Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Should We Read *Heart of Darkness*"?

"Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? is one of Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings. Gauguin inscribed the original French title in the upper left corner: D'où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous". . . read more on Wikipedia.  This is a painting from a series that was mentioned in the Achebe essay.

I took the title of this blog post from J. Hillis Miller's essay in your book on pages 463 - 474.  I certainly recommend reading this for more intellectual fodder.  You may, if you wish, reference this essay instead of the class discussion.

Blog Assignment:
Part A: due by class time Thursday 9.16.10
recommended length: 500 words

Post your reaction to something specific and thought provoking from class discussion (any of the three days) and elaborate on how it could be used to further your own analysis of Heart of Darkness.

Part B: due by class time Friday 9.17.10
recommended length: 500 words

Post your reaction to something specific and thought provoking from a classmate's comment (Part A) and elaborate on how it could be used to further your own analysis of Heart of Darkness.

Both assignments will be graded separately on the Malden High Open Response Rubric and counted as a homework grade.  Because of the nature of the assignment, a letter grade will be lost for every day it is late.

46 comments:

Philip said...

At one point, I recalled that someone commented on Heart of Darkness emanating negative ideas. Those ideas encompassed things that we from today view as detrimental to society – racism, sexism, oppression, and other things of the sort. A book that encourages ideas along these lines should not be widely read and appreciated, but rather banned. Another person retorted to this comment, claiming ideas are just that – ideas. A book might have, as part of its story, a man who kills, eats, and maims babies…but in the end, this action was not actually performed in real life, so there’s no need for ideas to be banned. They thought that ideas were not very harmful, from what I interpreted. An interesting remark, and to me personally, a sore underestimation, so I respectfully disagree. I would think that ideas are just as dangerous as actions – if not then even more so. My reasoning for this would be that ideas are able to inspire. Yes, actions can inspire additional actions, too, but I believe the resulting effects from the spread of ideas are even more profound. Achebe references Hitler and Nazis in his essay so it would be appropriate for me to do so as well. Sort of. The simple idea that the Aryan race was superior in every which way to the Jewish people led to holocaust and genocide of the Jewish people. As such, ideas can easily propagate actions in addition to severely altering a person’s way of thinking, making them far more dangerous than actions. Think of it this way. Actions primarily have a more one time ‘physical’ effect in an isolated environment, while ideas have an ever lasting ‘mental’ effect, that leave trails of physical destruction in its wake due to its influence.

This could help further my own analysis on Heart of Darkness because it’s making me think of Conrad’s intent as he wrote this book. What exactly was the major idea he wanted to pitch forth? What did he want people to do (or at least contemplate doing) after reading his book? What was his idea and what actions would he hope from spring forth from it? The answer would be hard to pinpoint considering I did not live in his era, can not know for sure how people of his time were and how they felt, and can hope to casually ask him the aforementioned questions because his corpse has been rotting in the ground for over one hundred years. Surely, it was put to good use via worms that made nutrients out of his decomposing flesh. Then all that remains is speculation. Despite being racist, maybe he had hoped his book would actually reduce racism. This would be so it he had hoped to convey that all humans are alike in the inside, that all are inherently evil, that all possess a ‘heart of darkness’ no less vile than the next. And if that were the idea, then perhaps he hoped for the people of his age to actually think twice as to whether or not they were actually any better than a black man. On other hand, he might have been a racist bastard all along, but disguised it with his overlying themes on humanity and clever rhetorical manipulation. I don’t know. It’s all a bunch of maybes.

Rachael S said...

During the both the first and second Student Run Discussion, a few of us mentioned the concept of censorship and the different ways to interpret a piece of literature. What I found most thought provoking about either discussion was how our opinions varied, how we all immediately did not think that the idea of “freedom of speech” is strictly one of our rights that must be granted.

I’m pretty sure Alex actually brought up the topic of freedom of speech (correct me if I’m wrong!!) by mentioning how she is a believer of freedom of speech but, some things are better left unsaid. The topic was brushed upon again the next day when we discussed an author’s intention and how much we should consider it.


I feel that both of those topics are essential for our interpretation of “Heart of Darkness”. With a novella such as “Heart of Darkness”, controversial topics (racism, feminism ect.) are touched upon throughout the book. There are many aspects of real life that should probably be censored, but ultimately things cannot be censored forever. It is the radical works and notions of people that encourage change and movement. Without having radical thinkers, those who are willing to go an extra step to have their opinion considered, we would probably still live in the world Conrad lived in.

As for the thought of how much we should consider an author’s intention, I believe that we should consider it to some extent. During the discussion, a few people voiced the idea that we should obviously consider an author’s intention because that is primarily why they wrote in the first place, to be considered and reflected on. Nidale later commented on how we read to understand ourselves, not just the author’s purpose. I think my opinion on the idea is a cross between those two ideas. It was also said during the discussion that readers are basically like “tourists”, we stop by different places for a while, take pictures of the cool stuff and leave to go back to our normal lives. I believe that most authors are trying to make readers feel like “potential house buyers” rather than merely “tourists”. Authors want us to find a passionate interest in what they are writing about, they want us to do further research about their novels and, metaphorically, they want us to “move into” where they’re talking about, not just remain for the highlights of the journey.

Sorry if my “potential house buyer” metaphor didn’t any sense at all, it’s much easier to explain in person.

KKatz said...

I sort of want to focus on Achebe's critical essay at this moment and say that he criticized Conrad and thought that his novella was racist. However, I think by revealing the irony and contradiction in European Imperialism (attempting to educate and civilize these “lesser peoples,” by beating, enslaving, and killing them) Conrad is able to sort of undermine the racist beliefs of his time. Achebe’s critique of Conrad’s novel fails to take into account the background information relating to Conrad’s beliefs. He only really takes the novella’s text at face value and doesn't see the irony and contradiction that is used. By emphasizing Marlow’s depiction of the Native people, and not reading the ironic language, Achebe can't comprehend how this novel is critical of Imperialism and Racism. (I don't anyone mentioned it, but I never pointed that out and I thought it was interesting).

The last discussion is the one the really got me through these class discussions. I am very much a feminist and am all about the equality of women and men. So when I read Schneider's critical essay about feminism and iconograpy in the book, it stirred up some strong feelings. I like how Schneider points out that Conrad sort of promoted sexism by portraying women as weak, grieving, and ignorant individuals who always depend on men. I absolutely 100% disagree with those underlying messages in Conrad's work. Men can be just as weak and dependent on women as women can on men. This really relates to Robert's critical essay too about the masculinity in the novella (he really exposes Conrad's environment). Roberts points out the men were the sole occupiers of positions of power in the book and women were prohibited from such positions. What I liked about Schneider and Roberts' essays were that they pointed out this inequality in Conrad's book and about the African culture.

10zin said...

The first day we mainly talked about censorship in reading and Alex brought up the idea of freedom of speech. Like Rachel had explained earlier, Alex stated that she believes that people have the right to say what they want but to a certain point. I too like Alex am stuck in between these two points, but I am leaning more towards freedom of speech because people should be able to express what they feel. If something is censored the true meaning behind it is lacking. Yet I do understand Alex's position and why she is in the "gray area".
The second day of discussion was about the author's intentions and how we as readers perceive this information. I believe Alfonse stated that we should take into consideration about the writer's intention but at the same time create our own interpretation because this allows people to see in a different perspective and make the reading not so boring. I have to say I totally agree with him.

That was just my brief opinions about the last two discussions. What I really want to focus on is the whole idea about "foiling". I think Josh was the person who brought up the whole idea about how Africa was like a foil to Europe. I never ever thought of this topic in this matter but after I thought about it, it became very true to me. Ever since we were young we barely learn about all the unique cultures and places around the world. We are usually restricted to U.S. and European history and barely learn about Africa unless it has to associate with the colonies or the slave trade, which both connect back to Europe. The only reason we learn about Africa is because the Europeans intruded the area. Yet, we rarely encounter the rich beautiful culture of the African people who are always portrayed as savages and “creatures”. Another point about foiling was brought up by Alfonse who related woman to being a foil to men just like Africa was a foil to Europe. Once again, I didn’t think of this at all yet this is also a very true point. Throughout history woman have ALWAYS been inferior to men. Women were always treated as objects who represented power and wealth. This is evident in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, where in the Ibo culture, the more wives you had the more power and wealth you obtained. I feel like this idea is still existing today, for example pimps (even though this is a bad example), and women are constantly used in the media because “sex sells.” Although this is very disturbing especially if one is a female we have to face the fact that this is true. People still underestimate a woman’s intelligence and strength. Just like Africa, in school one does not learn about woman unless it is about the suffrage movement briefly. The accomplishments made by women are not praised as much as accomplishments made by men. During the last few days of student class discussions, this topic about foiling stood out the most for me so I had to comment on it.

