Category Archives: Conrad, Joseph

Heart of Darkness: Read from November 21 to 22, 2015

This is the third time I’ve read this novella: once when I was in the Navy and had just watched Apocalypse Now, and again in college where we discussed the racist and colonial aspect of the novel. I have to admit each time I “enjoy” the novella just a little less each time, perhaps because I know the story so well from a few different points of view. The language is still beautiful, the racism still troubling, the theme is still inscrutable, but for whatever reason I don’t feel as if the novella speaks to me as it did when I was younger.

I’m by no means old, but at 42 I am, hopefully, more mature, more settled, and more unwilling to dash off into the world and rip every treasure out of the ground I can get my hands on. I am, such as the “intended” in the novel, a bit more willing to be lied to but only because I’ve seen the truth (at least a little bit) about how the world really works and am getting weary of “the horror” of it all.

A younger me would have been glad to drop everything, rush off into the proverbial jungle and conquer as much as I could all the while looking past the pain I was inflicting on the world around me and being quite arrogant in my actions. I would have said what I was doing was for the better of the world at large. That’s probably why I joined the Navy when I was 18 because I wanted adventure and didn’t much think about who would be at the receiving end of a giant marine cannon or how my own country’s national policy might be seen as arrogant by another sovereign nation.

The older me sees it as all a terrible game that can never be stopped because you can’t impart that wisdom to a younger generation. Young men will always want to rush headlong for glory, be it for money or extremism and nobody, especially the old, will tell them otherwise.

And this is what so much of Western Civilization is based upon: brute, youthful, arrogant force imposed on the bewildered and weak. And this is what, I believe, Conrad, at least in part, was trying to tell us: that the “civilized west” is terrible. It is terrible because it is based on lies. And that lie is that we have somehow conquered something, have driven out the darkness, that we are somehow better than people who live in grass huts.

But Conrad takes pains to show us we are not better, in fact we are the oppressors who are brutish and cruel and who lie to each other at every turn. We never see the natives act this way to each other, even the cannibals seem downright civilized. The white men gossip and can’t even manage to get a parcel of needed rivets from point A to point B. The white men are mad, mad with greed, hatred, and jealousy.

This is the way of the West, this is what drove the Romans to conquer Britain, and it’s what drove the Colonial Empires to conquer Africa and South America.

But what drives this greed? Perhaps this insatiable desire to kill and conquer is because, as Kurtz recognized, the “horror” of the darkness is so close at hand, lives right along the bank of the river, that the only way to keep from reverting to an animal state is to continually fire a cannon into its depth, no matter how absurd the outcome.

And perhaps we’d be happier if we just gave up civilization, gave up the lies and the greed, took up a bow and arrow and lived off the land? Seems far fetched, but every native in the novel who gets a little too close to Western Civilization dies.

But here lies the problem: is then the novel racist because it says all the black people in it are simple savages? This has been Chinua Achebe’s (and many other’s) argument against the novel because it does not elevate the native black Africans to the level of white compassion. But why would they want to be? Look how terrible the white Westerners behave! Why is a more “primitive” way of life less dignified than the man who in the middle of a steaming jungle still keeps a starched color and a pure white petticoat? I’d argue the Westerners are the real savages.

Now this is all very extreme and I’m not advocating a return to the Savannah, but it’s important to keep in mind how silly we all are, how improbable our culture is, and how useless it really is in the end of all things. That’s why the lie at the end of the novel is so important because it speaks to how we manage to live everyday knowing we are all going to die and our cities will all crumble, that lie is the lie we have to tell ourselves to keep living otherwise we’d go mad like Kurtz.

And that’s why I didn’t quite enjoy this novella as much as I did previously because I found thinking about the futility of beating back the heart of darkness to be depressing and civilized men to be more savage than the hungriest cannibal.

66% done with Heart of Darkness

The racism of the novel is as complicated as the matted, brooding jungle. I think the novel quite accurately describes how close we all are to a darker nature: London could just as quickly revert back to darkness as the huts are overtaken by the jungle. And I believe he’s saying that civilized men are not so civilized, that’s it’s a pretense, a mask 1 shade away from a death mask. We are not different or better.

