Joseph Conrad

The sheer muscularity of Joseph Conrad’s prose, his ability to transpose opposites to create taut and descriptive sentences is, quite frankly, awesome. His description of a woman’s love is startling. “….for it is only women who manage to put at times into their love an element just palpable enough to give one fright–an extra terrestrial touch.” (Lord Jim, Penguin Classics, 2000, p.247)

There is an honesty and a clear sightedness in Conrad’s prose that is all too lacking in our world of spin and PR. We believe things not because they are, but because we keep getting told that they are. It doesn’t matter what inour lives I am talking about here be it English furniture, politics or science. What is great is great, what is not so great is just that. Do we need to be in Iraq? Does global warming need to be scientifically proven? “Scientifically proven” was the mantra of 1950’s TV advertisers who used the phrase for, among other things, hawking cigarettes. Who would think that it would be used to defeat the initiative to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

It is not just Conrad’s prose that is so deep. His stories involve the corruption of the self. The characters, Kurtz in “The Heart of Darkness”, Nostromo in that eponymous titled novel and Jim of “Lord Jim” understand the depth of their moral compromise and for the three of them it leads to their premature death. The apparent redemption of Jim is all the more poignant in Jim’s inability to escape his fate. The words touch the self in us and remind us what is real. We need that, scientifically proven or not.

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