Alex Math said...

One of the questions that I found most interesting was whether or not we as readers should consider the writer's intention or disregard it. At first, I did say that I believed our own interpretations of the book are more important than the intention of the writer, and in a way, I still lean towards this. However, I have to also agree with Joao when he said that knowing what the author is saying is key and that we as readers need to understand how a novel works on "relevant and current levels". For me, I personally now believe that reading is a mixture of both. (I think Joao mentioned this as well). The writer's intention is important because, if done right, there won't be just one clear intention. It is our interpretation that kicks in that helps us get at the multifaceted work of literature the writer created (if the work is successful).

I remember Hong mentioning that interpretations are just people pushing their own beliefs and views onto a piece of work, cruelly manipulating literature and bending it to their will. However, I do think some people do that (and are wrong for doing so)but the point and beauty of interpretations is to try to get at the intention of the writer while still respecting that the interpretation itself is just one of many. Also during the discussion, a question rose in my head: what is the point of literature? If it is to convey one specific message, then in literature there would be just statements. However, I believe that literature is supposed to provoke thought on several levels and a great piece of literature often has several interpretations as the readers try to get at all of the possibilities the book has offered.

francesca said...

During the first class discussion and talking about Achebe's essay, we came across a question Achebe was asking, Why is "Heart Of Darkness" considered one of the great pieces of English literature? It is a tough question to answer myself after reading these three essays that criticize and not praise Conrad's novella, however, maybe this is what makes it such a great piece of work.

Conrad did not choose to mainly focus attack one aspect of society, he targeted many points, which are all talked about in these criticisms. He incorporated racism, feminism, masculinity, power, desire, and many other things all in one simple story. I believe this is what makes his work so good. (And of course the way he writes)

I also remember in class discussion we talked about the authors intent, and Joao made a statement that understanding what the author is trying to say is crucial. And I would have to completely agree with this. An author doesn't write for no reason, there is always a purpose. However, that doesn't mean we as readers don't have the right to make interpretations. Because, as human beings, we are going to. Everyone has their own opinions and we analyze things differently. But what makes Heart Of Darkness so well written, was how many different interpretations there could be, without giving them away. Personally, I only picked up on the rasicm part mostly. Untill reading Robert's and Schneider's essays I wouldn't have thought of those two things Conrad incorporated.

Mainly, I believe that because something was written, the author's intent does matter. Conrad's intentions behind Heart Of Darkness was to create a compelling story bringing forth many of the social problems present at this time, no matter how big or little they were.

kisla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kisla said...

On Monday, September 13, we began our class discussion on Heart of Darkness by discussing and picking apart Achebe’s Essay, “An Image of Africa”, and providing our thoughts about the essay in order to create an “intellectual camaraderie and develop subtle, sophisticated, and probing analysis.” A part of the discussion that was very interesting to me was when Nidale made a statement about the fact that “we only learn about other nations’ cultures (Africa, South America, China etc.) only when Europe is involved.” Xi then continued to agree with Nidale stating that “she too would be offended if Conrad had been “racist towards Asians like he was towards the Africans.” This idea of Africa being used as a “foil” to make Europe appear like a better nation was what intrigued me the most because I had never really thought about it that way before. As I read Heart of Darkness during the summer, I continuously referred back to Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and noted the contrasting depictions of African culture in both of the books. No wonder Achebe was furious while reading Heart of Darkness! It must’ve been really upsetting for him to read this literature and notice the animalistic and inhumane descriptions and views of the Africans that Conrad wrote about. A quote in Achebe’s essay that I thought could explain the idea of racism in the book was in the middle of page 345 where Achebe states “Irrational love and irrational hate jostling together in the heart of that talented, tormented man”. This quote says two things to me; “irrational love and irrational hate” define Conrad’s love for his own race which is irrational because he may not understand just how much damage the Europeans have done to the Africans in their native land and Conrad’s blinded hatred for the African race is due to his ignorance and inability of being able to appreciate such a different culture from his own. The second idea that I got from this quote was that Achebe recognized and appreciated Conrad’s Heart of Darkness because he calls him “talented” and then adds “tormented” in order to convey the unreasonable racist Conrad was. In conclusion, I personally felt that Achebe’s essay and the comments about Africa as a “foil” in class helped me get a better understanding of Heart of Darkness by opening my mind to ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to me if we hadn’t had the discussion. The essential question was “why do we as human beings write?” I think there’s a vast variety of answers to that question but in my opinion I feel like we write to escape. Maybe we want to write because of the very thought that someone may be interested in what we have to say and may also agree with our opinions; maybe because what we feel is too explicit and confrontational that we have to mask it with literary techniques (metaphors/similes) and write it on paper instead of speaking it out loud; or maybe we just write because we appreciate “freedom of the press” and we just want to exercise our rights. Whatever the case may be, writing is essential to our thoughts and gives us the ability to voice our opinions, regardless if the majority of people disagree or are offended by them (in Conrad’s case).

Renee S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee S. said...

I am going to admit I have a lot of trouble picturing how such a "small sketch in oils" can portray women as weak and ignorant. Josh's perspective on the painting of the Intended made me feel that it is the men who are ignorant. It is how women are seen in society that prohibits our ability to indulge in something we may provide. Josh pointed out Conrad wrote "Do not come down from the pedestal where i have placed you, even though that would bring you nearer to me." Conrad's view is very clear. His awareness of the contradictions at work in "men's desire to keep women on pedestals" helped me in my analysis of Heart of Darkness. Being put on a placed on a pedestal is a position in which one is greatly or uncritically admired. Being forced to stay on the pedestal associates the isolation of European women with the isolation of idealism.

Schneiders essay is similar to that of Achebe's. The idea of racism in Achebe's essay explains that Africa was used as a setting and backdrop, which eliminated the African race as a human factor. The feminist ideal in Schneider's essay introduces us to the idea that women though "draped and blindfolded" carry a "lighted torch." Though women may shine in society, they rarely receive credit. I find the idea of women being "trophies" insulting yet interesting in context. There are other collected trophies in the novella. For example, “Associated with weapons and armor, it suggests phallic empowerment; associated with victory, it commemorates symbolic triumph over the feminine.” Women are not iconic objects to be put on a shelf or forced to stay on a pedestal. If The Intended is holding the torch, she has every right to share the light she brings to the table.

Because we attack Heart of Darkness from so many different angles, it makes me wonder if Conrad wrote this novella with all of these possibilities in mind. This traces back to the author’s intent. Did Conrad intend for us to interpret his piece of work as feminist? Racist? Homosexual desire?

AlfonseF said...

One thing that I found to be an interesting topic in the student run discussions was the question regarding whether or not the author's intention should be taken into consideration. Before the discussion, i never really put much though into the question. However, after thinking about how different texts were "manipulated," as Racheal said, and it occurred to me that it is up to us as the reader to interpret the text in a way that we want. Renee and Francesca made some good points about how we should not just consider the author's meaning, and how interpreting can sometimes be so off that it makes the book worse (the idea that Marlow was homosexual for example.)Although i did agree with what my classmates said about how interpreting can sometimes be harmful, it made me think that the more interpretation that a book can get means the more the book captivates people and makes them think, which makes me agree with Hong about how if everyone reads a book and gets the same meaning out of it, than it is just simple and arid.

To elaborate on the idea that the more interpretation in a text the better i want to talk about the significance of combining ideas. If a reader were to go about a text, just taking the one meaning and intention of the author, than as i have mentioned, the book will be for one probably not very challenging, but also very bland. If the reader, however, was to bring their own view based of personal experiences to their reading experience, mixing their ideals and intentions with those of the author, than the understanding, and overall enjoyment of the text will be much interesting. For example, Andrew Micheal Roberts may have experienced homosexuality in any sort of way, and because of this he applied these ideas to Heart of Darkness, and although some may not agree with his views, they are his own ideas, and because of his connection, the book was most likely that much more enjoyable for him. The same thing applies to Achebe, who brought racism to his reading, or Schneider, who brought feminism and sexism to hers.

Gabby said...

During the first class discussion on Achebe's essay, I also agree with the idea of freedom of speech because it allows people to say what they feel, but I feel it should be to a certain extent. Achebe was very sensitive to how Conrad portrayed Africans in Heart of Darkness. I do understand that at the time period, Africans and Europeans didn't have equal rights, but I felt that who ever disagreed with how Conrad portrayed the Africans, should put themselves in Achebe's shoes. Like Xi said, she would be upset if someone were to offend her cultural background.

