Heart of Darkness as Frame Story

Heart of DarknessI just read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness again—the first time I’ve read it since I was forced to in college. My reason for reading it was that I had remembered that it was written almost entirely in quotes. In other words, that the story itself was the story of a guy telling the story that we know as “Heart of Darkness.”

It turns out that my memory is good. The first couple of pages talk about a couple of guys sitting on a boat, waiting for the tide to do its thing. While they wait, one of the guys tells the story of his work on a steamboat in Africa. But reading it didn’t answer my question, “Why did Conrad write the story in this way?”

Heart of Darkness is a Frame Story. This is basically a story within a story, but unlike, say, Hamlet, the story within is the most important story. From a stylistic standpoint, this structure is used to present the story as a real sailor’s yarn. It isn’t Conrad telling the story, it’s Marlow. But that strikes me as a pretty minor reason for all those paragraphs of dialog, which did nothing so much as pull me out of the narrative a few times per page.

Book Rags suggests a more believable reason for the book to be written in this way. It says, “Heart of Darkness is a frame tale, a structure that was quite popular in the last half of the nineteenth century.” I suspect that he was still looking for approval as a writer. But it is unfortunate; I really think we could edit the book into a standalone narrative and it would be much improved.

Having said that, I think Heart of Darkness is a wonderful read. I will grant that it is implicitly racist, but this is made up for by the fact that it is explicitly anti-imperialist. Although Kurtz is an interesting character, what really makes the novel work is Marlow. It works really well as a character study of him.

Of course, I have no intention of ever reading it again. It did, however, make me pick up The Confidence-Man. After only a few pages I thought, “Melville is so much better than Conrad.” And that is not any kind of a slight of Conrad.

Paul Ryan’s Holy Trinity

Reed F. Richardson - Artist's RenderingI was just writing to Reed Richardson, Eric Alterman’s unpaid lackey over at The Nation. Without trying, I think I wrote something semi-brilliant—which is my normal approach to brilliance. Reed just wrote an article Brilliant Disguise. This in itself is a disturbing development because it means that Alterman’s obsession with Bruce Springsteen is rubbing off on Reed, but who am I to judge (other than someone with very, very good taste in music)? In the article, he points out that Paul Ryan isn’t really a policy wonk. But of course, you already know that because I’ve been talking about this for years.

Reed’s argument is that Ryan is just an ideologue. This can’t be said enough. I put it differently: Ryan’s “budget” is not a budget at all; it is just a right wing wish list. Here is where I got semi-brilliant. (Anyone noting the thousands of people who came up with this first will be banned!) I summed up his policy proposals thusly:

  1. Cut programs for the poor
  2. Cut entitlements for middle class
  3. Cut taxes for the rich

This is the Holy Trinity for Paul Ryan—in more ways than one. Cut, cut, and cut: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost of right wing extremism.

I don’t think anything more need be said.

Except from The Boss: