Speaking of “the jungle”, everyone knows and loves Apocalypse Now! And speaking of “adaptations”, not everyone has read the novel that Coppola based the film on, The Heart of Darkness. I strongly suggest you check that out if you haven’t, it isn’t many pages either. Kenneth Branagh has a captivating performance of it on audiobook if you prefer to listen to it. Many, including myself, consider the author, Joseph Conrad, to be one of the best writers of recent times.

The novel doesn’t take place in Vietnam, it’s set in the Congo. When it was first published in 1899 it was acclaimed as a condemnation of imperialism. In our blessèd time it is itself condemned for being too imperialist (and rayciss), as you might expect. So I want to examine this classic text to see if I can find some middle-ground and a saner perspective than one we typically observe today.

Conrad was Polish by the way, if that alleviates the wound from my previous post.

He was a sailor himself and he “actually lived it” in certain respects. In contrast, his contemporary, that adventure writer Jules Verne, mostly stayed put in France, whereas Conrad explored the high seas from everywhere between Asia and Africa. Thus, one can interpret some of his novels as certain works of anthropology.

No, I don’t know if I’m going to find anything “controversial” in this study written exactly a century later in 1999. We’ll see.

I think of Apocalypse Now! as the mere image and Heart of Darkness as the idea. What was lost in translation?

It’s just a novel, I can’t understand why people pray for the death of someone like me for years. Something about wanting to forget about “the Old Country”, whether its virtues or vices. Don’t you want to know what some European aristocrats would have thought of that tendency to need to forget?

Let’s just look at the surface of this for a second. It’s titled The Heart of Darkness and it’s about a voyage to the center of the Congo.

Don’t you already feel like you’re on a voyage through there yourself? What, what’s wrong with that? To this day, let’s just say it still isn’t one of the most popular “tourist” spots. Don’t you want to understand politics? A lot of our Order has to do with that reservation one feels about taking a trip to the Congo without doing any research first.

Watching Apocalypse Now!, which was produced in the post-hippie historical context, you never would have thought about any of that. In a similar way, old French theatre-goers probably thought nothing about the Oresteia when watching the Phèdre.

Here is something the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe found interesting in the novel

We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance

Achebe speaks of “grotesque echoes of its own forgotten darkness”.

He also quotes this in his review

It was unearthly and the men were …. No they were not inhuman. Well, you know that was the worst of it — this suspicion of their not being inhuman.

See from this how at the time of its publication it would have been seen as a critique of imperialism?

The Congo was actually the last part of the continent to be westernized. So this is a true “living fossil” of primitive humanity. Strange how I detect even the most objective anthropologists might wince before wanting to study this most important history.

You should listen to that audiobook. You’ll get a sense of the savagery now in America.

I ask my white liberal friends if they’d feel like they were voyaging to the heart of darkness if they decided to take a walk down various streets of Detroit or St. Louis. Just kidding, they’d never know, they only stay in white “hoods”.

The reality of the recent (not to mention current) Congo explains our political order almost as much as those poor victimized Jews do, who are from that other Congo, the Pale.

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