33% done with Heart of Darkness

I never before made the connection between London and where ever it is that Kurtz was. London was once a dark place, too and the men who settled it were brutes intent of ripping all the treasure right out of the ground. In this way all men are connected and for as easy it is to claim this novel is racist, it makes the case for the settlers to be far more savage and insane than the unknown “natives”.

Under Western Eyes: Read from October 28 to November 08, 2014

Oh how I had hoped this would be so much more than it is.

I have to admit total confusion as to what Conrad hoped to achieve with this novel. What starts off as insight into how precarious and arbitrary life in Russia under the government was at the time of the novel, ends with the (almost) humiliation of the people who sought to revolt against it. Everyone comes out as a loser in the end. Was Conrad trying to say everything in Russia is bad, even the people trying to change Russia? Was he really that cynical?

Then again, seeing as how events turned out in the years after the novel was published (the rise of Communism) then maybe Conrad really was onto something. Yet the book never really attempts to address the broader issues of Russian social and political reform because its focus is only on a few characters, nearly all of whom are either misguided, manipulative, or are outright fools. I kept getting the impression Conrad wanted to damn all of Russia, past, present, and every possible future.

What I found most interesting, however, was the character of Haldin. Here was a young man who, though a terrorist (and murderer), understood whom he was fighting so well as to ruin the life of a perfectly innocent person long after he himself had been executed. He wanted to light a fire under the ass of the comfortable middle class who had gladly allowed themselves to be ruled over for just a few pieces of silver at a time. Haldin saw how it wasn’t those in power who were the most dangerous, but those complicit in keeping them in power. The same could be said of our own times in our capitalist society that gladly allows the business class to rule over the rest of us. We just want our creature comforts and give them all the power. Never does it occur to us to start throwing bombs around to enact real change even though the situation probably calls for it at this point.

And that’s the way I thought this novel was going to go. I assumed Razumov would wind up being forced into becoming a terrorist, too, that he would be ‘woken up’ and would defect from his comforts to fight a oppressive system. I assumed we would see the development of a character whose terrorist actions (like Haldin’s) would be explored and sympathized with. Haldin was a total mystery to us and so it’s easy to denounce him as a wicked terrorist, but to have followed Razumov’s path that would lead him down the same road as Haldin’s, to end the book where it began but with another character, would have been rather thrilling.

But where this book goes is instead to neutral Switzerland where Russian expats live comfortably and foolishly as they plot against the Russian government. These people are not heroic freedom fighters, but just a bunch of fools who will never change anything. Why Razumov would even be needed to spy on them seems like a total waste of time to me. In fact as the book went on I was not surprised Razumov grew more and more to dislike these people and that he was was glad to help out the Russian officials. But then we get another shift where he changes sides (too late) and winds up a cripple. I didn’t buy any of it, to be honest.

I have to admit I was thoroughly lost by the end of all this. I have no idea what Conrad was trying to really say and can only really recommended the book on the strength of the characters and the overall story it does wind up telling. Granted, it’s a cynical and depressing affair, but it feels realistic. The only thing going against it is that only a few years after the book was published another young man, Gavrilo Princip, managed to shake the entire world up with his own actions. I don’t believe Conrad would have thought it possible that so much could actually change at the hands of just one individual and so real history seems to work against the point the novel was trying to make about everyone being ineffectual.

So I’ll have to put this one down as my least favorite Conrad novel. I found half of it thrilling and well written, and the other half to be boring and limited of insight. Overall it is well written like all of Conrad’s work and the language is always a joy to tangle with, but I just never got the feeling that this was a book with a solid foundation or plan.

87% done with Under Western Eyes

I find the scenes with Razumov in St Petersburg to be much more interesting than the scenes with the narrator. There is more going on, more menace, and more story in Russia than in Zurich where a lot of the time it’s all just talk. Even now that we know Razumov’s intention I don’t find there to be much interesting: he never seems in peril for getting found out, he just seems bored and angry.

75% done with Under Western Eyes

What’s strange is that we get such a negative view always of the revolutionaries when, in fact, they were trying to fight against how terrible Russia was at the time. Yet here Razumov, our ‘hero’ holds everything and everyone he sees with such contempt that it’s hard to really care about any of these characters. What are we supposed to take away from all thus? That fighting oppression is the work of idiots only? Odd

68% done with Under Western Eyes

So how did he get away from Russia? He’s got to be working for the state, there is no way he was just going to be allowed to leave.

The real revolutionaries just want a fair shake in life. Their problems are no different than our problems. They work for no money, have no real prospects, have no security :they are still slaves. No wonder it always goes so badly.

62% done with Under Western Eyes

I’m glad at least that what this book is about is interesting because it can be uneven.

I’m now wondering if perhaps what Haldin did was to “light a fire” under the ass of a regular bourgeois? Is this the only way to affect change? To take away everything from the middle class before they will fight back?

Less than a decade later an assassination did a whole lot more damage and harm.

31% done with Under Western Eyes

This part reminds me a lot of Crime and Punishment, however, the interrogation is of a man who feels somehow compelled to confess to something of that which he is not guilty. He can feel that no matter what he answered or does he will be seen as ever more guilty solely by the act of being questioned. Once a suspect, always guilty.

The narrator plays a larger role than I would have thought in with Haldin’s family.

22% done with Under Western Eyes

I can see this turning into a case where just by Haldin having associated himself with Razumov he’s ensured there will be created a new revolutionary because what choice will he have? Haldin took advantage of the state’s suspicious nature and of Razumov’s bourgeois inclination for conservatism. Haldin makes everyone revolt, his ‘engine’ was more than the bomb, he used his whole body to start a revolution. Fascinating

13% done with Under Western Eyes

One of the reasons why I love Conrad, other than his use of language, is how slow his novels are. A character walking down the street is turned into pages and pages of inner turmoil, paranoia, self doubt, jealousy, suspicion, and revelation. The plot is simple; the inner life is complex.

This book, so far, personifies the dangers of revolution. Razumov is, simply, the people, and Haldin is a Lenin forced upon them

6% done with Under Western Eyes

My favorite author writing about my favorite location? Yes, please!

I love Conrad’s narrators, they are always obscure, usually unreliable, and are always in possession of the posterity of the main character. It’s as if his narrators are trying to defend the hero before humanity? truth? God? The main characters never seem able to speak for themselves, are oddly mute and are at the mercy of other’s observations.

The Secret Sharer: Read Jun 11, 2014

Conrad’s unusual style very much lends itself to this sort of mysterious tale where we aren’t sure if we inhabit a world of ghosts or our own. At times I kept thinking to myself Poe would have recognized this story since so much of the tension is happening in the captain’s mind.

Unlike a lot of Conrad, however, The Secret Sharer is not trying to be obtuse in how it handles its theme – identity in this case (though that’s always Conrad’s theme). Nostromo, Heart of Darkness, and especially Lord Jim are dense, almost opaque works that behave like a fitted sheet too small for the bed; you can get three corners figured out, but never a fourth and around and around you go. And while Conrad never lets slip if Leggatt is physical or phantom, that concern is not front and center to the plot because he is more interested in how our unnamed captain deals with this mystery man.

In a way it’s sort of a clunky plot device, but Conrad handles it well enough and makes Leggatt illusive enough so that he doesn’t need to try and explain him too much. He is, for the most part, exactly like our narrator (even in appearance), but represents an alter personality. Where Leggatt would easily kill a man for not doing his duty, our narrator is more of a rules and regulations man – a man of little experience.

There’s a wonderful image near the beginning where a scorpion gets into a bottle of ink and drowns. This fascinating image could mean that all the written rules and regulations will mean nothing when a person truly needs to act, or it could mean laws and papers only get in the way of how men should (and must) behave. There can always be deception in the act of writing, but actions speak louder than words, even those written down. In fact the other captain, Captain Archbold, admits he’ll claim Leggatt committed suicide to avoid any nasty consequences and perhaps ruin his own career over it.