As for masculinity and feminism (based on Roberts and Schneider's essays), around the same time the novel was published men were superior to women. Possibly signifying the blind fold that was brought up a lot in class. "The blind fold signifies castration (disempowerment) and lack." (P. 481) I disagree with Conrad, as Schneider pointed out, the thought that women are seen as weak and men as powerful. Men want to be seen as strong, powerful, and tough. Which is why they put women on a pedestal (trophy like) to look good, but not have any rights, as Josh said. Conrad is very opinionated.

The question of topic that really made me think was "does it matter what the author intended? Should we care or even consider this?" I personally believe that we, as readers should always consider what an author's intentions are. There is always a purpose and reason why the writer incorporates different opinions and scenarios into his/her work. I strongly agree, as Alex said, "when you write make it work on many different levels so there are many ways to be interpreted." Everyone has their own different opinions, but it's better to get a lot of inferences on the text, and I agree that there is more than just two different sides of a story, as Mr. Gallagher said. Interpreting the text allows readers to try and understand the author's own opinion and it's always fascinating to be able to view more than one different point of view. Which brings me to the topic, "why do we as humans write?" We write to mainly express ourselves and our ideas. To show many different views of a certain aspect.

xi said...

As said by Josh, women were known as mothers without much formal education, but they contain the power, torch in hand, to possess knowledge and teach the next generation to be great but they themselves, blinded, are not exposed to these rights. Like weapons, women have the potential to harm others and the potential to fight but they are merely objects. Without men actually doing the work, they are worthless. Women were just a foil to men, to make them look better like arm candy. This connects to the superiority of men at the time. At that period of time, men never treated women as equals. Instead they admired the power within each other like the relationship between Kurtz and Marlow. Disagreeing with Roberts, I did not view Marlow and Kurtz as homosexuals, instead I seem to think that Marlow like the others wanted the power that Kurtz was known for.
The idea of empathy, entering into another’s feelings, connects to the authors’ intention and the idea of tourists v. travelers. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad presented Africa as a foil to make Europeans look better, more superior. Readers who lack understanding of the African culture may believe Conrad and be ignorant of the racism in that. A work like Things Fall Apart, Achebe allows readers to explore the rich culture of Africa like the tribes and family traditions. It also presents the problems in it like power. Therefore I think it is up to the reader to interpret the text as best as possible. It would help if readers paid attention to the time and context of the story.
If a piece of writing has only one specific message, then literature would be like math, a set of formulas, waiting for a specific answer. Interpreting literature like poetry should be open, but to a certain extent. If the author does a good job on translating his intention to the text, then readers should be on the right track but still have their own feelings about the text.
I agree with the idea of freedom of speech in literature. Conrad wrote his book that involves a lot of taboo topics like feminism, sexuality, and racism. Although many may disagree with his ideas, it still provokes thought and deep thinking. In a way, the author has achieved his purpose and allowed readers to openly interpret it. Moreover, if no one spoke against the common ideas in society, how would the wrongs been changed? If no one wrote about slavery, maybe it would have existed for a longer period of time.
Without the three essays and the class discussion, I would have never thought about the issues mentioned like homosexuality, feminism, and racism. However, it has also led me to wonder what Conrad really intended to do. Achebe viewed Conrad as a racist but maybe he was trying to show the inhumane relationship that existed between Europeans and Africans. Roberts viewed Kurtz and Marlow as having a homosexual relationship, but maybe Conrad was trying to show trust and brotherhood. Conrad could show how more respect should be shown towards women or women are merely objects. I don’t really know or have interpreted correctly, but by questioning it, it allowed me to think deeper.

HongC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HongC said...

Racism. Homosexuality. Subjugation of women. The transfer of power. The past three days have been like a melting pot of intellectual discussion as ideas about Conrad’s intentions were analyzed and dissected under a large microscope. It was exactly those actions that became the catalyst in which my reaction is articulated here, yes, literature is meant to be looked at critically and examined for essential themes and points the author has intended. But it was what Renee said that confirmed my sinking suspicion, the authors of the essays and we, as readers, were making very bold and assertive assumptions and interpretations as to what “Heart of Darkness” could be all about. Renee said that when we dissect a piece of literature, stripping away all its main components and just looking at the things we WANT to see as opposed to what we SHOULD see in “Heart of Darkness”, the bigger picture is then lost in translation. Out of that comment, I came to two conclusions. When you misconstrue a text as to construct your argument based upon 2-3 word quotations found among the text, and have them laid side by side to support the foundation of your argument (like Roberts did), the text becomes secondary, and the author’s (Roberts) interpretation becomes primary. Catch my drift? I could explain this among the lines of some kind of psychological effect, the interpreter implants some “idea” into the mind of the reader, in this case, ‘homosexuality’, now weather the reader disagrees or agrees with the interpreter is besides the point, the point is that underlying idea is now in the back of the reader’s mind. It is kind of inescapable. The idea distorts our view, tainting our perspectives, and consequently our OWN interpretations. That was apparent as there seemed to be some general class consensus whenever the authors of the respective essays made an assertive point: Achebe and racism, Roberts and homosexuality, and Schneider and subjugation and idealized feminine roles.


I am not saying that bold interpretations shouldn’t be made, in fact there are times when this psychological effect is good. What I want to in fact make clear is that, the author’s intent should ABSOLUTELY be the primary concern of the audience. What would be the point of reading a text and not getting across what the author wants but what you want? Might as well write your own book and say what you feel, no? So yes, Mr. Gallagher, sometimes reading like a “ (College) Professor” is not always the best way to read and examine literature. With all these provisions in mind, the reader has the “acceptable tools” (Joao) that can be utilized to SUCCESSFULLY read a text. Ironically, sometimes a little “ignorance” is good when approaching a text where the theme is difficult at first glance. When we read with ideas bombarded in our head, are we really reading or are we really just searching and not reading in between the lines? Sometimes there are multiple purposes and layers the author has in mind, sometimes it really is just over-analysis on our own behalf. Sometimes reading for the sake of literature is just as simple as that. Just read.

Amanda N. said...

Part A:

One of the most thought provoking moments that came to mind upon participating in the student run discussions was speaking about the culture clash that books like Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart emphasized for their readers. This is something that was noted in the first essay and discussion. As a first-time reader of African literature, it was refreshing to learn about the various cultural traditions of an African tribe, which is a perspective that I do not often hear about. Comparing certain African traditions and approaches of life to the ones I am more familiar with here in the U.S. definitely allowed me to think about what each of our cultures finds to be important.

It was even more interesting to compare the thought process between Chinua Achebe and his teenaged fan from Yonkers, NY, in regards to the beliefs and cultural traditions that set people apart. While the student had been enthusiastic about having the opportunity to learn about “the customs and superstitions of an African tribe” (337), Achebe counters what would ordinarily be seen as praise as instead being an example of modern-day society’s ignorance. I fully agree with Achebe’s belief that the student lacked the ability in realizing that his own environment in New York has its own set of values, just as the African tribe Achebe wrote of had. In this case, although the beliefs and culture of New Yorkers may not be as distinguished in comparison to other peoples of the world, for readers, the African perspective holds such a deep contrast with their own. Achebe believes that the student “is obviously unaware that the life of his own tribesmen in Yonkers, New York, is full of odd customs and superstitions and, like everybody else in his culture, imagines that he needs a trip to Africa to encounter those things” (337). I loved to read of an author actually expressing this thought, especially in reference to Africa, because it was one that consistently came up in my mind whenever I heard of people mentioning the continent.

Amanda N. said...

Part A (continued):

Unfortunately, one too many people view the African culture as being too foreign, and they find it difficult to find parallels between their own lifestyles and the ones that Africans lead. However, in that notion, they end up generalizing an entire continent of people, based on the pervasive myths and stereotypes that are embedded in our cultural psyche. Many people can relate more to European culture because many societies are modeled after it. As well, throughout history, thanks to colonialism and imperialism, the desired intention was to make the lands surrounding Europe to be like duplicate, working models of the continent, thereby extending the impact that European culture and beliefs had on the rest of the world. However, African society does not carry enough of the familiar elements that we see in Western society for people to recognize and, in turn, feel comfortable with the material (in literature) and the culture and people (in real life). With any unfamiliarity, a person can see what would be ordinary elements of any society as instead being strange and unorthodox.

I really loved what Nidale brought up in regards to this idea, offering up the viewpoint that we, as Westerners, only learn about Africa in relation to Europe. Hearing her say this out loud was such a revelation for me, because I liked to think that as a society, we are much more open to other people’s cultures and are eager to learn about their beliefs, as well. However, after my long history of social studies classes, I can confidently say that Nidale was completely right in saying this. Perhaps our society doesn’t see the accomplishments made by the African continent as being great enough, in comparison to those made by Europe? However, if that were true, I would say that we should not try to compare the accomplishments and characteristics of a society to another for the sake of some sort of critical evaluation. We need to take into consideration the events that a community, region, nation, and continent had to encounter throughout the course of history, as well as the resources that they are supplied with. As well, Mr. Gallagher ended the discussion by cementing Achebe’s motivation for writing the essay: the fact that Africans were there (in Heart of Darkness) only to show Europeans was Achebe’s main complaint. After hearing this, I understood that Achebe’s goal wasn’t to reveal racism’s prominent role in the novel, although undertones of racism were present. No, what Achebe was really trying to tell the reader was that he disapproved of Africa being used as a tool to reveal things about Europeans and Europe, instead of including the continent in the purest way and documenting its cultural practices and ways of its people.

