Conrad and Imperialism: Ideological Boundaries and Visionary by Benita Parry

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By Benita Parry

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That Marlow the adherent ofan austere code ofserious service and Kurtz the flamboyant practitioner ofthe triumphalist aspiration are products of the same social order and servants of the same official social ends, is an unacceptable reality that Marlow is unable to assimilate and that the text itself intimates but does not confront. The fact of the book's existence does give credence to the argument that Heart of Darkness is ultimately a public disavowal of imperialism's authorised lies. But although the central dialogue is conducted by Marlow's two voices speaking in counterpoint, one the sardonic and angry dissident denouncing imperialism's me ans and goals as symptoms of the West's moral decline, the other the devoted member ofthis world striving to recover a utopian dimension to its apocalyptic ambitions, the fiction's relations hip to its principal intelligence is equivocal, giving and withholding authority to his testimony, H earl of Darkness 39 exposmg and occluding his inconsistencies.

34 Conrad and Imperialism The ornate and obscurantist language both intimates and conceals Marlow's intuition that there may be non-phenomenal 'realities' and alternative ways of perceiving 'truth', since this apprehension must conte nd with his commitment to pragmatism as necessary to efficiency: 'When you have to attend ... to the mere incidents of the surface, the reality - the reality, I tell you,fades. The inner truth is hidden -luckily, luckily' (p. 93). On the threshold of new ways of seeing, Marlow draws back from the dangers of too much reality to the boundaries of that restricted consciousness he had ventured to criticise.

In Kurtz, a man driven by a hunger to engorge the universe, the fiction displays the conqueror who des poils the planet he craves to possess, points to his fate as victim of its 'terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion', and with this delivers a judgement on imperialism's awesome triumphalism: I had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. I had, even like the niggers, to H earl rif Darkness 33 invoke hirn - hirnself - his own exalted and terrible degradation.

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