September 18, 2012
-Thesis of course: loss in relationship to melancholy and mourning; and the
crisis of language
-T.S. Eliot argues that modern lit. has to be difficult because our culture is a
-Barthes says there are texts of pleasure and bliss. The texts in this class are
-Pleasure: Not challenging
-Bliss: Challenging texts. “the text that imposes a state of loss, the
text that discomforts (unsettles the readers historical, cultural, psy-
chological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memo-
ries*) brings to a crisis his relation with language” Barthes
-*text of bliss somehow disrupts your own memories, makes you
rethink your past, rethink the story that you have told of your
own life. disrupt the way you’ve been led to believe things
-interpretation is a way of working through loss so it is mourning.
-modern text will make us feel anxious: intensely self aware that we’re read-
ing and that we’re up against the thickness of a certain kind of language.
-Bataille: “literature is dangerous”
-Modernist texts are resistant. They don’t invite themselves easily to be in-
-Heart of Darkness tells you how to read it, which closes off possibilities.
Need to figure out how to resist the texts, read them in a way they don’t
want to be read
-Motto of class: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
-We can only think in terms of what our language gives us; we can only
read the world through the language we have. If we don’t have a word
to describe an experience, that experience runs the risk of slipping
-Marlow runs up against the limits of his language. Kurtz represents
the unknowability, the unnameable. Marlow’s attempt is to find the
appropriate means to narrate his experience with Kurtz.
-THere are certain experiences that can not be captured in language,
therefore these things stand outside our world.
-Heart of Darkness is a crisis narrative. The crisis is of language. Crisis
of narrative itself, because there are certain experiences that can not
-Those experiences that can not be narrated, often in modernism are
the ones the need to be narrated. These are the ones that we need to
experience and understand. -First World War, Second World War, Holocaust: events that we
know we need to comprehend but we can’t, because we don’t
have the words to describe it
-“Language is not just one of man’s possessions in the world; rather, on lan-
guage depends the fact that man has a world at all” Gadamer 1960 Truth
-What happens to a person, to a subject, who is deprived of language,
who can’t talk?
-Those who control language control the world. Those who are voice-
less in every sense of that term have no power - Gadamer.
-We need to wonder about this idea when we read Marlow. Does Mar-
low have the means to narrate his experience?
-Narrative: means to tell, but also to know. A narrative is a way of coming to
comprehend the world. If you’re deprived of narrative you’re deprived of the
means of understanding your experience.
-Our knowledge of the world is largely narrative based. Stories are every-
where and serve functions of knowledge.
-There are ways of understanding your experience.
- If you’re deprived of the means by which to narrate, what happens to the
value of that experience? The experience is lost.
-Heart of Darkness is complicated text.
-Marlow comes up against an experience he can’t understand. He can’t
quite tell the story but he can transform himself into the carrier of the
memory of Kurtz. He can narrate some aspect of it, and in this sense
Marlow becomes a kind of archive in which Kurtz is kept alive.
-Marlow is a melancholy archive. He’s containing the dead within his
-In some ways Marlow becomes Kurtz; the dead are speaking through
him. He transforms himself into a voluntary archive.
-Certain details about Conrad’s life that might be important:
-He’s Polish, not English.
-Has reputation as one of the purest, most beautiful prose writ-
ers in English yet he isn’t English. He perceived himself as a
kind of outsider. Although he was the best writer of english, his
spoken english was marked, in his view by an almost impenetra-
ble Polish accent. In his view, he felt his accent marginalized
him -- radically other-ed him. Is it accidental that in his major
works, there is always an other or an outsider in place? In every
one of these texts of his, the outsider is marked by voice. The
voice itself becomes the major theme of Conrad’s major novels.
-Modernism is an international phenomenon, not something that just
occurred to one place.
-Conrad and “Voice” What Heart of Darkness does for us
1.It thematizes the idea of narrative and experience. It’s all about the rela-
tionship of experience and the story of that experience. It is about the fail-
ure for narrative to meet up with and encompass experience properly. Nar-
rative makes a theme out of modernism’s central issue: event and narra-
tive don’t meet. It’s a crisis narrative about the limit about what someone
can know. Takes place on the limits of knowledge.
2.thematizes the process of interpretation. It’s about interpretation. It’s
about hermeneutics, the process of trying to come to an understanding of
an event. It’s a critique of the possibility of understanding. It is about inter-
pretation, about Marlow trying to make sense of Kurtz and simultaneously
showing that interpretation is impossible. What do we mean by interpreta-
tion? How does meaning itself get turned into a theme and then get made
into an impossibility. Heart of Darkness holds up the possibility of meaning;
it’s clearly structured as a romance. LOTR there and back again kind of sto-
ry. traditionally this structure ends in a discovery of some truth. Heart of
Darkness is a modern romance. But at the heart, there isn’t truth or light,
there’s darkness. The truth is shrouded/hidden. Text critiques the expecta-
tions of interpretations. We expect things to mean. Sometimes events and
experiences don’t mean anything, yet we’re unhappy with that. Sometimes
meaning isn’t where you expect it to be
3.Is an exploration of the possibility of ethics (the idea of responsibility for
the other, (acknowledgement, recognition, response and care for the oth-
er)). Who is the other in Heart of Darkness?
4.Heart of Darkness is a systematic deconstruction/theorization of some of
the central premises of Western thought. First premise: It theorizes the log-
ic of oppositional thinking. Derrida says that we in the West think in binary
opposition. We understand something, an event, a person, a concept, be-
cause it is not something else. Nothing on it’s own signifies anything.
Something only means in relation to its opposite. We may not understand
the concept of man, but if we place man in opposition to woman, we can
gain a better conception. We are hardwired to believe that this way of or-
dering the world “is the way it is”. Derrida wants to dismantle this thinking
because oppositional thinking is reductive. It reduces experience to its op-
posite. Also, a thing on its own cannot be com