In conclusion, I believe that Chinua Achebe provided a great analysis of how cultural ignorance can prevent a person from fully immersing themselves into a novel, and understanding the true message behind it. In terms of Heart of Darkness, I believe Achebe objected to the author’s ignorance of African culture, or, more rightly, his inability to focus on and report on the true aspects of the culture, instead of using the continent as a means with which he could only report on Europe’s progress.

R. Gallagher said...

from Brian Lam, who had trouble posting:

I always thought how an author’s story is subjected to so many interpretations. How do you know that the author mean what he intended to mean? What gets me wondering is how the story’s plot transforms so many opinions about the meaning of the text itself. This here, I believe, is where the art of literature lies. I believe that the stylistic writing of Conrad evokes multiple meanings, where the prose works as a catalyst to make reader’s think. Conrad’s prose “manipulates the text,” as one student commented. For example, Schneider says that the “relation between blindness and light is somehow bound up with women and femininity (476).” You can tell that Conrad is manipulating the text here because you don’t often associate feminism as light, and women as blindness. It is only when Conrad mentions in the text that made readers reconsider their own assumption on women and femininity. The manipulation of text that clarifies the confusion between the two entities shows the traditional view of women’s subjugation in society.
Sometimes the opinions of many people differ greatly, perhaps even sporadically. It takes a real analytical thinking to say that there is homosexuality desire in this book. When I read this, I cannot imagine myself picking that up. All along I thought the whole was simply racism and disempowerment. Andrew Roberts says that the “rhetorical and symbolic structure” would overshadow the “concealed narrative of male homosexual desire,” making many readers unable to see the different perspectives.
The psychological behavior of the characters in Heart of Darkness is interesting and complex. Just imagine how African women back in the 1800s feel when they see a white man coming to their home. The first encounter between different race and culture can be certainly frightening to many people. The difference between the characters of each individual is important because you may regard with different feeling than you do with people of your own kind. This is where racism starts.

Nidale Z. said...

(This might be a little choppy. Sorry.)

I think it was Josh who brought up the point about the painting’s torch representing the illumination that she was giving to those she raised, but was unable to use herself due to being blindfolded by society. I find this extremely thought-provoking – this whole idea that women, despite being unable to be successful on their own, raise their (male) children to be as successful as possible. As someone else (Alfonse?) mentioned, women are also mainly important in terms of men; like Africa (and, it seems, nearly every other non-European, non-male in this novella), women are presented very much as foils; they are the ideal that Europeans use to justify their imperialism. Essentially, European men in Heart of Darkness use this idea of women and their beautiful world (12) in order to give themselves an excuse to move forward and execute manifest destiny (which I thought was an argument Hong presented brilliantly). Again, this torch represents light, but sunlight can be “deceitful” and the torch light has a “sinister” effect on her face (480). Light is not always good; in this case, it appears Conrad believes that the Europeans think themselves almost godlike and truly believe themselves to be doing good – but I don’t think Conrad agrees. I think he, though not starkly anti-imperialistic, does not have the same level of confidence in imperialism as the rest of the Europeans seem to – and I think he expresses this through Marlow. Even Conrad’s representation of Kurtz’s mistress exposes his distrust of imperialism – as Schneider points out, Kurtz’s African mistress is described as having “something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress” (476).

There was one point that I didn’t get to bring up in class, but thought was vital to understanding the portrayal of women in Heart of Darkness. This whole idea of feminization of men, specifically of Marlow and the Russian, that Schneider brings up is especially intriguing when a missionary’s report in 1625 is taken into consideration. Apparently, in the Kingdom of Kongo, men were not as traditionally masculine as the Europeans expected. Jesuit João dos Santos reported that “Certayne Chibadi, which are men attired like Women, and behave themselves womanly, ashamed to be called men; are also married to men, and esteeme that unnatural damnation an honor” (which I found here). If Conrad did his research, he must have known this – after all, it is literally one of the only bits of information available on the internet about the Kongo’s social structure. I have to believe that the feminization of male characters “who become, at least momentarily, aligned with women” (476) was intentional on Conrad’s part – which, I feel, is essential to properly understanding the text.

I like this idea of foils that keeps getting brought up – Africa as a foil to Europe, men’s relationships with women as a foil to men’s relationships with other men, women as a foil to men. The juxtaposition present in Heart of Darkness makes this all the more believable. I think these foils and the injustice they represent should be applied to today’s world – as Joao mentioned, Heart of Darkness’s appeal lies not only in Conrad’s writing but in its validity in today’s society – can we also look at the United States of America in 2010 and see similar social disparities to those we see in the Congo in 1899? Though they are not necessarily identical societies, I feel that a novel like Heart of Darkness, which exposes social injustice whether Conrad meant for it to or not, must be read in terms of today’s society – in essence, the world the book presents must be a foil to our world in the same way Africa is a foil to Europe in the book.

Rachael S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachael S said...

PART TWO:
Going through the different blogs from Part One, I noticed a thought provoking question written in Alex’s blog. She asked the question: what is the point of literature?” She then answered the question with the idea that
“…literature is supposed to provoke thought on several levels…” She closed the idea with the thought that readers should “…try to get at all of the possibilities the book has offered.” In this case, I agree with Alex and her ideas about what literature is really all about. However, I also think that literature is simply just a way for the human mind to work and expand. We write stories to stretch our imaginations and teach others about new ideas and concepts. Fables and fairytales hold a pattern with a very similar ending, they always teach some type of moral or lesson. Like with the fables and fairytales, novels tend to have some type of underlying message just waiting to be interpreted by readers and analysts alike. After much thought, I’ve concluded that we should consider the author’s intent while reading a book. I think Francesca said it before, she said something similar to the idea that obviously we need to consider an author’s intention since they wrote the book to have their opinions heard, so why would we just disregard and ignore it? I agree with this view however, I feel that we need to be open to other people’s interpretations as well, since we all notice and take different things from books. It is our individuality as people that allow us to have our own ideas and thoughts about the literature we read.

Keeping this in mind, I think these opinions help us further analyze and understand what is really written in “Heart of Darkness”. We spoke about how racist Conrad is throughout the novella. We saw sufficient evidence from Achebe in his essay and the many examples to go along with his thesis. I agree with Achebe that Conrad was definitely racist but I also think we need to consider the time period Conrad lived in when he wrote “Heart of Darkness”. As readers, we need to cast aside our feelings about the world we live in now and basically absorb ourselves in the world that the author is trying to portray. Maybe, in comparison to others of his time, Conrad did not seem so racist towards others? I know racism is a central idea and theme throughout “Heart of Darkness” but I can’t help but think that there is actually another part of the novella that we are missing the point to. I feel as if our discussions of the book should not be so directed at this idea of racism because there are many other aspects of the book that we can discuss.


Specifically for “Heart of Darkness”, I think Conrad’s intent is very essential for interpretations of the book. Without knowing Conrad’s background story or the type of world he once lived in, I feel that we cannot truly see what he meant to convey about the “heart of darkness” in his novella.

João N. said...

During our first discussion, where we discussed Chinua Achebe’s “An Image of Africa,” we arrived at ethics and morality, and in subtle ways, we questioned if we should even read Heart of Darkness, and if it is acceptable that works like Joseph Conrad’s were even written. What stuck out to me the most was Alexandra’s opinion on the issue, which was that though we should not have censorship in writing, we should have standards as to how far we can go, since “some things are just not right.” Her position to me sounds a lot like advocacy for universal human rights, which in theory is an incredible thing, but it brings up several questions. Should we have an universal set of ethics? What can such a thing do to a culture? Who gets to set these standards?

As people agreed that standards must be set, we started referencing “eating babies.” I immediately made a connection to Things Fall Apart and the twin sacrifices depicted in the novel. Then, I remembered the majority of the blog posts that very clearly took a position against the invasion of the missionaries. This is why I think, theoretically, we are so against eating babies but not against sacrificing them: when we read Things Fall Apart, Achebe, being the amazing writer that he is, was able to connect with us. The structure of the book was set up so that we first learned about the culture, empathized with it, and although it will forever remain foreign to us, we at least understood what it meant for the natives. We then almost gave consent for the scarification of the babies, but during our discussion we condemned the practice, since killing infants is completely incongruous with our Westernized culture. So, I believe that censorship in writing is something that can not occur, because to censor anything is to censor someone’s cultural values. I agree with Rachel, who added by saying that there are “multiple truths,” and to censor what a writer can write is presupposing that our truth is superior. I am not sure that in today’s world we can bank on this universal human dialogue, if the entire world truly believes that genital mutilation is an infringement of women’s rights, if sati should be banned. Who am I to judge? These judgments have led to many invasions, Achebe’s example is just one of them. Did the missionaries have good intentions, and should they have the right to stop the twin sacrifices? Does it really matter, since it seemed to me like we all agree that it destroyed the natives’ culture?

