Remember my Heart of Darkness post from a few days back? Well in it I mentioned an article, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” by Chinua Achebe (available online) and I just finished reading it. I’m going to reproduce their bibliographic information at the bottom of the page, in case someone decides to use it for scholarship, in which case an online text-only version would be unacceptable. As for the article itself, it’s wonderful, beautifully written (which is really saying something because most scholarship, even good scholarship, is usually a snooze), and quite compelling. In it Achebe makes an argument for Conrad being “a thoroughgoing racist,” who “engaged in inducing hypnotic stupor in his readers through a bombardment of emotive words and other forms of trickery” which leaves “much more … at stake than stylistic felicity.” Kaboom! Achebe just threw down the gauntlet.
Remember when I said, “Heart of Darkness is a classic, it should be read, absolutely, but there just isn’t any emotional resonance to it, at least not for me.” Well I wrote that three days ago, and I am already calling it into question. That’s what I wanted from my class: to dig into this dense text and unpack it. Achebe does this brilliantly, and the “hypnotic stupor” induced by Conrad’s writing would be a likely source of my ambivalence. The other possible cause that Achebe points out is much more sinister, namely “that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked.” I hate to admit that Achebe might be right about that, but in a text about imperialism in the Congo the racism was, indeed, expected. I didn’t enjoy it, but it didn’t leap out to me. I only noted it briefly, as though it was a matter of fact, and Achebe calls into question my lack of questioning.