In the introduction to Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism he writes, “stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their own history” (xii). In this way, literature is how people understand and make sense of colonialism and imperialism. Narratives are what connect people to nations. However, if we look back to Heart of Darkness, it seems that this narrative confuses identity and picks away at the cohesive element that establishes nations to people. Said explains later, “Conrad wants us to see how Kurtz’s great looting adventure, Marlow’s journey up the river, and the narrative itself all share a common theme: Europeans performing acts of imperial mastery and will in (or about) Africa” (23). All three aspects of the novel also contain different time, which distances us to these stories. While we get parts of Kurtz’s story, parts of Marlow’s story, and step back once more to the narrator, who is listening to this inner story, we end up not getting a complete story with a definite understanding of the author’s views, the narrator’s views or any of the characters’ own views. Moreover, none of the outside world of the novel– the ‘natives’– don’t have a voice, so their thoughts are never captured. Said makes an interesting point to this, saying, “Conrad’s realization is that if, like narrative, imperialism has monopolized the entire system of representation – which in the case of Heart of Darkness allowed it to speak for Africans as well as for Kurtz and the other adventurers, including Marlow and his audience – your self-consciousness as an outsider can allow you actively to comprehend how the machine works, given that you and it are fundamentally not in perfect synchrony or correspondence” (25). So we as readers understand the workings of imperialism through the imperialism of the novel. The point is no longer to understand the identity or thoughts of the characters, author or narrator, but to instead focus on how imperialism works. Then my question is, does the ending of Heart of Darkness with the sudden mixture of time [Marlow saying, “ ‘I saw her and him in the same instant of time—his death and her sorrow’” (69)] change anything for our understanding of Conrad’s narrative? Does a “world being made and unmade more or less all the time” influence our understanding of imperialism in the novel?
Author’s note: I apologize if this sounds like nonsense!
Fabian’s concept of time and Said’s ideas behind imperialism fit together almost seamlessly. Also adding in Conrad’s claim in Heart of Darkness that the idea behind imperialism redeems it, these three men establish a cycle of time and conquest that seems to thrive on a vague perception of superiority. I was really struck by this particular statement in “Culture and Imperialism”: “How we formulate or represent the past shapes our understanding and views of the present.” In this quite simple idea, Said establishes that our own understanding of the past “shapes” our own view of the current time. What I find interesting about this is that all of this is cerebral, rather than physical. Looking at imperialism and colonialism, I immediately think of the physicality of such ideas. But then again, imperialism begins with an idea, so even though it requires the physical exertion of traveling to a place and enforcing new ways of life, it is nonetheless an “idealistic” pursuit.
So if I think about Kurtz in Conrad’s novel, and how his ideas have consumed him to the point that he has become something less than human, I start to wonder how Conrad meant this transformation to be perceived by his readers. Did Kurtz go insane because he got too close to the “native” way of life? Did imperialism itself cause him to lose his mind? Or maybe Fabian’s concept of time has something to do with it. Perhaps Kurtz lost himself in time because without anyone to “wake him up” or give him some sort of reality check, any ideas of civilization went out the window. Maybe time is what holds our “modern” way of life together; maybe without a logical way to count the seconds and minutes and hours, and without a way to label past, present, and future, we would all be floating in some kind of dark abyss.
I am rambling horribly.