This discussion definitely helped my analysis of Heart of Darkness, because afterwards the novella became an “opened book.” What I condemned as racist became multi-faceted, and I started looking more at the context of the novel’s setting to get my own conclusions. When, during the discussion I realized that we, living in America, have these very intrinsic exceptionalisit values, I started to suspend them so that I can start to understand what Conrad intended with Heart of Darkness. Not only what he intended, but what I think it means, and how can I apply what he depicts to the society I live in. Heart of Darkness sis such an abstract novel, and we can get so many interpretations out of it, and so I am very opposed to the idea of destroying the possibility of me getting something out of it through censorship. After this discussion, I looked at Marlow and the natives more deeply, paying more attention to context, so that the current society I live in doesn’t get in the way of what is the heart of the work.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KKatz said...

As I remember more of the discussions that we had in class and look at most of these blogs, I want to point out that for me the theme of dark versus light was after all, for this novel, happening inside each of us. What do we do when there are no constraints to profit and power? I wanted to bring up that question to ask everyone because we talked some about power and power over women and other cultures in the SRDs and some of us mentioned it in our blogs. I thought it was a good question to ask for me to better understand Heart of Darkness. I know that it helped me understand some of the things he wrote and why he wrote them. He had based a lot of what he was writing on what he knew, the european culture he came from, and where power was a big thing to people.
* * * *
Although a lot of people claimed to not understand or like Conrad's work, I found myself enjoying Conrad's word choice and character development. I particularly enjoyed Conrad's vagueness in his personal views. The class discussions and a lot of these posts helped me to see that Conrad's writing was a reflection of most of his thoughts and emotions and thats how most writing should be.
* * * *
I also feel the need to tell you guys that the discussions about the male views and masculinity gave way to my new connection about how Conrad’s pessimistic view of Man and world is sort of linked to scientific theories like Schopenhauer’s philosophy and Darwin’s evolutionism (survival of the fittest) - men were the "fittest" so to speak.

Gabby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gabby said...

Overall, I think Conrad did use good characterization, detail, and word choice in Heart of Darkness. As Xi said, in her earlier blog about how Conrad was basically trying to show the distant relationship between Europeans and Africans, the bond between Kurtz and Marlow, and the amount of respect for women. The idea allowed me to wonder about a deeper meaning behind the text and elaborate my thoughts. Conrad may not have been trying to offend anyone, but as said that's what a reader interprets! After all, (generally speaking)we as humans write to express ourselves, to show our feelings and what's on our minds.

I enjoyed what everyone had to say in the class discussions because it gave everyone the chance to explain their own interpretations on the novel and essays. I was also given the chance to better understand Heart of Darkness. Very intriguing.

I liked the essays assigned from the novel as well. To me, they were very interesting to read. Seeing all these different opinions, beliefs and interpretations. The essays by Achebe, Roberts, and Schneider helped me understand the moral of the story behind Heart of Darkness and wonder why Conrad wrote this novel, specifically this way.

Amanda N. said...

Part B:

Reading through the blogs, I thought that Hong had made a very insightful conclusion, in reference to how to dissect a piece of literature. She wrote of the reader’s responsibility to get to the heart of a text. To accomplish this, the reader would have to avoid focusing only on the elements they find most interesting or controversial within a text. More specifically, she wrote, “When you misconstrue a text as to construct your argument based upon 2-3 word quotations found among the text, and have them laid side by side to support the foundation of your argument (like Roberts did), the text becomes secondary, and the author’s (Roberts) interpretation becomes primary.” Basically, the manipulation of the text comes into play in that situation. As with any piece of literature, a reader can isolate certain words and phrases and use them to support their own argument, even if that argument isn’t actually presented in the text. As well, the reader would lose the purpose of reading the text as a complete text. The story and the plot becomes lost in a quest to dissect every sentence into having a higher purpose.

The ideal situation would be for a reader to set aside his/her own biases and beliefs when reading a text, and allow the text to speak honestly for itself. The reader shouldn’t expect too much from the text, anticipating something to mean more than it does. This reminds me of How To Read Literature Like a Professor, and the author’s adamance that even if a reader desperately wants something to be a symbol or have a deeper meaning, it isn’t always the case. Too often, we, as readers, allow our own desires to get in the way, and that prevents us from grasping the true meaning behind a text and what the author is trying to say. After all, isn’t the author’s intention the most important motivation behind reading? People buy an author’s book because they want to see things from their perspective, as well as how creatively they present ideas and plot to us, the audience. As well, Hong went on to ask, “What would be the point of reading a text and not getting across what the author wants but what you want?” which I find to be absolutely true. Like I said earlier, a reader’s perspective, as to what the text should be about, can skew the author’s original intention for writing the text. What I wonder in regards to this is how, exactly, the reader should make interpretations of the text? A reader’s interpretations and ideas of the author’s intent could be completely off the mark, or it could be absolutely correct. I think that that is the beauty behind reading literature: the reader can take the text to mean whatever he/she wants, and that can ultimately enhance the reading experience and get the person thinking. That being said, it would be unfortunate to miss the author’s message in a work of literature. However, a reader wouldn’t know the author’s intention for sure.

In conclusion, I feel that Hong made a valid point with regards to the hazards that come along with dissecting a piece of literature. When a reader goes about dissecting a work, he/she can become lost in his/her own belief of what the text means, neglecting the author’s overall message and the story’s direction. It’s always important to take cues from the author’s words to understand what the message is.

10zin said...

Reading these blogs and the essays about “Heart of Darkness” in our SRDs, reveals how each one of us perceive information very differently and how it conveys a different feeling toward each one of us. Although Conrad, may not have intended to come off as a racists or homophobic we have to understand the environment and the type of situation he grew up in. With Conrad's magnificent use of figurative language and imagery clearly shows that he is a brilliant writer. Yet, I agree where Achebe is coming from. He feels that “Heart of Darkness” was written to attack his culture, therefore he thought it was essential to defend it. Just like Xi stated that she would also get offended if her culture roots were being attacked. I know I get VERY defensive and sensitive when issues about my culture and country arise. Conrad did have a right to write what he wanted because as Rachel said "Say what you want and not because what is acceptable," and Kristina's comment " We should be allowed to express ideas because they are just, ideas."
Overall, I think we should all keep an open mind when reading and also in life. Just because you see something in one light doesn’t mean you can’t see it in another light. The SRDs we had in class definitely helped me understand “Heart Of Darkness” way better and it also showed everyone’s different insight on the book, the author, and the essays. As readers we also shouldn’t ignore the author’s intentions because like in “How To Read Literature Like A Professor”, Foster states that everything has a reason behind it.

kisla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kisla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kisla said...

(Part B)
I guess by now I have to come to a realization that I can’t really get away from Heart of Darkness even if it is a pain for me to pick apart especially since it’s not my favorite kind of writing. Although I don’t consider Heart of Darkness as a “leisurely read”, I have to admit that the ideas and controversial topics presented in the book are very thought provoking and may as well be applied to today’s society (as mentioned by Nidale and Joao). Nidale poses the question of whether or not we can “look at the United States of America in 2010 and see similar social disparities to those we see in the Congo in 1899?” I feel that if we compared the “social disparities” in America now to those in the Congo in 1899, it might seem a little drastic and far-fetched, but the comparison can still be accurate. For example racism, homosexuality and feminism are still present in our world today though they are not “hidden” as they were before. Our world now is so much more open than it might’ve been in 1899. Because of the different “foils” that constantly appear in Heart of Darkness, it is reasonable to conclude that the same foils may be applied to our world today. Joao’s intent seemed to be focused more on censorship in literature and whether we “Should we have a universal set of ethics?” I completely agree with the fact that if censorship was present in the novella, then I wouldn’t have opened my mind to such an array of possibilities that may be interpreted from the text such as social disparities, racism, and homosexuality. So, I have to come to a total agreement with Joao and say that I would feel robbed if these authors were censored to what they could or could not say which would ultimately prevent me from furthering my own analysis of Heart of Darkness. What Rogers’, Schneider’s, and Achebe’s essays did for me was enlighten my thinking process by constantly making me realize “wow I didn’t see that as I was reading the book!” I guess that can be seen as a way of the authors manipulating the text (Rachael) but it can also be seen as a way for the authors to introduce a new way of thinking as we read the book. I know that when I read literature for the first time, I am only limited to my own thinking process and my own opinions; but when discussions are made (SRD’s) and other opinions are presented (such as the authors’ opinions), I feel as though my intellectual capacity is expanded and I am much more able to understand the work of literature in depth than when I was limited to only MY ideas.

