
and it arc fundamentally not in perfect synchrony or correspondence. Never the wholly
incorporated and fully acculturated Englishman, Conrad therefore preserved an ironic
distance in each of his works.
The form of Conrads narrative has thus made it possible to derive two possible
arguments, two visions, in the post-colonial world that succeeded his. One argument
allows the old imperial enterprise full scope to play itself out conventiona1ly, to render
the world as official European or Western imperialism saw it, and to consolidate itself
after World War Two. Westerners may have physically left their old colonies in Africa
and Asia, but they retain