Archive for December 3, 2008
Job says what he thinks and feels, and how every person would likely feel in his position. His friends, on the other hand, talk as if they were secretly being watched by the powerful Ruler whose case is open to their verdict, and as if, in making their verdict, they cared more about winning His favor than about the truth.
This trickery of maintaining something just to keep up appearances, contrary to their true beliefs, feigning a conviction they did not have – this trickery stands in stark contrast to Job’s candor, which is so far removed from flattery that it borders on audacity, but nevertheless casts him in a very favorable light.
On the Failure of All Philosophical Attempts at a Theodicy, 1791
TRANSLATED BY JACOB SCHRIFTMAN (c) 2008
Find more about it in my illustrated booklet Job’s Wager: An Alternative to Pascal’s Wager and the Atheist’s Wager.
|Heart of Darkness (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)|
|by Joseph Conrad|
In its first year of publication, Time magazine featured an English novelist on the cover of its sixth issue. His name was Joseph Conrad.
Joseph Conrad was born in 1857 as Jósef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. He spent the first twelve years of his life in the Ukraine, until the death of both parents caused him to move to an uncle in Switzerland. Not long after, when he neared his twenties, he made a decision that would greatly influence his literary career of later years: he joined the French merchant marine and made three voyages to the West Indies, later switching to the British merchant navy. Eventually, at the age of twenty-nine, he became commander of his own ship, the Otago. Concurrently he received British citizenship and officially changed his name to Joseph Conrad.
During his long voyages he started to write; and what was more natural to him than to write stories related to seamanship and colonialism? His first novel, Almayer’s Folly, appeared in 1895 and depicts a Dutchman who trades on the jungle rivers of Borneo. Several more novels followed, among them the book that is the subject of this review: Heart of Darkness. It was published in 1902 and was largely inspired by Mr. Conrad’s trip up the Congo River in Africa.
Why he wrote it? He wrote it for the same reason that he wrote all his books: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel-it is, above all, to make you see. That-and no more, and it is everything” (preface to The Nigger of the `Narcissus’, published in 1897). In other words, he wanted the millions of Europeans who had not been to the colonies, to get a glimpse of his own experiences.
But what were his experiences? They were certainly not all positive, that much we can say. As Heart of Darkness elucidates, Conrad saw in the European colonization of the world not so much a glorious conquest as rather a greedy possessing of things not rightfully European. The following quote illustrates this particularly well: “You should have heard him say, `My ivory.’ Oh yes, I heard him. `My intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my-’ everything belonged to him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in the places. Everything belonged to him-but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own.”
As for the story line and main characters, they can be summed up very quickly, for the narrative thread is thin and the main characters are few. The story is narrated by a sailor called Marlow, who tells his friends about his past journey in Africa. It runs thus:
Marlow works for a company whose only interest lies in obtaining as much ivory as possible, irrespective of human damage. His particular mission in the story is to reach an agent of the company, called Mr. Kurtz, who has the reputation of being a very persuasive character. Once Marlow reaches Kurtz, he finds that the latter has made himself into the god of the native Africans of the area. What is worse, he uses his “divine” position to commit many atrocities. It suffices to say that he decorates his hut with human skulls.
Kurtz, however, is seriously ill and dies not long after Marlow meets him. Which leads us to the central scene of the book: Kurtz’s last words when he dies. It seems that in his last moments on earth he has a self-revelation of his true character: “It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror-of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision-he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath-”The horror! The horror!”
“The horror! The horror!”-this simple exclamation sums up the whole book. It is about the horror of what went on in the colonies: the horror of Europeans being taken out of the boundaries of European civilization and consequently turning into greedy gods, into “strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men-men, I tell you.”