AlfonseF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee S. said...

After reading the blogs from part A, I noticed that three of my peers made statements that I felt were important to my interpretation of Heart of Darkness. To begin, Rachel reflected on the class discussion in which we talked about the author’s intent. Mr. Gallagher brought this question to our attention and it made me think. I asked in my last blog if others thought that Conrad intended for us to pick up on traces of feminism, racism, and homosexuality. I don’t think authors write a novel based on a theme or future interpretation. A few days ago, I stated that I felt as though interpreting a book and tearing it apart can almost ruin it. I realize now that the more interpretation a novel gets, “the more the book captivates people and makes them think,” as Alfonse stated.

I want to reiterate Kristina’s comment of “say what you want and not what is acceptable.” The truth of the matter is, ideas are just ideas. Simply put…right? Wrong. Though I agree with Kristina and Rachel, our society may not view such an opinion as “correct.” Keeping an open mind is something I definitely learned while reading Heart of Darkness. Especially after reading all of the essays and blogs. I know it this idea has been stated a lot, but I think its because we all agree that keeping an open mind is so important.

When Nidale explained that we, as Westerners, view Africa in regards to our country and Europe, I found myself nodding along. In fact she probably noticed my exceeded amount of head nodding. Grasping this concept really helped me understand Heart of Darkness. Africa was used as a backdrop for the novella, which automatically eliminated the African as characters. In fact, they were noted as “cannibals.” Achebe, who is also the author of Things Fall Apart, was offended and yet he still compliments Conrad on his success. I would love to see what Conrad would write about Things Fall Apart.

Kristina posed the question “What do we do when there are no constraints to profit and power?” I think that the world would be a jumbled mess to be honest. We have socially, culturally, mentally and physically have adapted to our ways of life, as have the Europeans and other cultures around the world. This ties back to the painting of The Intended. She is wearing a blindfold and therefore is impaired. Though she holds the torch, the light is not always good. In context, Conrad believes as Nidale stated, “the Europeans think themselves almost godlike and truly believe themselves to be doing good.” Lets imagine for a moment that The Intended was not wearing a blindfold. This would change the idea of feminism and spin it in the complete opposite direction. The blindfold is a constraint to the women’s power in society. This can be related to America as we have not had a female president. Women are capable of the same concepts as men but are automatically seen unsuitable for the job. Thinking about the interpretations that would result if The Intended was not blindfolded helps me understand Heart of Darkness.

Alex Math said...

I want to expand on Tenzin's pondering of the idea of foil in Conrad's novel because I believe that she touches upon a concept that can actually explain not just something about the book but also hint at Conrad's intention in writing the novel.

I believe that Conrad uses Africans and women as well, as a foil to highlight the best feature of Marlow: 1) the fact that he is male. I also think that Conrad uses the effects of Africa on Kurtz 2) to show how much better he believes Europe to be.

1) The woman in the painting, the African woman, even “the Intended” all have one essential thing in common: they lack power in some form. The woman in the painting lacks power as she is not able to see the light she casts since she is blindfolded. To me the light represents power and as she cannot see the power that is right in front of her, the woman is powerless. The African woman Marlow sees does not speak, something that she has in common with “the Intended” of Marlow's imagination, therefore leaving them both powerless to speak up for themselves. Marlow comments both on his adoration of “the Intended” and of how potent/ominous he views the African woman to be. Essentially, Marlow loves the painting, is in love with his idealized version of “the Intended”, and does not think badly of the African woman. All because they are all powerless. Their own weakness ends up highlighting the opposite in Marlow and in Kurtz as they both converses easily and are considered powerful men (Kurtz in the ivory field and Marlow on the boat).

2) Kurtz virtually loses himself in Africa. He is found in Africa, sickly, on the brink of death and in the end he does die. This can be compared to the beginning of the book in which we learn os Kurtz's accomplishments in the ivory field, of his genius as a painter, of his oratorical skills. This basically is saying that in Europe, sanity is the norm and it is a place where health, both physical and mental, can flourish. It is also stating that Africa is the opposite, a place where all sanity and intellectual thought goes out the window as primal instincts take over. And that Africa is the literal kiss of death to driven and masculine European men.

My belief is that Conrad wrote the novel to cement the ideology that European men are the ideals. I also think that HoD is a novel that should be read because of Conrad's ingenious literary techniques and structures he uses in order to make his point. Where he gets ridiculed is that he had to make such a commentary at the expense of the opposite sex and of Africans.

Joshua said...

I am completely enthralled with the idea that Rachel brought up in her post, regarding the topics of censorship and the significance of the author’s intent throughout the given piece of literature, in addition to this whole idea that we are called to be more than just tourists by authors. To reiterate some of the conclusions that were drawn in class that day, some of us agreed that the author’s intent was important to an extent, yet over analyzing it would be ineffectual, and even detrimental to the reading process, as that would hinder the ability of the reader to interpret the text on a personal level. Still, other’s persisted that the only way to get a complete and accurate understanding of the text, was to totally put aside those individual rationalizations, and focus only on the intent of the author. I personally feel that both sides are correct; however I also believe that this depends profoundly on two variables: the first one being the type of literature being read, and the second, why it is being read. I brought this example up in class, when I said that if one were to engage in the reading of a book on the issue of Marxism versus Capitalism for a history class, then clearly the author’s intent would undoubtedly supersede that of the reader. On the other hand, was the example of Frank O’ Hara’s poem, Having a Coke with You which may have very well been intended for a man, namely his partner, seeing as O’Hara was in fact a homosexual, however this fact should not take away from the ability of the reader to translate the same poem in a context that is relevant to them, whether it be for a loved one of any gender, a friend, or even if it is solely looked at for its allusions to famous works of art, or its captivating imagery.

Now, going back to what Rachel said, I could not agree more that most authors in fact want their readers to leave behind the days of tourism, and take up permanent residency in the homes that they have built. However, like any home, after it is purchased furniture, and other decorum must be added in order to personalize the house, and set it apart from the others. Authors want for their readers to continuously bring to mind the beauty and intricateness of that home, but more importantly, what it is that set the home apart to that reader in particular, what made it so extraordinary to them, and why the next reader can observe that same house, and find it thoroughly exceptional for an entirely different reason. Keeping this in mind, I am able to better understand Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in that it is a story that accentuates the very character of Conrad himself, and the society in which he lived. Taking into account all the different aspects that we discussed (racism, sexism, homosexuality), in addition to the occasional importance of the kairotic moment, it is clear that Conrad utilized the novella as a means of self-expression.

Philip said...

Like many others here, the essays we read have certainly enlightened me to some extent regarding Heart of Darkness. They elaborated upon some very possibly major themes or ideas that managed to slip under the radar for me, like it did with many others. Still, something Mr. Gallagher said in class is still sticking in the back of my head. He said something along the lines that sometimes, we are just plain wrong. I wouldn’t disagree with that, since we’re all just fleshy meat bags (known wholesomely as humans) anyway. But a statement like that certainly makes me treat these essays with a grain of salt. The ideas contained with them are certainly possible and well supported through their words, but they are not infallible. Still, as mentioned previously, the ability for the text to be deciphered in so many ways demonstrates its flexibility.

That very asset is what makes it one of the “great” pieces of literature. A flexible book can be approached from so many sides and angles, that a geometry specialist may need to get involved to clear out the mess. But this mess is what I feel makes it great – for it to be able to generated so much controversy and popularity, and to perpetuate arguments between intellectuals is what I consider a great book is capable of. Heart of Darkness just does this so well with the dodgy issues that it encompasses, like imperialism, a practice generally no longer done since there’s nearly nowhere left worth imperializing and thus it generates interest from those interested in history. Human morality too is explored in Heart of Darkness, gathering the interests of readers focused on psychology. Gender, racism, homosexuality, all arguably have their place in the book, and so its audience is expanded even further. Intended or not, the issues that the book tackles (or more like bumps into) are so wide in scope that many people from all walks of life are able to zoom in and find something that can relate to them, propel their minds, or simply just intrigue them. That would be great literature, I’d suppose, and Heart of Darkness generally fits the bill.

