Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”

The “King of the Belgians”, the riverboat Joseph Conrad commanded on the upper Congo, 1889.

I was greatly struck by the duality of it, by the way you get ripped out of ordinary reality and made plunge into a much darker one; one that, in the end, feels much more real than the one you see as true when you look about yourself.

 

Of course, it only feels so real because we have ourselves this darker place inside — our own personal Mr. Hyde patiently waiting in the shadows of our inner beings for the right moment to take over.

We are left with the feeling that “reality” is base and fake and utter ridiculous even; that men live inside their own fancy about the world, contrived to protect them from the truth they don’t have the courage to face.

And, just as Dr. Jekyll felt much better when he stopped restraining the monster within, we end up with this contradictory urge to let the darkness prevail — as if, by allowing everything to be dark, by letting it be coextensive with the entirety of our being, we would be able to see again.

Because just as we can’t see well when a light is darted straight at our face; and just as our eyes need time to adapt to the dark; and just as “bad” things can only be thought as such when compared to the “good” things; because, in a word, there are always opposing forces trying to tear us apart, we might only find peace when one of them wins.

When we have gone all the way to the darkest alleys of our souls and, by sheer luck or some perverse irony from above, we have managed to trail our paths back to sanity, nothing will ever be the same and all will be forever darker.

 


Now, travel through darkness and back in a few quotes:

“…your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 6). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake would a bird— a silly little bird.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 8). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 17). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 18). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 29). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“I saw him, later on, for several days, sitting in a bit of shade looking very sick and trying to recover himself: afterwards he arose and went out— and the wilderness without a sound took him into its bosom again.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 29). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“Beyond the fence the forest stood up spectrally in the moonlight, and through the dim stir, through the faint sounds of that lamentable courtyard, the silence of the land went home to one’s very heart,— its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of its concealed life.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 33). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver— over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a somber gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly by without a murmur.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 33). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream— making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams….” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 34). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand, because we were too far and could not remember, because we were traveling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign— and no memories.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (pp. 47-48). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there— there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (pp. 48). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (pp. 66). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude— and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness (p. 79).

“It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core…” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 79).

“Droll thing life is — that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself — that comes too late — a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be. I was within a hair’s-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 96). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“…perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (pp. 96-97). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

“I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretense, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in their faces, so full of stupid importance.” Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 97). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

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