December 13, 2007


Caption: The truth behind the lie. Native workers during King Leopold of Belgium's reign of terror in the Congo who failed to meet production quotas were punished by mutilation. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.

Reading Joseph Conrad is always challenging for me. (If this is your first visit, please click on this week's earlier posts for background on the writer and his short novel Heart of Darkness.)

Part of the reason for that may be that Polish rather than English was his first language. On the other hand, I'm not sure he'd be a cakewalk in the original either. But part of the difficulty comes from the truths he related through his fiction.

Heart of Darkness has an odd narrative device. It is told by an unnamed narrator who presumably recounts the story verbatim as told by the well-travelled and world weary Marlow, who is like an Odysseus without a home to strive for.

The setting for the storytelling is liminal. It takes place among a group of old acquaintances on a boat at twilight on the Thames near enough to the sea to feel the tides. Many of the listeners are now landsmen, though all had been to sea in the past. As the silence settles in, Marlow, who is sitting "in the pose of a meditating Buddha," begins the tale of his journey to the "Belgian" Congo which was the site of almost unimaginable colonial brutality 100 years ago (see Monday's post).

There's way too much to the story to do more than indicate here, but here are some choice nuggets from Marlow about imperialism and the ideology that tries to justify it:

The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves,is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but and idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea--something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to...."

At the bottom, though, the idea/idol is a lie:

You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies--which is exactly what I hate and detest of the world--what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose...

The lie and the taint of death that accompanies it are still with us.

EXPORTING JOBS. The US has lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2001, with no end in sight, according to EPI's latest snapshot.

CALL UP THE RESERVES. Cognitive reserves, that is. They may be the key to maintaining mental abilities as we age.

ANOTHER VETO on CHIP yesterday.

MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE. Here's the latest, from yesterday's Gazette. It seems that publicity is more important for some people than the outcome of the trial.


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