Athenaeum Meeting Minutes – March 9, 2002 – Dog & Duck Pub
|Attending:||John Mays, Alan Hunt, Jeff Mays, Eli Pickering, Peter Hansen, Steve Pickens, Matt Thomas, Bob Hardister, Jason|
Welcome to new Athenaeum members Steve and Jason.
|Book for Discussion:||Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad|
All: General good reviews for the book. John actually pants when he hears "Joseph Conrad".
John: According to a literary critique by Mosser, Conrad was an inconsistent writer. His early and later work is quite bad. However, from ~1900-1912 the author, achieved dizzying heights of literary technique, producing his best work in that timeframe. Examples of his good stuff include the Nigger of the "Narcissus", Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and Lord Jim. The bad stuff: Chance, The Shadow-Line, and The Rescue.
John/Matt: What is Conrad’s history? He was born in Poland 1857, became a captain in the Merchant Marines (his seafaring knowledge is apparent in his writing), learned English as a 2nd language and married late in life.
Bob: The non-western characters, particularly the natives in Patusan, were too scripted, and thus unbelievable. Marlow comments they are "unknowledgeable" of the outside world.
Alan: The one Patusan native who receives favorable treatment by the author is Dain Waris, but here Conrad gives him "European" qualities. From Chapter 26, "…he knew how to fight like a white man", "...he also had a European mind". Marlow says Dain Waris "had captivated [him]".
Bob: Early in Chapter 2 Conrad uses the words "unintelligent brutality" to describe life, with it’s cruel twists of fate. Perhaps Conrad is a Platonist? Perhaps a irreligious realist/idealist?
Pete: Striped to its bear experience, life is irrational.
John: Mossely asserts that moral discovery is the end of all Conrad’s stories. The test is the essential theme, and when faced at that crucial moment how does the hero respond? There are 3 kinds of heroes in Conrad’s novels:
John/Eli: In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz realizes the depths to which he has sunk only at the very end, while on his deathbed. His last words, as he reaches this epiphany, "The Horror. The Horror", are evidence of his realization. Interestingly, it’s only after Marlow extracts Kurtz from the jungle, literally carried away from the natives and the de-civilizing affects of the jungle, that he attains self-knowledge.
Pete: Conrad takes a long time to explain what happened to Jim on the Pautna.
Eli: Conrad uses a literary technique called "inversion". From an essay by Davidson (1925), "[Conrad] rearranges events with regard to importance rather than chronology…to throw the underlying emphasis on the human situation". We are clued into Jim’s outcome before we know the cause of his condition, and thus are constantly asking ourselves what’s wrong with Jim? The psychological aspects of the novel are stressed at the expense of the story line.
Matt/Bob: Brierly’s offers an interesting parallel to Jim. Like Jim, here is a man certain in his own superiority as a sailor, but with a mysterious past that leads to his suicide.
John: Brierly thinks so highly of himself, but his own failings (which Conrad never puts forward for us to learn) are untenable, and he commits suicide as a result. Brierly is a type 2 hero, who never reckons with his own shortcomings.
Pete: The Stoich ideal endorses suicide. One example of this is the Anaeid’s Dido.
John: Conrad makes present at Jim’s trial all 3 types of heroes. Marlow is type 3, Brierly type 2, and another judge is type 1. This other judge, the "big assessor" is described with a dreamy smile, staring at the blotting-pad before him, playing with his fingers. He is the picture of a man lacking true depth of thought, but apparently with enough clout as a seaman to serve as judge at Jim’s trial.
John: The scene described before Brierly jumps is full of symbolism (the map room, the straight lines drawn on the map, etc). This further links Brierly to Jim. Both jump committing moral suicide.
Matt: Conrad uses many realistic devices (inversion among them), to make the story more familiar to the reader. Events are seldom described completely, leaving us with snap shots, snippets, and an incomplete picture of the whole, just as in real life.
Pete: These techniques are sometimes distracting. Characters never finished a sentence, and as such the dialog is disjointed.
John: Mosely argues the dialog is symptomatic of the emotional chaos of the characters.
Eli: Although the dialog can be hard to follow, Conrad is a master of the language when describing a scene, or a moment. An example from Chapter 32, as Jim stands with Jewel after killing his would be assassins: "The world was still, the night breathed on them, one of those nights that seemed created for the sheltering of tenderness, and there are moments when our souls, as if freed from their dark envelope, glow with an exquisite sensibility that makes certain silences more lucid than speeches." Let that roll around in your head! You don’t have to search long in a Conrad novel to find such a beautiful passage.
