Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Limits of Language in Heart of Darkness Essay -- Literary Analysis

The Limits of Language in Heart of Darkness From the very beginning of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad traps us in a complex play of language, where eloquence is little more than a tool to obscure horrific moral shortcomings. Hazy, absurd descriptions, frame narratives, and a surreal sense of Saussurean structural linguistics create distance from an ever-elusive center, to show that language is incapable of adequately or directly revealing truth. Understanding instead occurs in the margins and along the edges of the narrative; the meaning of a story â€Å"is not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze† (105). The title of the novel is itself misleading, because Conrad purposely leads us around understanding rather than directly to its heart, always hinting at something that, it seems, cannot be expressed. En route to â€Å"the biggest...most blank† space on the map of his youth, Marlow muses: â€Å"My isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea, the uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the truth of things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion† (108, 114). He repeats words until they are nothing but sounds, polysyllabic mouthfuls devoid of real meaning: â€Å"palpable,† â€Å"inestimable,† â€Å"inscrutable,† â€Å"impenetrable.† Thick layers of images accumulate until all senses are enshrouded in mist, darkness, and distance. And yet, even in the face of the Unknowable, there is still an adamantly declared sense of understanding, however elusive or inadequat e it may be. Marlow recalls that his experience in the Congo, for example, â€Å"seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me — and into ... ...ose of the earth,† according to the Saussurean linguistic theory that Conrad seems to support. â€Å"There was nothing either above or below him,† Marlow observes, â€Å"and I knew it... I †¦ did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air.† In his essay, â€Å"The Failure of the Imagination,† James Guetti writes that in Heart of Darkness, language has meaning â€Å"in terms of the exterior of experience — the coast of a wilderness, the surface of a river, a man's appearance and his voice — and the meaning can exist as a reality so long as one remains ignorant, deliberately or otherwise, of all that lies beyond these exteriors, of what language cannot penetrate. For with the intimation that there is something beyond verbal, and indeed, intellectual capacities, comes the realization that language is fiction† (SOURCE). Perhaps this is the ultimate horror.

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