Academic journal article Joseph Conrad Today

Wine in Old and New Bottles: Critical Paradigms for Joseph Conrad

Academic journal article Joseph Conrad Today

Wine in Old and New Bottles: Critical Paradigms for Joseph Conrad

Article excerpt

Wine in Old and New Bottles: Critical Paradigms for Joseph Conrad Ed. Wieslaw Krajka. Conrad: Eastern and Western Perspectives XXIII. Lublin: Maria Curie-Sklodowska UP; New York: Columbia UP, 2014. xiii+326 pp.

The publication of a new volume of Wieslaw Krajka's excellent series, Conrad: Eastern and Western Perspectives, is like an invitation to a family dinner. As Allan Simmons noted in his review of the series's 2005 offering, the menu does not include "hard scholarship"-I would add that's because, at a family dinner, we must all be more flexible, and let the conversation go where it will. Accordingly, the papers in any given volume of EWP banter, bicker, and showboat like relatives around a table. This is a venue for fast and loose, at times exciting, and, above all, extremely decent conversation about Conrad, a pleasure denied to most Conrad scholars in day-to-day life. All Conrad scholars, whether new or experienced, will profit from delving into this series.

"Wine in Old and New Bottles": Critical Paradigms for Joseph Conrad is the offering from 2014. Like previous volumes, Wine is composed of conference papers representing international scholarship. The mission is to promote, in Krajka's words, "the fellowship of our craft." One result of this inclusivity is a refreshing diversity of composition styles and methodologies, and the range typical of the series is further enhanced in Wine by the volume's intent to represent "a varied constellation" of methodological approaches from literary studies, past and present. Papers are set in conversation with each other, calling attention to internal debates. The range of style, methodology, and focus makes Wine an ideal study for newcomers to Conrad studies who seek information on the state of the field. More experienced scholars will also find pleasure in the range of topics addressed, and by engaging with internal debates, some of which, in true family dinner style, can be quite provoking.

The menu here is varied indeed; almost anyone is bound to find a subject or three of interest. (The centerpiece remains, of course, Heart of Darkness) Arguments in Wine are made from the perspectives of biographical/autobiographical criticism, literary comparison, post-colonial criticism, literary psychoanalysis, archetypal-philosophical criticism, Marxism, and Conrad's pedagogical potential. To quote from the introduction, these methodologies are used to "illuminate such themes as alienation/integration, Modernism, cityscapes, nationalism, critique of reality, imperial evil and racism, historical contextualization, the characters' identity and interrelations, the uncanny and other psychological archetypes, the Real v. the Symbolic v. the Imaginary, unconditional hospitality, the veering of the sea and the winds, ideology as spectre, the educational impact of Conrad's works, and others." That's a full plate, and the issues listed here are addressed on a scale from amuse-bouche to full course.

As interesting as the assortment of subjects and approaches is Wine's range of voices. The tone runs from Kenji Tanaka's respectful and speculative description, to grand bombast and a pyrotechnic display of vocabulary from Jaroslaw Giza, to Merry M. Pawlowski's tidal dreaminess. Carl Schaffer represents, with extreme competence, the "correct" analytical style we Americans learn in school. The papers I found most interesting in terms of style are a cosmopolitan blend of MLA and, well, whatever else they seem to need, from Pei-Wen Clio Kao's pages-long, yet somehow eminently readable paragraphs to Larry Ware's short, verse-like ones which, in their earnest prescriptiveness and lyric phrasing, give the end of the compilation a bit of a Biblical feeling. New Conradians may examine these styles with interest and a sense of liberation as they contemplate their own future offerings to the table; more experienced scholars will find relief from dayto-day reading in the sheer variety of tones, and also enjoy the pleasure of recognizing the voices of friends. …

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