Matt: Agreed! Matt reads another passage from Chapter 32, "I must tell you the girl had left us to ourselves some time before. [Jim] slapped his chest. ‘Yes! I feel that, but I believe I am equal to all my luck!’ He had the gift of finding a special meaning in everything that happened to him. This was the view he took of his love-affair; it was idyllic, a little solemn, and also true, since his belief had all the unshakable seriousness of youth."
John: In further defense of Conrad’s writing style John reads from Chapter 2 a paragraph full of bleak and dark words: "There are many shades in the danger of adventures and gales, and it is only now or then that there appears on the face of facts a sinister violence of intention – that indefinable something which forces it upon the mind and the heart of a man, that this combination of accidents or these elemental furies are coming at him with a purpose of malice, with a strength beyond control, with an unbridled cruelty that means to tear out of him his hope and his fear, the pain of his fatigue and his longing for rest: which means to smash, to destroy, to annihilate all he has seen, known, loved, enjoyed, or hated…"
Bob: The story is enigmatic in the end. What is the answer to Jim’s search for self-absolution? Does he find redemption with Doramin’s bullet? Bob believes he does, but Eli thinks it is Jim’s final failure. Conrad offers no answers, but instead raises the question for the reader alone to ponder.
Matt: The language on the last page of the novel mirrors this obscurity, "Is he satisfied-quite, now, I wonder? We ought to know. He is one of us…" and later Marlow reiterates these questions with the phrase, "Who knows?"
John: The discussion turns to Stein. His introduction in Chapter 20 is full of vivid images of his home, with descriptions of candles, and circles of light. Crepuscular! (see Jeff’s vocabulary list). Stein comments on Jim’s character, "He is a romantic-romantic…And that is very bad, very bad…Very good, too." Later Marlow says, "Perhaps he is"…"but I know you are." To which Stein remarks, "Well-I exist, too." Terrific exchange!
Bob: Stein the naturalist reveals something to us about Conrad’s view of the world. Stein loves his butterflies, elevating the creatures of this world above man. Conrad punctuates this when he tells of Stein’s encounter with his enemies, in which he gains the advantage and kills them instead. As he stands above their corpses he sees a rare butterfly and captures it with glee, seemingly unmoved and unperturbed by the killing of his would be assassins.
Alan: The image of a butterfly’s shadow passing over one’s face is an eastern metaphor for death.
Jeff: The killing of Stein’s enemies is a side story of the main plot, but one with specific import to the novel. This is indicative of Conrad, who is deliberate in his literary construction.
Bob: The wretched Cornelius is described as a "Nazarene". This perhaps is symptomatic of Conrad’s Jewish background.
Jeff: This novel is in not influenced by a Christian worldview. It can in no way be construed as a Christian novel. Conrad’s anti-theism is apparent in Marlow’s character, who it seems is given the power to loose or bind Jim for his moral shortcomings. In essence, our Maker has abandoned Jim to his own failings.
Matt: Furthermore, this seems to be a novel about the depravity of man, without hope, and without enlightening aspects of any kind. There is a complete absence of the Gospel message.
Eli: Stein, too, with his inverted view of the created order (man is NOT the chief work of God’s creation), is another example. Stein seems to be a "Darwinian" character (note Lord Jim was written just 40 years after Origin of Species). It is only speculation, but Conrad may have been influenced by the "new science" of evolution. Stein is after all a naturalist just like Chucky D.
John: Although it’s not a central theme to Lord Jim, the author is incapable of writing a decent love story. Mosely calls this the "Uncongenial Subject" and it is a failing of Conrad’s work after 1913. Mosely sites the author’s attempt to use jungle imagery (vines that twist and twine their way into every nook and crevice) as an ill-constructed metaphor for sex, but instead succeeds only in conjuring images of choking and suffocation.
Matt: Environment imagery is used skillfully in Lord Jim, particularly in foreshadowing Jim’s own death after the Gentleman Brown kills Dain Waris. From Chapter 45, "The sky over Patusan was blood-red, immense, streaming like an open vein." Wow! Who among you will ever see a red sunset in the same way?
Eli: The foreshadowing occurred much earlier, though with far more subtlety. Early in Chapter 10, after Jim has jumped from the Patuna we know that he is lost for good, "…he had jumped into an everlasting deep hole. He had jumped from a height he could never scale again."
Matt: Marlow has some unrealistic characteristics. How could he truly recite the entire narrative with the clarity he seems to have of everything that was said? John notes that Marlow is a type 3 hero, and a favorite of Conrad. Marlow is the main character in Youth, and it is the same Marlow that ventures down the Congo in Heart of Darkness. In these novels, Marlow realizes his own limitations, and is eventually overcomes them.
Jeff/Pete: The jungles of Lord Jim remind us of Lord of the Flies. Most striking in that book is the pig’s head surrounded by flies, symbolic of decay and separation from civilizing affects of the urban world. (A theme also prevalent in Heart of Darkness).
Matt: The Eastern Pacific setting conjures a sense of the unknown. Drawing from his own recent travels in the Far East, Matt shares with us his own personal connection to this mood. Malaysia is an exotic place surrounded by jungles and deep seated British influence.
John: Gentleman Brown is the catalyst that brings Jim’s past crashing back upon him. Marlow tells us in Chapter 41 Brown has, "a satanic gift of finding out…the weakest spot of his victim". Brown chastises Jim, "I came here for food. D’ye hear?-food to fill our bellies. And what did you come for? We don’t ask you for anything but to give us a fight or a clear road to go back from whence we came…" Later, Brown’s "gift" strikes home, "This is as good a jumping-off place for me as another… These are my men in the same boat-and, by God, I am not the sort to jump out of trouble and leave them in a d—d lurch." Brown won’t jump, but Jim has already.
Matt: At the trial, a man calls a passing dog, "a wretched cur", and Jim thinks the comment is meant for him.
Eli: An essay by Sherry (in the Everyman’s Library addition) points out the dichotomy in Jim’s character, and Conrad’s use of mist of fog to separate the two aspects of his nature; the man Jim is and the man he thought he was. Marlow insists he doesn’t understand Jim, "The views he let me have of himself were like those gleams through the shifting rents in a thick fog". In Chapter 11 Marlow says, "I had another glimpse through the rent in the mist in which he had his being."
John/Matt: We discussed which of us was sympathetic toward Jim. Those who were had personal stories to tell, in which they failed to act courageously at the critical moment. An essay by Guerard (1958) opens with similar reflection, "The universality of Lord Jim is…obvious, since nearly everyone has jumped off some Patnau and most have been compelled to live on, desperately or quietly engaged in reconciling what we are with what we would like to be."
Eli: Another aspect of Jim’s dichotomy is his need for acceptance. Guerard’s essay points out that Jim cannot believe in himself until others first believe in him. This is what binds Jim to Marlow, and it’s a relationship writ large with the natives of Patusan who look to Jim nearly as a God. Lines penned under the name Novalis (who Alan identifies as Friederich von Hardenberg) after the dedication page reflect this theme, "It is certain my conviction gains infinity the moment another soul will believe in it."
Alan/Jeff: From the end of the novel, "But we can see him, an obscure conqueror of fame, tearing himself out of the arms of a jealous love at the sign, the call of his exalted egoism." This is the second time "a sign, a call" is used, the first being Jewel’s impassioned questioning of Marlow, wanting to know what would take Jim away from her. "Will it be a sign, a call?"
Alan: There is some question to the nuance of Stein’s exchange with Marlow, earlier quoted in these notes, "He is a romantic-romantic…And that is very bad, very bad…Very good, too. " Then Marlow, "But is he?" Alan believes the question is "is [Jim] good," rather than, "is [Jim] romantic." The question remains unanswered.
New Feature! Thank you, Jeff, for putting this together
pertaining to frogs or toads
(predicate nominative of sepulcher); an act of interment
inclined to healthy rosiness, ruddy
a cigar with square cut ends
The boatswain of a Lascar or East Indian crew
Hairy, shaggy (poss. Bearded, unshaven); course, boorish
Light twilight, hazy, dim
a discharge of many firearms, any rapid outburst or barrage
Sword of Malayan origin having a wavy, double-edged blade
Having poor vision, slow of understanding or discernment
Voting for May:
|(John) One Hundred Years of Solitude|
|(Steve) Uncle Tom’s Cabin|
|(Pete) Brave New World /
Abolition of Man
|(Matt) Julius Caesar /
Brightest Heaven of Invention
|(Matt) Art of War|
|(Pete) Fahrenheit 451|
April 13th at the Dog and Duck Pub
|April:||The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn|
|May:||One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez|