Heart of Darkness

I’ve finally started reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This is a book which has been creeping into my consciousness for some time. I’m not quite sure how it all started, but the phrase “Heart of Darkness” has become such a part of the English language that I suspect there was always a germ hidden somewhere in my mind’s dark matter. It’s only since about two years ago that I realised it was the name of a novel.

Since then, references have cropped up with increasing frequency, as these things tend to once a speck of knowledge takes hold. I first had the notion that the original Heart of Darkness was in Indo-China. I think it may have been Guy’s references to the Heart of Darkness bar in Pnom Penh, coupled with seeing Apocalypse Now for the first time (better late than never). I finally worked out that the Congo was even darker than the Mekong, a discovery which coincided with my growing interest in this part of Africa (partly sparked by references in a short story which I wrote, partly by the documentary Darwin’s Nightmare which I am dying to see). Subsequently, I discovered a third, South American heart of darkness, watching Werner Herzog’s films Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God. And then, reading The Heart of Darkness, to see Conrad describing the Thames as, in its day, another mysterious, treacherous, threatening river, the ancient Romans ever unsure as to what those pesky Brits are going to pull on them… TOO MUCH!

Anyway, all of this thinking about rivers and wildernesses… it keeps feeding a need to explore, deep inside me, a Conrad/Hemingway/Chatwin/Herzog urge. I want to be somewhere other.

The book itself… I’m not finding easy, it’s one of those books where my eyes keep deflecting off the page, I have to maintain maximum concentration to mine the richness of the prose. But every time I manage to do so, I am rewarded by beautiful gems (ivory?). I often think that I’d like to make notes of memorable quotes in the books I read, build up a nice little database like Niina’s, but apart from the fact that I never have anything to hand to take notes with, I don’t think I have an eye for soundbites (and usually when I read other peoples’ favourite quotes, I find myself longing for a bit more context). Anyway, this is a thought that struck me as I was reading last night, and there on a single page I spotted two prime suspects:

You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appals me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies – which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world – what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do.

and

No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence – that which makes its truth, its meaning – its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream – alone …