This further helps my own analysis of the book because it’s actually going to help my poem. Since so many themes and ideas are present, I believe I’ll be able to pull almost anything from the book and have myself some half decent lines. At first, I thought for the poem project, I’d concentrate on only a few subjects and elaborate on them. But instead, now that I am all too aware of how many ideas are contained in the book, I might try for something a little more complex. Many themes and topics overlap or connect in some way, and If I could pull that off in a poem that results would probably be very pleasing. Of course, though, easier said than done. Much easier.

Nidale Z. said...

Despite what I said the other day, our discussions (and Hong/Renee’s insightful comments – that we tend to dissect literature until we are “just looking at the things we WANT to see as opposed to what we SHOULD see”) have convinced me that despite our attachment to our own interpretation of text, the author’s intention is essential to understanding said text. Over-manipulating it renders it meaningless. Virtually any text can be broken down into its cells, which can be rearranged into whatever the reader wishes to see. While I still believe that whatever the reader projects onto the text is very revealing about said reader, I think it says much less about the text itself.

However, at certain points, even the most brilliant author may subconsciously imbed messages that he did not mean to in his text. I buy Achebe’s argument, for the most part; there is nothing more clear in Heart of Darkness (except for maybe Kurtz’s insanity) than the racism portrayed on nearly every page. And I buy Schneider’s argument. Women do tend to represent purity and light, and the fact that in this particular work they are so blinded that they cannot see this light is also evident; even more evident is Marlow’s fear of women suddenly having a literal voice (which I think was something Alex brought up in class). I even buy Roberts’ argument. Most of his points (specifically those about the pattern of unknown tending to represent homosocial/homosexual behavior, especially in terms of Marlow and Kurtz, and especially the entirety of the last paragraph [461-462]) are valid and believable – though I do not believe that Conrad intended all of the evidence that Roberts used be interpreted the way Roberts did. Still, it fits, but I have some doubts as to whether or not it was intentional.

Alex and Joao both mentioned that we must understand what knowing what the author is saying in order to understand the text; I most definitely agree with this. As Philip said, thinking of Conrad’s intent actually helps us to further analyze the novel much more than projecting our own beliefs onto Conrad’s words would. Considering his beliefs and opinions before our own helps us put the book in better perspective. I actually feel that this is where Achebe fails in his essay – he takes Heart of Darkness too personally. Yes, I understand that racism is vile and that Achebe’s emotions are justified – but he does not remain as objective as he should when speaking about a subject that is clearly close to heart. I question the wisdom of writing the essay at all. The one revised paragraph (344) specifically shows Achebe’s bias, as does the point where he brings up his African upbringing – I have to wonder how much he would care if Heart of Darkness were about indigenous Australians or South Americans.

I think what we must take from our discussions is not that writers use patterns (because Conrad clearly has, even if we/the writers of the essays are not interpreting them “correctly” or as Conrad intended), because we know that already; what is new to us is that they are somewhat obscure patterns (especially in terms of Roberts and homosexuality), that writers tend to use the same patterns in multiple texts, and that different writers often use the same patterns. Both Schneider (discussing another work of art in a different text that is also written by Conrad and also happens to be a woman holding a torch and acting as something of a trophy [477]) and Roberts (in his discussion of Sedgwick’s observations of Billy Budd, which implies homosexuality through word choice, and the almost identical word choice that Conrad uses to describe Kurtz [458-459]) explicitly point this out. I feel that we must now apply this idea to everything we read. It all goes back to that idea of intertextuality – for everything to be a part of the same huge story, there must be some connecting factor, and I think the similar patterns that continuously pop up in literature do serve to connect the individual parts.

Brian said...

I like to elaborate on Josh’s interpretation adapted by Nidale about the “torch’s illumination that the woman was unable too use herself” in society. I believe that some women in Africa had to sacrifice themselves to help their children survive. Women were blindfolded maybe because they did not see anything good to live for, except raising their children. I find that this moment is very inspirational since it helps me look into myself more directly. Should we sacrifice ourselves for the greater good of humanity? This idea connects more to individual serving the nation through military.
I agree with you Josh that the “first one being the type of literature being read, and the second, why it is being read.” I think this idea is what separates the difference between language and literature (I mean English classes). Language would take on a more personal level where the argument is its facilitator. For literature, it involves more of the big picture for all aspects of what the story itself represents. I tend to believe that “everything is an argument” in Language in contrast to Literature where little or no argument is involve.
The tricky part of writing literature is that you have to keep pace with the themes that you want to present, while keeping pace with the plot development. Authors that can pull off so many ideas in a structure manner are incredible. You may have very good themes, but how to develop those themes in an orderly fashion is the hard part. In short, writing literature requires lots of “lateral thinking” according to Thomas Foster.

R. Gallagher said...

for Hong, who had trouble posting:

PART II.

“Heart of Darkness…must be read in terms of today’s society – in essence, the world the book presents must be a foil to our world in the same way Africa is a foil to Europe in the book..”

YES.YES.YES. Nidale’s comment was so profoundly articulated and connected. In esscence, society always dictates the type of literature produced. Whether the piece of work is a backlash against society, discussing societal structure, or pro- society. The environment of a writer almost will always dictate the type of writing produced. This thought was also supplemented by Mr. Gallagher who pointed out to me that most modernist writers were actually abroad engaged in WWII when their famous piece of works were produced (Hemmingway, Pound, T.S. Elliot). We read literature only to compare and examine it against our own beliefs and thoughts, which are evidently influenced and projected by society. Humans have an innate nature to naturally compare everything, that is why there were waves of shock and horror as images of racism and cannibalism were displayed in Conrad‘s work. Although Conrad’s society was set around the early 1900’s, distanced by a century or so of change and revolution of today‘s society, there are still similar social structures still intact.

The evolution of imperialism and manifest destiny still resonates today. The United States is a perfect example of imperialism. Evidence of our firm belief in spreading our democracy and politics could be found in Africa, Vietnam, and some parts of Latin America. Racism still exists, although not socially accepted, issues of race and ethnicity, even religion are constantly are being projected. We live in a world of white supremacists. Boldly stated, but true, look at the ideals of Christianity integrated in our politics- same sex marriage is one. We have “under God” in our pledge of allegiance. Western ideals of ethics, culture, and beauty are advertised globally through American magazines, advertisements, and products. Look at Coke and MacDonalds. Going back to Nidale’s comment about how HOD is a foil to society, which makes us, as readers, examine ourselves against the backdrop of our culture and environment. Like Alex once said, we read to know and learn more about ourselves, as literature forces us to understand by comparison.

Heart of Darkness was a foil, a foil to understand why humans think of racism and savagery. The actions of the characters in the novella are true in nature of our natural reaction to things in which we find savage to us (Joao). Conrad explores the complexity of human nature to react so savagely to things in which they themselves found savage. See the flaw? HOD was a foil to understand the romanticization and blinded ignorance (through women) in which Europeans used as an excuse to further their selfish and inconsiderate acts of manifest destiny. In the process revealing the shallowness and idealism projected upon women in society, and their “passivity” as responses to the subjugation. Conrad, maybe he intended or maybe he did not, served the greater responsibility of literature, in which he produced a work so other human beings could use to further explain OURSELVES. That is why we write, to learn and to understand.

xi said...

Part B
In the first blog, Nidale talked about how although the portrait of the women represents European power and their godlike views of themselves, Conrad does not agree. I agree with Nidale on Conrad’s anti-Imperialistic views, because towards the end of the book, Marlow found his boatsman, an African, to be human. He saw the Africans’ strength as they rowed the boat and even mourned when his boatman died. However at the same, Conrad also portrays Africa as a place of insanity where people are unmotivated to do work, which presents Africa as a foil to Europe where people are successful. This connects to how these patterns( race, femininity, or imperialism) occur in the book, but depends on how the reader interprets it.

As Joao said, HOD appeals are not in Conrad’s writing but in the way it connects to today’s world. Racism and feminism exists in today’s society but in different forms. The way that Conrad portrays the world in HOD makes people think more of today’s world, the improvements compared to HOD and what can be done to change it. This goes along with what Hong said how it doesn’t matter if the reader agrees with the author’s point, the point is that conrad’s writing is inescapable in the reader’s mind now. If an idea has made a difference in the reader, it allows the reader to see a different perspective in today’s society, possibly for the better. Although Mr.Gallagher disagrees with reading like a professor, I think it is necessary to use some of tips to accurately understand a text or else readers will absolutely interpret it differently.

The blogs, class discussions, and essays have helped me notice the ideas presented by Conrad and the different methods of interpreting it. Although I don’t know what exactly what Conrad wanted to say about race, homosexuality, or feminism, I now see it and can relate it to today’s society. It has allowed me to realize there are multiple surfaces and layers to a text, but readers can interpret it differently.

xi said...

