Monday, April 5, 2010

stencil #018 - joseph conrad

Lygon St, Brunswick East

[Thanks for the can of red for my bday, Barbara . . . I wasn't so sure about this "mid-life crisis" colour at first but I reckon Conrad looks pretty good in red . . . and no Dan, it's not Joseph Stalin.]

Why read?

In Gargoyles, Thomas Bernhard says that reading is still the most bearable of all forms of disgust. I have to agree.
  
Over the years, Conrad's novels have made life on this planet more bearable. Recently I read VictoryAxel Heyst, the disillusioned central character (aptly described as the Hamlet of the sea), brought to mind the opening paragraph to  Heimito von Doderer's Every Man a Murderer:

"Everyone’s childhood is plumped down over his head like a bucket. The contents of this bucket are at first unknown. But throughout life, the stuff drips down on him slowly
and there’s no sense changing clothes or costume, for the dripping will continue."

In Conrad’s novel, Axel’s father, a disenchanted philosopher whose pessimistic books discourage involvement in life, ‘plump[s] down [his attitude] over [Axel’s] head’. Axel adopts his father’s scepticism and as an adult, seeks solitude and refuge from humanity on a remote island in the Malay Archipelago.

“For fifteen years Heyst had wandered . . .
‘I’ll drift,’ Heyst had said to himself deliberately.
He did not mean intellectually or sentimentally or morally. He meant to drift altogether and literally, body and soul, like a detached leaf drifting in the wind-currents under the immovable trees of a forest glade; to drift without ever catching on to anything.
‘This shall be my defence against life,’ he had said to himself with a sort of inward consciousness that for the son of his father there was no other worthy alternative.”

The major concern of Victory is the nature of Axel's attempt to live a life of detachment and philosophical isolation and whether it is possible to live such a life of solitude, apart from the sufferings of humanity.

Conrad’s novel is gripping and Axel’s belated conversion to life is bitterly moving and tragic. Its status as a minor/deficient work is being reassessed which may bring it the greater attention it deserves.


Conrad's novels shall be my defence against life.

Another fan of Victory here.

1 comment:

Sophie Milne said...

Takeshi Yasuda says "if we don't touch we go mad". I think he spoke of the physical but believe it could apply to other aspects of being human -emotional, intellectual... Detachment and isolation from suffering seems ironically depressing. I think I'd rather let life attack me with all it's force.

Beautiful post. Can I borrow Victory?!