Tag Archives: Kurtz

Commonplace #3

“I did not betray Mr Kurtz – it was ordered I should never betray him – it was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice. I was anxious to deal with this shadow by myself alone, – and to this day I don’t know why I was so jealous of sharing with any one the peculiar blackness of that experience” (172).

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. In Youth: A Narrative; and Other Tales. Rev. ed. Edited by Cedric Watts. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Kurtz’s impression on others is shown here. I think this ties to how the natives saw him as a kind of deity, how he is to never be betrayed.

Childish Games of the Empire

“I kept to the track though–then stopped to listen. The night was very clear: a dark blue space, sparkling with dew and starlight, in which black things stood very still. I thought I could see a kind of motion ahead of me. I was strangely cocksure of everything that night. I actually left the track and ran in a wide semicircle (I verily believe chuckling to myself) so as to get in front of that stir, of that motion I had seen–if indeed I had seen anything. I was circumventing Kurtz as though it had been a boyish game.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 172. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

This passage continues Conrad’s thematic comparison between childishness and imperialism. Marlow’s chase through darkness in search of Kurtz mirrors the chase for ivory that he is supposed to be on, but he is preoccupied with other issues. Clearly Kurtz takes the place of the ivory in Marlow’s eyes. Marlow makes a contradictory statement by saying that he was “cocksure of everything,” but later reveals that he had at the time been unsure if he has even seen Kurtz. This image mocks the assurance of those empires who make guesses of where they can find wealth then send men to go excavate it (while “chuckling” to themselves). The parallels between his silly game and imperial conquest create a frame of both satire and criticism in Heart of Darkness.

Kurtz as a “remarkable man”

“Droll thing life is – that mysterious  arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of inextinguishable regrets.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 178. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

“This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up – he had judged. ‘The horror!’ He was a remarkable man.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 178-179. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

Marlow proclaims Kurtz’s “remarkableness” because Kurtz was able to judge and generate some sort of certainty about his experience while Marlow felt as if he couldn’t say anything that would make sense or do justice to the unfathomable truth.

 

Delayed Specification on Kurtz

“I’ve seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men – men, I tell you. But as I stood on the hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness” (Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002), 117.

All of the descriptions in this passage remind me of language that just goes and goes with seemingly no destination, at least not one that’s obvious from the start – in other words, it is similar to language we’ve already been looking at in class. You don’t quite understand what the point is, where exactly it’s going, or what the purpose of it will be, until you read on and discover that it applies to Kurtz. It is a perfect example of delayed specification.

Kicked loose from the earth

“I tried to break the spell—the heavy, mute spell of the wilderness—that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions. This alone, I was convinced, had driven him out to the edge of the forest, to the bush, towards the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, the drone of weird incantations; this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyond the bounds of permitted aspirations. And don’t you see, the terror of the position was not in being knocked on the head—though I had a very lively sense of that danger too—but in this, that I had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. I had, even like the niggers, to invoke him—himself—his own exalted and incredible degradation. There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! He had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness” Oxford University Press, Oxford NY, 2002. pp. 173-174.

The point being made here is somewhat confusing yet interesting. Perhaps it can be seen as Marlow explains Kurtz’s state almost as though he has become free from worldly limitations; that somehow with his integration into the natives’ lives has made him become one who should be acknowledged and remembered for his “enlarged mind”.

The importance of words

“The man presented himself as a voice. Not of course that I did not connect him with some sort of action. Hadn’t I been told in all the tones of jealousy and admiration that he had collected, bartered, swindled, or stolen more ivory than all the other agents together. That was not the point. The point was in his being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words—the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 152. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

When Marlow realized that he would probably never get to meet, or speak with, Kurtz was a very key scene in the story. Marlow went on and on about Kurtz’s ability to talk and the words he could use. This passage really stood out to me because it expresses how important voice and the ability to speak are, and what that gift means to other people. I thought that it was interesting that Conrad wrote about a character whose voice and words had such a great effect on other people, and maybe wanted his words to impact his readers as well.