Part B
In the first blog, Nidale talked about how although the portrait of the women represents European power and their godlike views of themselves, Conrad does not agree. I agree with Nidale on Conrad’s anti-Imperialistic views, because towards the end of the book, Marlow found his boatsman, an African, to be human. He saw the Africans’ strength as they rowed the boat and even mourned when his boatman died. However at the same, Conrad also portrays Africa as a place of insanity where people are unmotivated to do work, which presents Africa as a foil to Europe where people are successful. This connects to how these patterns( race, femininity, or imperialism) occur in the book, but depends on how the reader interprets it.

As Joao said, HOD appeals are not in Conrad’s writing but in the way it connects to today’s world. Racism and feminism exists in today’s society but in different forms. The way that Conrad portrays the world in HOD makes people think more of today’s world, the improvements compared to HOD and what can be done to change it. This goes along with what Hong said how it doesn’t matter if the reader agrees with the author’s point, the point is that conrad’s writing is inescapable in the reader’s mind now. If an idea has made a difference in the reader, it allows the reader to see a different perspective in today’s society, possibly for the better. Although Mr.Gallagher disagrees with reading like a professor, I think it is necessary to use some of tips to accurately understand a text or else readers will absolutely interpret it differently.

The blogs, class discussions, and essays have helped me notice the ideas presented by Conrad and the different methods of interpreting it. Although I don’t know what exactly what Conrad wanted to say about race, homosexuality, or feminism, I now see it and can relate it to today’s society. It has allowed me to realize there are multiple surfaces and layers to a text, but readers can interpret it differently.

xi said...

Part B
In the first blog, Nidale talked about how although the portrait of the women represents European power and their godlike views of themselves, Conrad does not agree. I agree with Nidale on Conrad’s anti-Imperialistic views, because towards the end of the book, Marlow found his boatsman, an African, to be human. He saw the Africans’ strength as they rowed the boat and even mourned when his boatman died. However at the same, Conrad also portrays Africa as a place of insanity where people are unmotivated to do work, which presents Africa as a foil to Europe where people are successful. This connects to how these patterns( race, femininity, or imperialism) occur in the book, but depends on how the reader interprets it.

As Joao said, HOD appeals are not in Conrad’s writing but in the way it connects to today’s world. Racism and feminism exists in today’s society but in different forms. The way that Conrad portrays the world in HOD makes people think more of today’s world, the improvements compared to HOD and what can be done to change it. This goes along with what Hong said how it doesn’t matter if the reader agrees with the author’s point, the point is that conrad’s writing is inescapable in the reader’s mind now. If an idea has made a difference in the reader, it allows the reader to see a different perspective in today’s society, possibly for the better. Although Mr.Gallagher disagrees with reading like a professor, I think it is necessary to use some of tips to accurately understand a text or else readers will absolutely interpret it differently.

The blogs, class discussions, and essays have helped me notice the ideas presented by Conrad and the different methods of interpreting it. Although I don’t know what exactly what Conrad wanted to say about race, homosexuality, or feminism, I now see it and can relate it to today’s society. It has allowed me to realize there are multiple surfaces and layers to a text, but readers can interpret it differently.

João N. said...

In her post, Hong argues that the “bold’ interpretations of a text create a “psychological effect” that “taint[s] our own interpretations.” I am inclined to disagree that the interpretations she refers to is a form of manipulation. Achebe, Roberts, and Schneider do not necessarily argue for a universal way to interpret the novel, instead, they offer a new perspective with which we can read the novel, and analyze how it is relevant today (Achebe’s theory that works like Heart of Darkness create an internalized racism) and how it was relevant at the time of the author (maybe Conrad was making a comment on “the psychic and social exploitation of women” (Roberts 455)).

Going off from this idea that these works merely offer a different lens with which to analyze the novel (and like glasses, we can switch these lenses pretty easily), I especially liked when we discussed women and their roles in both Heart of Darkness and in our contemporary world. Nidale’s insight on women being “foil to men,” which I believe originated from Alfonse, opened my eyes to how salient feminism is to Heart of Darkness, and how the painting shows us that “the female body serves as an ‘abstract dummy’ for Western society’s most outstanding ideals” (Conrad 479). Though I ultimately agree with this statement by the author, I also really like Nidale’s and Rene’s interpretation, which both seem to hint that the painting and other portrayals of women in the novel are used to project an empowered image of masculinity and the submission and ignorance of the feminine.

Building off from what many said about the painting—that it represents some negative aspect or another about women—I think that my own interpretation comes from a hybrid of ideas from Nidale, Alfonse, Josh, and Schneider herself. Like my classmates, I believe that the ultimate intention of the painting is to portray women as the insignificant Other, and it is a pretty good representation of how women function in relation to men. The painting shows that a woman can only come in contact with light, or power, which is symbolized by the torch, by being blindfolded, which is a way of saying that only men are capable of even seeing the light, and the blindfolded woman, who needs guidance since she cannot see, can only come in contact with the light, but she can never truly use it. So yes, I do think that women are used as a foil to men, the painting to me shows their dependence on men’s ability to see the light. I also see though, that this is only possible due to Schneider’s claim that the female body is an ideal “dummy,” which makes sense since “functioning as a female is not enough to define woman” (De Beauvoir).

I really enjoyed these discussions, and they were very helpful to my analysis for very obvious reasons: they created a connection between my thoughts, my classmates’ thoughts, and the essayists’ thoughts. In this interlocution of ideas, I was able to look at Heart of Darkness with feminism in mind, and arrive to some pretty worthwhile conclusions.

francesca said...

Philip brought up a good point about how books that suggest an idea are just as bad as actually following through with it. In Heart Of Darkness, Conrad offended many different social groups. ( or so it seems because of the essay's.) Conrad's Heart Of Darkness portrays ideas of racsism, sexism, and homophics that all have deeper meanings. That is why it is hard to understand why Conrad's novella is seen as a great work of writing. Achebe believes this story should be banned because of the simple rascism it provokes. In today's society thigns are much different obviously, however, there will always be an underlying idea of racism.

Connecting this idea to other works of literature, I remember reading Catcher and the Rye by J.D Salinger, which was banned following the time it was published. This was because it wrote against society at the time; conformity. However, this is also a great piece of work because of the way it protests society.

However, at the time, Heart Of Darkness did not go against society, it was saying the same things everyone was thinking. The three major criticisms have always been grand issues in society, and probably always will be.

The only people who want it to be banned or think bad about it are those who are directly attacked by the images and descriptions he detests. Heart Of Darkness is a great piece of literature no matter if it brings negative ideas because that's what books are meant to do. Present an idea to us and see what happens.

AlfonseF said...

This might be a little bit late, but i just realised that i accidently deleted my Part B post a few weeks ago. But here is what i had to say anyway.

During the student run discussion that took place on wednesday, Hong elaborated on an idea that women were foils. I really liked her analysis on the subject, because she gave her thoughts on how women had roles, but said roles were only good to assist men in different ways, showing that women just had the purpose of showing men in a brigher light.

Another comment that cought my attention during the student run discussions was what Philip had to say on the idea that Marlow was homosexual. Philip said that he believes that Marlow's relationship and feelings towards Kurtz were solely based off of respect and envy, rather than desire, and that the author of the essay was reading a tad bit too far into the text. I would have to say that i completely agree with Philip about Marlow's relationship with Kurtz only being based off of respect, because it is clear throughout his descriptions of Kurtz that he holds the man in such a high regard.

Lastly, there were a few comments made by my classmates about how interpreting a text can destroy it. After hearing these views, it made me think that interpreting a text can be a good thing, and though a reader should pay attention to what the author is trying to say, they should also incorporate their on views and mix them with what the authhor has to say. This makes the reader relate to the text in a deeper way, and overall, makes the reading experience more enjoyable.

AlfonseF said...

This might be a little bit late, but i just realised that i accidently deleted my Part B post a few weeks ago. But here is what i had to say anyway.

During the student run discussion that took place on wednesday, Hong elaborated on an idea that women were foils. I really liked her analysis on the subject, because she gave her thoughts on how women had roles, but said roles were only good to assist men in different ways, showing that women just had the purpose of showing men in a brigher light.

Another comment that cought my attention during the student run discussions was what Philip had to say on the idea that Marlow was homosexual. Philip said that he believes that Marlow's relationship and feelings towards Kurtz were solely based off of respect and envy, rather than desire, and that the author of the essay was reading a tad bit too far into the text. I would have to say that i completely agree with Philip about Marlow's relationship with Kurtz only being based off of respect, because it is clear throughout his descriptions of Kurtz that he holds the man in such a high regard.

Lastly, there were a few comments made by my classmates about how interpreting a text can destroy it. After hearing these views, it made me think that interpreting a text can be a good thing, and though a reader should pay attention to what the author is trying to say, they should also incorporate their on views and mix them with what the authhor has to say. This makes the reader relate to the text in a deeper way, and overall, makes the reading experience more enjoyable.