[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 29, Issue 14_Achebe on Conrad_perspectives on content

Sumantra Nag sumantranag at gmail.com
Tue Aug 18 05:20:43 PDT 2009

Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>
Subject: [ilds] Takes, Message: 4, Sat, 15 Aug 2009

"I mentioned earlier Chinua Achebe's article on Conrad's /Heart of
Darkness /(1899), ..."

I've read Achebe's paper on Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' ('An Image of 
Africa: Racism in Corad's Heart of Darkness', from "Hopes and Impediments: 
Selected Essays 1965-1987", pp1-13, Random House, New York). And also a 
paper by Bruce Fleming 'Brothers Under the Skin: Achebe on Heart of 
Darkness' from 'College Literature', Oct92-Feb93, Vol 19/20 Issue 

I would say that in the 20th (and by extension in the 21st) century even a 
title like "The Nigger of the Narcissus" (Joseph Conrad) would sound racist 
to an Asian or African reader - or perhaps I should say Asian or African 
ear. Certainly the very use of the word Nigger still sounds racist even in 
this literary conyext. The same would apply to at least some, if not every 
passage quoted by Achebe from Heart of darkness in his essay on Conrad's 
racism. Conrad was writing in the 19th century for a totally European 
audience. Achebe's assessment of 'Heart of Darkness' and his strong charges 
of racism against Conrad can undoubtedly be reviewed objectively. But even 
after that is done, I would question the view that the content of a novel 
and its social aspects don't matter, if form or the overall effect on the 
reader is attractive in other ways. Here I would quote your own response to 
Grove about Lolita:

"But I'm very queasy about an elderly Humbert Humbert chasing among an 
underaged "nymphet," as though the undertaking were one of the  Russian's 
butterfly hunts.  I'm about as shocked as Mountolive was  when he stumbled 
on a brothel of child prostitutes." (Bruce, Message: 10 Issue 13, Sun, 16 
Aug 2009)

Does the American setting of Lolita have anything to do with this reaction? 
While the casual mention of child brothels, Cavafy's boys and "...five 
sexes.." in Alexandria is inoffensive because of the location's physical and 
cultural distance? Just a bit of acceptable "exoticism" and background 
colour in the sea of "aestheticism" which is Durrell's writing? (I'm sorry 
Bruce, I hope I'm not putting this across too strongly, but you have been 
very strong about Achebe's attack on Conrad and impatient with all mention 
of what you might call an "Egyptian point of view" or a local Alexandrian 
perspective with regard to the Alexandria Quartet.)

In his essay 'Brothers Under the Skin: Achebe on Heart of Darkness', Bruce 
Fleming notes:

"(...we may come to the conclusion that a work is bad for reasons of content 
as well as form...)..All literature exists in time; it fades in and out of 
correctness...In the confrontation between Achebe and Conrad, therefore, it 
seems that we must be sympathetic with both sides".

To dismiss criticism of a literary creation because it is made on the basis 
of content or ideology, it seems, is to narrow one's own basis for 
judgement. After all one point of view does not obliterate the other - it 
adds another dimension. And who is to judge which dimension is unacceptable?


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