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The city is a recapitulation of the cave, by other means.

Hans Blumenberg


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Monday, May 10th, 2004

This thread on Brad DeLong's site reminded me that I have not read Heart of Darkness since college -- in the same class indeed where I first read Don Quixote -- and that I have very little memory of it. Time to go back and reread; I picked up a copy of this newly topical book at Coliseum today.

posted afternoon of May 10th, 2004: Respond
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Tuesday, May 11th, 2004

I read the first chapter of Heart of Darkness last night and this morning -- but I think I will start over this evening. I seem to be reading a little too fast and missing some detail. Nice imagery though.

I'm a little perplexed by Marlowe's 20-day hike to the Central Station: why would the company not build the Central Station at the mouth of the river where it would be accessible by ship? The station is certainly on the river, I guess at a point where it is not navigable by ocean-going vessels. But why? If the whole point of the station is to serve as a transfer point between freshwater craft and ocean-going vessels, wouldn't it make more sense to build it further down the river? Maybe there is a long stretch of the river that no boats can navigate -- I can't quite picture this though.

posted morning of May 11th, 2004: Respond
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Thursday, May 13th, 2004

Found the answer

Heart of Darkness -- I was wondering yesterday what was with Marlowe's journey by foot to the Central Station -- the introduction explains that the Central Station was in Kinshasa, at Stanley Falls, and reproduces a map of the overland route (a trek which Conrad made in 1890). Clearly the falls would be an obstacle to shipping so the steamer had to stop there; not quite clear to me why another boat could not run from there to the coast.

posted evening of May 13th, 2004: Respond

Sunday, May 23rd, 2004

I have been distracted, a bit, from Heart of Darkness by the book which Ed Antoine gave me for my birthday present; it is The Myth of the Eternal Return: or, Cosmos and History, by Mircea Eliade. I can't quite tell yet, what is the nature of the book; its prose is the very dense essay style that makes me reluctant to read philosophy (though I believe its genre is probably sociology). But this is a book that I am judging by (a) its cover and (b) the fact that Ed gave it to me, as worth spending some time being puzzled by.

The moment I saw the title I had a pretty fully formed thought along the lines of, "Cool -- he is going to investigate how different early cultures came up with the idea of a cyclical cosmos, and how that relates to being human." -- I know -- a lot to come up with from 10 words, 5 of which are articles, conjunctions or prepositions -- still, Ed assured me that I was on the right track with that supposition. And that investigation is interesting to me; so I am trying to get on board with Eliade's difficult prose.

So far, a lot of what he is saying seems like pretty intuitive ideas backed up with historical research. One thing that I liked: he was talking about how cultures would tend to think of unknown territory as being part of the chaos that preceded creation, and when they conquered or explored new territory would perform rituals that made it part of the created universe; at one point on page 15, he writes, "...the temple or sacred city is always the meeting point of the three cosmic regions: heaven, earth, and hell." And that made me start thinking about how if "hell" is the chaos outside our knowledge, and "heaven" is Platonic forms, i.e. pure knowledge, then "earth" is the imposition of forms onto the unknown, is reality which we can dominate by naming.

posted afternoon of May 23rd, 2004: Respond
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Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

Heart of Darkness -- I had forgotten that Kurtz is alive when they get to the Inner Station.

posted morning of May 26th, 2004: Respond

Reading with expectations

As noted below, my memory of reading the book from 15 years ago suggested that the whole body of the story is Marlowe's journey upriver, and the final scene is his arrival at the Inner Station to find Kurtz dead. In this fantasy Heart of Darkness, the final sentence of the novel is "Mistah Kurtz, he dead."

Needless to say, the actual book goes a little different -- I spent a little time while reading the middle third or so of it, trying to reconcile my expectations to the plot that was unfolding. I did not abandon them entirely until Marlowe actually met Kurtz; until then I was holding on to a thin thread of hope that his talk about their meeting was some kind of metaphor. This shows, I think, the danger of rereading something with expectations when your memory of it is so far gone, and suggests that I should reread it a second time -- it is after all quite short. So I think I will keep it along with me for a while yet. I am going to turn my attention to The Myth of the Eternal Return; but when that drags (as it will) I will have some backup reading on hand.

posted evening of May 26th, 2004: Respond

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