The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium

By R. W. Stallman | Go to book overview

THREE NOTES ON "HEART OF DARKNESS"

WILLIAM BYSSHE STEIN


(1) The Lotus Posture and the "Heart of Darkness"

*

ALTHOUGH Robert O. Evans' "Conrad's Underground" offers some interesting "epic" parallels to the "Heart of Darkness," it fails, I think, to cope with the moral experience in terms of the structure of the story. While I will not deny that there is a rough development of the myth of the descent into the underworld, this pattern of action cannot be viewed by itself and in itself. It must, rather, be seen in the Jamesian frame Conrad provides. Mr. Evans, to be sure, takes note of this important element of structure, but unfortunately he does not consider it to have a function. I refer, of course, to the Buddha tableaux, the positioning of which cannot be ignored, the two at the beginning, the one near the middle, and the other in the final paragraph of the work.

Mr. Evans even goes so far as to introduce his fragmentary citations from the tableaux into the context of Marlow's recital; actually they belong to the perspective of the first person narrator who acquaints us with the adventurer. Conrad deliberately restricts them to the vision of the latter because, as Mr. Evans is aware, he is one of the four auditors who cannot possibly understand the significance of a subtle spiritual voyage. All four are blinded by their infatuation with the material aspects of the world. Yet, as I shall show, the tableaux of the lotus postures instruct the reader how to interpret Marlow's descent into the underworld--his own, not Virgil's or Dante's.

Most of us, I am sure, are familiar with the stylized postures and gestures of Indian art, that is, with their appearance, not their meaning. Conrad, if we can claim Marlow as his "altar" [sic] ego, not only understood them; he believed in them. The first tableau, for instance, catches the hero in the physical position prerequisite to Yoga meditation, contemplation, and absorption. On the brink of the spiritual fulfillment that comes with self-recollection (a mode of personal salvation diametrically opposed to the Occidental belief that perfection is acquired from without, for in the Indian view the process is one of bringing into consciousness what lies in a dormant and quiescent state, the timeless reality of one's being), Marlow's lotus posture shows he is ready to engage in an exercise of intense introspection; he is ready to contemplate the chaos out of which order or cosmos comes: " Marlow sat cross-legged right aft. . . . He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outward, resembled an idol (italics are mine)." This description gives evidence of the self-mortification, the denial of the tyranny of physical matter, which precedes the introversion of consciousness. And surely the combination of gestures by the

____________________
*
From Modern Fiction Studies, II, 4 (Winter 1956-57), pp. 235-237.

-179-

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The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vi
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Part One 1
  • The Art of Conrad 5
  • Notes 13
  • Notes 13
  • Notes 19
  • Notes 35
  • Notes 45
  • Part Two 59
  • Notes 87
  • Notes 96
  • The Nigger of the "Narcissus" 121
  • On Lord Jim(an Excerpt) 140
  • On Lord Jim 142
  • Notes 154
  • Marlow's Descent into Hell 162
  • Conrad's Underworld 171
  • Three Notes On "Heart of Darkness" 179
  • Notes 186
  • On "Typhoon" and the Shadow Line 190
  • On Nostromo 191
  • Notes 198
  • Conrad's the Secret Agent 209
  • Notes 227
  • Notes 234
  • Adam, Axel, and "Il Conde" 253
  • Notes 254
  • Notes 275
  • Notes 275
  • The Secret Sharer 289
  • Joseph Conrad: Chance 296
  • Notes 304
  • The Hollow Men: Victory 313
  • The Knight: Man in Eden: the Arrow of Gold 317
  • On the Rescue 323
  • On the Rover and Suspense 330
  • Notes 331
  • Appendix I 337
  • Appendix II 345
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