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A Voyage Through Tradition: Marlow's Mind of Europe and [Joseph] Conrad's Depression [in the Heart of Darkness].

A Voyage Through Tradition: Marlow's Mind of Europe and [Joseph] Conrad's Depression [in the Heart of Darkness].

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Conor Dawson. Originally submitted for Modernism at University College Cork, with lecturer Professor Alex Davis in the category of English Language & Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Conor Dawson. Originally submitted for Modernism at University College Cork, with lecturer Professor Alex Davis in the category of English Language & Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
1A Voyage through Tradition:
Marlow’s Mind of Europe
 
and Conrad’s Depression
.
“Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world [...]There were moments when one’s past came back to one [...]”
  Heart of Darkness
 – 
 
Joseph Conrad
(61)
i
 
High Modernist T.S. Eliot emphasises the importance of 
“writ
[ing] not merely with
[one’s]
 own generation in
[one’s]
bones, but with a feeling that the whole literature of Europe [...]
has a simultaneous existence”
 
in his essay “
Tradition and the Individual Talent.
According
to Eliot’s poetic doctrine “this historical sense [...] is what makes a
writer traditional.
TheElotian
 perception of the past’s
presence
is fundamental to Joseph Conrad’s
 Heart of  Darkness
. Conrad evokes impressions of a nightmare journey which flows through several
distinct literary epochs, some “as old as literature itself” (Galv
án 87). Conrad adapts
topoi
 and themes from literature as diverse and distinct as Classical Latin, Italian epic, MedievalFrench and Anglo-Saxon elegy. In an attempt to shape his own depression, Conrad constructsMarlow, a man who relates impressions of his voyage through a heart of darkness. His dark anecdote is shaped by references and allusions to European literature.
In “[g]oing
up that
river,” the past comes back to Conr 
ad in the form of the
dead poets
(Eliot) of Europe andhis own personal anguish which he had endured ten years earlier
in King Leopold’s Congo.
 Conrad and Marlow voyage upriver through Tradition.
 
2Fernando
Galván’s
insightful analysis of 
 Heart of Darkness
, “Travel
Writing in British
Metafiction,”
not
es Conrad’s combination of the Classical “
descensus ad infernos
and the
night journey
topoi
(83). These
topoi
draw
attention to Book VI of Vergil’s
The Aeneid,
which desc
ribes Aeneus’ descent into Hades. Lilian Feder’s “Marlow’s Descent into Hell
,
 presents a convincing argument supporting this reading of Marlow’s voyage
as a descent intothe Stygian U
nderworld. Feder notes that Conrad “employs the imagery and sy
mbolism of 
the traditional voyage into Hades” (280). Such instances include Conrad’s allusion to the“Sibyl of Cumae
,
” during Marlow’s interview in the sepulchral city
(283) and the extensiveuse of grim shadow imagery to describe the inhabitants of the jungle. Feder thus notes that
Conrad’s “depiction of the natives in the jungle is like Vergil’s description of the tormentedshades in Hades” (284).
Conrad
’s depiction extends the use of 
Classical imagery to includethe R
iver Styx: “the swift shadows darted
out on the earth, swept around the river, gatheringthe steamer
into a shadowy embrace” (
 Heart of Darkness
 
89). The Augustan poet’s presenceis perhaps the most salient influence on Conrad’s evocation of Marlow’s voyage into the
heart of darkness. Conrad m
odels Marlow’s voyage on one of Europe’s canonical texts from
antiquity, using the ancient world in an attempt to comprehend the modern world; thus
demonstrating Conrad’s “historical sense”
as a writer (
Tradition and the Individual Talent
)and prefigurin
g James Joyce’s “mythical method” (Eliot “
Ulysses
, Order and Myth”)
.Francis Ford Coppol
a’s on
screen relocation of 
 Heart of Darkness
to Viet Nam in
Apocalypse Now
adapts
Feder’s interpretation of Marlow’s voyage as a de
scent into Hades for film. Federre
calls “Vergil’s shades who “
tendebant 
[
que
]
manus
ii
 
[...] pleading to be let aboard”Aeneus’ boat in the underworld (288). In
 Apocalypse Now
, as Captain Benjamin L.
 
3Wi
llard’s
iii
gunship approaches the Do Lung bridge;
“the last army outpost on the Nung
 
River,” Coppola
evokes a postmodern vision of the River Styx. The scene is eerilyreminiscent of Gustave Doré
’s
nineteenth century
illustration of Dante’s
 
crossing in “Le
Traversé
e du Styx.” Coppola’s
mis-en-scène
becomes shrouded in sinister chiaroscurolighting,
as desperate soldiers wade toward Willard’s boat making futile pleas
for salvation.The screams:
“Take me home!” and
 
“You’ll get what you deserve!” echo
from the inkydepths of the Nung River. The Vietnam War is figuratively portrayed as hell.
Coppola’s
surreal nightmare envisioning of Vietnam is indebted to
 Heart of Darkness,
not only for its
 plot structure, but for its visual themes as well. Essentially, Conrad’s
 Heart of Darkness
 
resurrects Vergil’s Classical T
radition of hell for Modernism. Coppola adapts this ConradianTradition for
 Apocalypse Now,
enabling the Stygian Tradition to flow through the NungRiver and into the world of Cinema.
Following his descent into hell, Marlow reflects that “[t]he mind of man is capable of 
anything
 – 
beca
use everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future” (
 Heart of  Darkness
64). This presents an interesting parallel with Aeneus.
Feder notes that “[i]n thelower world [Aeneus] looks both into [the] past and [the] future” (281). Feder acknowledg
esthe parallel, but fails to articulate its significance for Modernism. Both Aeneus and Marlow
 become aware of Eliot’s “historical sense” (“
Tradition and the Individual Talent
). Aeneus
and Marlow perceive “not only the pastness of t
he past, but [...] its presence
(
“Tradition andthe Individual Talent”
). As Eliot explains, T
radition is not “inherited, and if you want it youmust obtain it by great labour,” thus the
risky excursion into underworld is necessary beforeobtaining this
“indispensable”
perception.
The Aeneid 
and
 Heart of Darkness
can be read asvoyages to obtain the historical sense and, by extension, the great labour expended by theartist to become traditional.

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