The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium

By R. W. Stallman | Go to book overview

for no man can convert himself into a perfect automaton no matter how much machinery he carries inside himself. "The worst is that the manner of exploding is always the weak point with us." In the explosion at Maze Hill Station, an unpredicted event confounds the calculated one-- Stevie is blown to bits, instead of the first meridian. The imperfect bomb detonates--symbolically--at the wall protecting Greenwich Observatory, and--appropriately at Maze Hill.

Theories--scientific, political, sociological, economic, psychological-- all are reduced to zero by Conrad's diabolic irony. What protection against life that we devise consists of superstitions, myths, theories, conventional conceptions of reality, systems and creeds, codes of behavior by which society is manipulated and controlled; in sum, all that the muddling intellect contrives. The nihilism of The Secret Agent ends in a covert affirmation of the supremacy of life. Could we but manipulate reality so that what happens happens as predicted, but no! Time Now is the Unpredictable, life in all its irrational particulars; including X the unknown event. Wherefore I conclude that it is Time the Unpredictable--agent of life and death--that Conrad's novel cryptographically intends as the Secret Agent. ( 1957, 1959)


NOTES
1.
Albert J. Guerard in his 1947 pamphlet-study, Joseph Conrad, considered The Secret Agent as "a tour-de-force, and a rather unsuccessful one at that." Guerard was trapped by his thesis that " Conrad's failure is fairly conspicuous whenever there is no character with whom he can identify himself, no sympathetic yet skeptical observer" (pp. 65-66). He takes an entirely different position on The Secret Agent in his Conrad the Novelist ( 1958). [Editor's note]
2.
The world "in The Secret Agent appears stricken with moral insanity which breaks out in the incomprehensible attack on the fifth [sic] meridian," Paul L. Wiley writes in Conrad's Measure of Man, p. 107. Perhaps it is because he has his meridians mixed that the attack seems to him incomprehensible.
3.
In The Terrorists: The Story of the Forerunners of Stalin, by Robert Payne ( Funk & Wagnalls, 1957), Sergey Nachayev, one of the terrorists who flung bombs and wrote inflammatory pamphlets, who believed in science and little else, was consumed by "a pure thirst for destruction." His self-abnegation and monstrous insolence and arrogance reminds us of Conrad's Professor X. "Our task," said Nachayev, "is total, terrible, universal and merciless destruction."
4.
One week elapses between Chapter III and the subsequent scene in VIII, ten days elapse between VIII and IX (Verloc disappears on a trip abroad), and ten days elapse between XI and the final scene in XIII. Chapter IX uses up two days; Chapter VIII one additional day; II and III comprise another additional day. Everything happens within these four days, beginning with the events of II-III, then VIII, then IX.
5.
In The House of Seven Gables Hawthorne, in the famous death-scene of Judge Pyncheon in Chapter XVIII, creates by a shift in the point of view the effect of a halted segment of time, a symbolic representation of a frozen moment. The parallel is Chapter XI of The Secret Agent. Judge Pyncheon

-253-

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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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