The other ideas of coming of age, of a young man learning to take command and setting aside his own doubts is clear enough here, however, we should realize that our captain is unnamed and that he must become like someone else, Leggatt. Our captain was, in many ways, not good enough to lead, he was chosen over other candidates more qualified (probably) and so he must assume a role, he must not remain himself if he wants to succeed. There is no hint that the strength lay within him the whole time, he had to assume a new identity.

This is an unsettling thought because what Conrad seems to be saying is that in order to succeed we cannot rely on our true nature, we have to become something else. The mate, for example, is always described as having this interesting beard, almost like a lions mane, but isn’t he also hiding behind a persona? Isn’t he also frightened as they sail so close to the island? Couldn’t he have struck our captain, taken command, and steered the ship to safety himself? But he didn’t and he betrayed to us his true nature.

So as usual Conrad is not so simple as we first think, far more is going on here and what we assume to be one thing is actually something else.

Victory: Read from March 01 to 15, 2014

This was a difficult book for me to read because of how personal it is. I felt myself identifying far too much to the main character, Axel, than I was comfortable with. Yet the very fact this book exists and was written a hundred years ago also tells me how I felt is not so uncommon – and in some ways that made it even more difficult.

The issue at heart here is isolation and insulation. Axel has nearly given up on the whole of humanity and has isolated himself from everyone believing himself to be safe that way. Yet this only made it easier for a man like Schomberg to spread lies and incite others against him. And so the very things Axel wanted to escape from causes greedy, vile men to come after him.

The entire book is filled with characters who have false impressions about everyone around them; nobody knows anyone in this book and all their troubles are caused by these misunderstandings. This is very much part of the human experience, however, it’s even keener here since the book was written on the very eve of WW1 where whole nations, not just individuals, who all mistrusted each other, resented each other, and did not understand each other at all decided to kill each other in staggering quantities.

And so when I fully related to the isolation of Axel and began to feel a little depressed that I could identify such a trait in myself, I could also take at least a little comfort in knowing what I feel is not unique. Nobody really can know anyone else and we can either make up what we want about others (as Schomberg does and, to a different degree, Lena does), or we can try to hide away and hope nobody comes looking for some treasure we don’t even possess.

Conrad goes even deeper by exploring the point of art itself as a means to bridge the gap between people when he shows the scene of Axel reading his father’s book: “The son read, shrinking into himself, composing his face as if under the author’s eye”. Conrad is showing us that even art, even with the author himself staring over our shoulder, will not help us at all know one other person any better than we could if we stranded ourselves on a lonely, volcanic island in the South Pacific.

And there is nothing very optimistic here, either. The final word of the novel is “nothing”, the absolute negation (and very unlike Ulysses whose final work is “yes”, the ultimate affirmation in life). But the irony is that by writing this book, by telling and showing us how we can never know another person Conrad manages to soothe us somewhat by letting us know we all have this loneliness in common. He may be saying there is nothing to be done about this condition, but he shows us it’s not uncommon and in a way this knowledge makes us feel a little less lonely.

Victory is a Möbius strip of the human condition, of sorts.

And what of the title, “Victory”. Why that word when the last word of the novel is “nothing” and all the characters float about like shadows ready to evaporate into the heat of noon? What is the victory over? Lena for sure finds her strength and her purpose as her victory but on top of that the victory is in achieving an understanding of something we all share in common as human beings but can’t do anything about. Just the fact that we know we are all alone is enough to bring us together.

Of course the other issue here is misunderstanding. In place of actually getting to know each other, how often do we just make assumptions about another person’s behavior? How often do we look at a person who is distant and aloof and assume they are hiding something or that they disdain us or think they are better than us? Why do we make these assumptions instead of asking ourselves if there is something we can do for that person because they may have been hurt, or are shy, or have any number of issues that have nothing to do with us? Instead of always thinking the world is against us, maybe the problem is just that we don’t see the world correctly because we are too wrapped up in ourselves? That seems to be very much the problem for all the characters in this book until Lena figures out what she wants – she is not guilty of not having loved.

