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READ: Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Oh, this was good.
I was in the strange position of having watched the film (SEEN: Apocalypse Now Redux) before the novella. So instead of finding the references from the film to the book, I was going the other way: “Oh! So the Russian is the Photo-Journalist! And the essay is the MA thesis!”
But, yes, this was good. I am all about style in prose, and this had style. This had good style, not caught up in its own cleverness, not self-conscious, but advancing the mood and the narrative, and innovative and unconventional where it needed to be. Striking images, varied tone, good use of 10 dollar words where they would be most effective.
And yet, it wasn’t just style. It was a narrative, breath-taking in its scope and philosophy—all the greater because there wasn’t that much “action”. (And the action was amazing when it happened.) By the end, I wasn’t even noticing the style, the narrative was so well oiled.
Just as Apocalypse Now was only incidentally about ’Nam, Heart of Darkness was in some ways only incidentally about King Leopold’s exploitation of the Congo. It was about much bigger, much more global themes. Many of them, I’d have thought, well in advance of their time: there was more than a little existentialism about “The Horror! The Horror!”
In some other ways, of course, Heart of Darkness is very much about King Leopold’s exploitation of the Congo. And yes, the blacks in the story are not individuated, and are caricatured, and are incomprehensible stand-ins for the Darkness. But the “pilgrims” are not less caricatured, and hardly any more individuated. And the narrator knows quite well how corrupt his enterprise is—and Kurtz recants on his own pious cant, horribly.
Sometimes, I hear a piece of music, which isn’t in my favourite style, but is in the style that I think should have prevailed. I’ve gotten that feeling about Reger, for example. (Don’t ask.)
Well, this is what prose should always have been like.