This is a very complex book even if the story is incredibly simple. Very little happens over the course of the novel in terms of action but there is so much “going on” here. I feel you could spend a lifetime unfolding this novel (and I use the term unfold rather than the more typical term unpack because it feels more appropriate when dealing with Conrad). The novel also leaves me with a lot of competing emotions, so much so it took me nearly a week just to write this review because I had a hard time wrapping my brain around what I had just read.

If only every novel could be this good.

82% done with Victory

One of my favorite films is Key Largo; this novel reminds me a lot of it.

Heyst is really paying for having left society; he’s in trouble now and there is no one to help him, not even Wang anymore who, wisely, has joined back up with the savages on the island since there is at least some safety in numbers.

These 3 seem to pray upon people who have given up on men, they are the plague sent to collect the rent.

74% done with Victory

Lena is a total mystery, just like Schomberg’s bizarre wife. And I suppose that’s the point since so much of this book is about what we don’t and can’t know about other people. The three men are unknowable, the “Chinaman” is unfathomable, the women are impenetrable, and Heyst is totally adrift. In fact, only Schomberg seems to have place in both time and space and he’s the one setting everyone against each other.

66% done with Victory

Knowing which parts of the story not to tell is just as important. It never would have occurred to me that these three would run into any trouble finding the island, but that Conrad set them up as cunning men and then turned the tables on them “off stage” was tremendous.

And now I keep hoping they’ll go easy on him for being a sort of rescuer, however, there’s only one way this tale is going to end: tragically.

51% done with Victory

It took me until just right now to realize Conrad wrote an entire novel on the premise of “no man is an island”.

Heyst really does resent the false things said about him; he’s more worried about his reputation even though he doesn’t care to live among people at all. It’s like he’s the curator of his own ghost.

I can’t decide if the women here are poorly written or Conrad writes them like this on purpose.

42% done with Victory

It’s unnerving to understand there’s a similarity between myself and Heyst. His detached, floating quality where he goes through life not even realizing anyone might even be speaking of him when he isn’t present in the room is perhaps, at best, a naive trait and here a dangerous one with these three steering by the glow of a volcano towards him on his deserted outpost.

We never know our own influence on others.

33% done with Victory

No doubt about it, Conrad does not like the Germans.

Mr. Jones and Ricardo are quite the pair. Everything about them is menace and using Schomberg as the lens with which to learn about these two only adds to their seriousness.

This is Conrad’s great gift to literature: he understands how to create an unreliable narrator to build tension, use another to relieve the tension, and a third to remake everything.

22% done with Victory

The description of the concert in chapter 8 is one of the most incredible passages ever written. “a grand piano, operated upon by a bony, red-faced woman with bad-tempered nostrils”.

Conrad’s way of describing things, such as comparing the way a tall man walks to that of a compass (calipers) opening and closing is unlike the way any mind has ever operated in the history of imaginations.

I love the mystery.

12% done with Victory

Reading Conrad is like watching a master watercolor painter – first they apply a wet wash on which everything will stick or run down, next are splotches of color seemingly at random and of no distinct shape. Soon a detail may appear over the vague shapes of transparent color and everything seems quite pretty until you realize the painter is exploring the darkest recess of human psychology.

It’s such genius.

Lord Jim: Read from November 06 to 17, 2013

” …there are as many shipwrecks as there are men …”

Imagine, for a moment, that it was Brown’s sunken schooner which makes its way back to the beginning of the novel and becomes the wreckage that caves in the Patna’s bulkhead (“as though the ship had steamed across a narrow belt of vibrating water and of humming air”), thus setting the events in motion all over again. This novel would then be a wholly contained circle of doomed fate and circumstance destined to play out the same way over and over, time after time. Perhaps this is why Conrad chose to not only describe Jim as “inscrutable” but also to tell the story through Marlow – a story within a story so that Jim, in essence, more easily becomes us (“one of us” and, truly, “any of us”) and Marlow becomes a sort of God who dispassionately watches us folly.

The nested storytelling, the subtle wordplay, the idea that “three hundred miles beyond the end of telegraph cables and mail-boat lines, the haggard utilitarian lies of our civilization wither and die, to be replaced by pure exercises of imagination” creates an unreality that speaks to a truth of our own being better than if we were given an exact replica of Jim. Conrad gives us something infinitely better than an anatomically perfect recreation of a man who, for all the reasons and complexities that make a person a person, fails in his honor and shipwrecks his future – we get “the exact description of the form of a cloud” – a cloud in which we each see something different but is just simply a cloud – just simply us.

Ultimately, for me, the novel was about chances, specifically the chances that are missed in life; the missed chances we always remember and can never let go of and forgive ourselves for. And Jim could have easily asked for forgiveness, too – his father, a parson, seemed a very thin analogy with God himself, a God who will forgive if only you truly believe in him, but Jim couldn’t even forgive himself for the missed chance and for how he ruined his life.

And I kept wondering about his father. Jim kept that letter all those years so you knew it pained him to turn his back on his family and even though he ‘knew’ he could never go back, he also knew that he didn’t actually know that – he still held onto a sliver of hope, even if it was only a hopelessly romantic and boyishly nostalgic one.

I wonder if what Conrad was also trying to say is that man is always doomed? There really are no heroes in the novel, in fact the best man we come across, the most successful man, Captain Brierly, just up and decides one day to jump off his ship and drown himself. Did Brierly see his fate clearly to know that he too was doomed, like Jim? Or did he know that if push came to shove he would be just as cowardly as Jim and he couldn’t face it, not like Jim could? And how come the biggest bastard in the novel, Captain Brown, is most able to act ‘heroically’? Is Conrad trying to say that heroism is born only from selfishness? From wanting to fill one’s belly?

While I don’t know what Conrad actually thought, it seems clear to me that he felt it important to write an entire novel that makes you question the definition of morality, of honor, and of character. That’s why Conrad created the ‘character’ of Jim because he could be any of us, he could be all of us, he represents every one of our individual failures and missed chances and misunderstandings. Jim is like the inner doll of a Russian nesting doll and each character in the novel is one doll larger until we get to the outer doll, us.

However, I’m still unsure of what I think the novel was all about. Conrad plays such a literary master game with us that by the end I feel like my head is spinning. The language is beautiful but nonspecific (as Conrad always writes), and the “point” is unclear and open to really any interpretation – I have more questions than answers, but I love that he got me thinking about so many ideas.

And this has been the most difficult review of a novel I’ve ever had to write because it would be like trying to recreate one of Steins perfect butterflies from far away based off of just the verbal description given to us through multiple sources handed out from the jungle 300 miles in and pieced together over a life time. I could spend my life getting caught up in this beautiful novel, constantly going around and around, like Jim, or like fate, or like all of mankind.

95% done with Lord Jim

Everything comes full circle.

Brown is like a golum given life by the fates themselves to exact payment from Jim. Everything about him is dirty, earthy, unclean, but also sure of himself, honest in his brazenness, and not the least bit honorable or tied down to any ideal beyond that of filling his belly.

88% done with Lord Jim

If someone never trusts you, would that cause you to go do the very thing you are mistrusted for? Would you have never done it had you been trusted? How much of other people’s perception of us make us who we are?

Brown knows who Jim is, even if he hasn’t even met him yet. And through Brown we feel we know that Brown’s assessment is probably right, even if it isn’t nearly as layered as our own.


78% done with Lord Jim

the whole island now seems to be in shadows, as if darkness is slowly rolling in over it. Marlow says that when he leaves the whole place will be forgotten by the entire world and when Marlow dies so does Jim and his romantic paradise.

Even the open, felled fields are like as if a storm had passed through, uprooting everything and are now as flat as the sea the Patna steamed through.

Corenlius = Jim in a way

72% done with Lord Jim

“three hundred miles beyond the end of telegraph cables and mail-boat lines, the haggard utilitarian lies of our civilization wither and die, to be replaced by pure exercises of imagination.”

I love that the Jewel is a woman, not a precious emerald, but she is still a jewel, maybe even a talisman of sorts.

It’s interesting how Jim isn’t Kurtz; we get another way a man can go; his own ideal romanticism.

64% done with Lord Jim

“It was immense!”

Well, it’s relative, isn’t it? Like trying to find the truth about who stole some pots, or who was wrong aboard the Patna, or who Jim really is.

Is what Jim did on the island heroic and worthy of elevating him to the status of a deity? Or is it right to take a “white man’s point of view” and declare the island is a shit-hole in the middle of nowhere that nobody cares about or remembers?

54% done with Lord Jim

Whenever it seems as if we are going to get a black or white reading on Jim, Conrad suddenly gives us the opposing point of view and that muddies the waters even further.

We know Jim better at the beginning of the novel than we do as we learn more about him.

The Hamlet analogy is quite clever: it’s not ‘to be or not to be’, but rather ‘HOW to be’ that is the question – only here Marlow does all the asking.

46% done with Lord Jim

I wonder if Marlow is a little jealous of Jim? I mean, what’s to be jealous of, but still, he feels ashamed a little of Jim and tells the one man that Jim was mate on the Patna. He didn’t have to say anything.

It’s almost as if Jim could keep remaking himself, if only he could get away from himself. But, of course, you can never escape your past.

The Australian the captain felt like bookends of Jim’s life.

36% done with Lord Jim

Conrad loves slipping in subtle wordplay: my favorite being ‘a glorious indefiniteness driving us to sea (see, is the play here; to understand and to make others understand).

And that’s the whole point here, as if Jim is standing before St. Peter trying to plead his case and to confess it, too. Only we are not omniscient, we can’t see into the shade of a person’s heart, we either take the leap of faith or not.

28% done with Lord Jim

Jim always compares the voices of the other men to that of animals: owls, dogs, bleating.

One of us = Could be any of us

“There are as many shipwrecks as there are men”

What Conrad is doing here is brilliant because I find myself, at times, empathizing and even believing Jim and his cowardly excuse of a story.

Funny how the pilgrims actually did get to Mecca alive and Jim went to hell alive. A living wake

17% done with Lord Jim

I think I might understand Conrad’s fascination with the sea and sailors: he loves exploring people in an environment that has rules and known expectations and rigid consequences; everything is a known quantity: the ship, the mission, the sea, the charts, the night sky.

Men, on the other hand, are a total mystery. Who can ever know anything about another person?

Each system, man and navy, informs each other.

6% done with Lord Jim

My goal is over the course of my life to slowly read all of Condrad’s novels. This is number three having read Heart of Darkness and Nostromo – loved them both.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to explain why I love Conrad so much other than to say I love how so much is left to the imagination and how there is so much uncertainty within all his characters. Everyone seems to live on a knife edge in dangerous times

Nostromo: Read from April 06 to 19, 2013

Nostromo is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read.

First of all, the novel is not an easy read. Many times I needed to go back and revisit whole passages and even start chapters over again – and even then I still sometimes felt a little lost and would just have to trust Conrad to actually lead me somewhere, which he always did. Add in the fact the novel is dense with imagery (light and dark, sun and shade, black and white are some of the more obvious one, while others are much more obscure), and this is an all around meaty novel to sink your teeth into.

Nostromo is very dream-like, everything has a colorful, vibrant, out-of-focus haziness to it that dips back and forth in time, point of view, tone, and mood. Conrad most likely was trying to capture the essence of some South American jungle in all its complexity and savageness by intentionally being vague. Yet some of the best moments where when there was a clear sense of place and plot – the boat at night, most scenes with the doctor or Charles Gould – Nostromo in the end – and these moments feel like the stories what would have survived crossing the Atlantic back to Europe in the papers at the time. Everything else, however, is unclear, dangerous, even misleading.

The problem with all this is that while on the one hand this novel is a supreme work of art, it also suffers from exactly what it’s trying to accomplish. Because Sulaco is not clearly defined, we have a hard time feeling anchored anywhere and so have a hard time getting ‘into’ the story. Now perhaps after years of studying the novel and paying all one’s dues to in Joseph Conrad Society can we fully appreciate Nostromo, but for the normal reader the very things that make the novel brilliant also make in hard to really enjoy or even accessible.

However, this is still an amazing novel. I seriously believe much of how the west sees South America, especially her violent politics and social uncertainty, is due in no small part to Nostromo. Details such as the jarring scene of the emerald parrot or the doctor carrying the watermelon are such cliche images in film and fiction that it’s hard to believe they were ever invented or fresh. Yet here in a way is the birth of modern South America, for good or bad, here are the beginnings (in a way) of the coming magic realist fiction that that part of the world is still so famous for.

Maybe Conrad unfairly indicted all of steamy, passionate South America, or maybe he was close to the mark, I can’t answer all that. What I do know is that Conrad’s exploration of man’s greed, violent tendency, desires and failures are wonderfully captured here in Nostromo. I doubt I’ll ever read another novel quite like it.

96% done with Nostromo

Having never been left alone on a harbor island in plain sight of civilization and the love of my life all the while guarding a vast treasure of silver ingots that many a man and government would kill me ten times over to get their hands on, killing myself after only 10 days really does seem a bit … impatient.

However, the allusion of a noose in the image of total solitude as a ‘tense, thin cord’ is brilliant.

85% done with Nostromo

Meanwhile as Decoud is stuck on the Isabels with an actual curse, everyone is running around Sulaco hiding from ghosts, shadows, corpses, and the last words of a dying woman whom no priest was sent for.

Further off, in the jungles, men are fighting for some idea of revolution and democracy and even further away, in America and Europe, men await their profits from their debts.

Yet Decoud waits just out of reach.

77% done with Nostromo

I’ve always enjoy a story more when a writer doesn’t just spring a surprise on me (deus ex machina) but builds up the characters in full view of me but not from each other.

Had Nostromo just ‘turned up’ at the barracks before the doctor and the unfortunate victim, the story would have been almost silly – be we knew Nostromo was alive, how he stayed alive, and that he has other secrets from the doctor.

70% done with Nostromo

Dr. Monygham’s remembrance of Father Beron is really quite chilling. Even now, 100 years later and having become a cliche, the wicked priest who tortures calmly and asks quietly “Will you confess now?” does speak to the wickedness of men.

When Conrad speaks of primitive man’s morality being more ‘pure’ when killing each other, this scientific calmness of Beron is even more demonic in its modernity.

60% done with Nostromo

A lot of Nostromo consists of people with an agenda talking about other people with an agenda behind their back.

Maybe this is the penultimate symbolic meaning of the mine – everyone is digging to discover some riches either in the ground or in someone with an agenda (and money).

However, I do wish Conrad spent more time just putting characters in a boat in the middle of the night and letting the drama play.

48% done with Nostromo

In my opinion there are only two ways to handle symbolism in a story – either fully explore its every facet, uncover each and all of its meanings, cast it in every possible light, and let every word of the story not be wasted on anything else.

The other is to not use it at all.

Conrad does a nice job of the former and while reading Nostromo can be dream-like-confusing, it’s all for the sake of the story.

36% done with Nostromo

I’m going to assume that if one of the characters is a bandit we never see but only hear rumors of and another character possesses enough dynamite to ‘send half of Sulaco into the air’ then somehow these two facts will play an important role later in the novel.

Also, I’m glad Conrad took the time to explain how others talk about how best to take advantage of the Gould’s, even if it means ruining the country.

30% done with Nostromo

The way this story unfolds is very much like how the mail in Costaguana arrives over the mountain range – infrequently and censored by the government.

I do wonder what Conrad is getting at. He paints a fascinating, though stereotypical (by our standards) picture of South America, but the Costaguanarians are all corrupt and the English (the Goulds) are going to bring prosperity.

This gets tricky.

24% done with Nostromo

Conrad has this way of introducing a character before actually introducing them. He’ll start talking about someone before telling you their name and so you’re always sort of wondering who is who and what’s going on.

I find myself going back and re-reading passages to get my bearings but it does have the effect of feeling like I’m in a dangerous South American town and having no idea whom to trust.

16% done with Nostromo

Having spent the last few months with Russian lit., getting back to a novel written in my native tongue is like getting to eat a hearty meal cooked in my own kitchen after a long, wonderful vacation.

With the Russians there was always a translator between me and the author’s intent, but here with Conrad, even though English wasn’t even his native language I can revel in unpacking this novel’s hidden language.