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A conversation about Joseph Conrad's The Shadow Line with Monika Greenleaf and Rush Rehm

Monika Greenleaf is a comparative literature scholar who teaches in the Department of Slavic and the Department of Comparative Literature here at Stanford. She is of Polish extraction herself and specializes in Polish and Russian literature. She is the author of Pushkin and Romantic Fashion as well as editor of Russian Subjects: Nation, Empire, and […]

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This is KCSU, Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
I'm coming to you from the Stanford campus.
Welcome back to our mine, FEST friends.
Welcome to our readers' digest, our pilgrims' progress,
and to that inquest of ideas that comes to you
from a recess of the Stanford campus called KCSU.
In title opinions, footsteps,
dying with a dying fall through the halls of thought.
We have a special episode for you today.
It's the audio recording of an event that took place under the
Eegis of a book club called Another Look,
which is sponsored by Stanford's Continuing Studies program.
Those of you who listened to the Werner Herzog show,
we aired a couple of months ago,
know about another look, which brought Herzog to Stanford back in February.
Another look was started four years ago by novelist Tobias Wolff,
who was my guest on entitled opinions a few years back.
And this year, I agreed to take over from him as director of the club.
Another look sponsors three events a year.
What we're going to air for you today is the recording of our most recent event,
which took place here at Stanford on May 10th of this year.
The book under discussion is Joseph Conrad's The Shadow Line.
It's not imperative that you read this short masterpiece in order to appreciate
the conversation that follows,
but I would highly recommend that you do read it,
either before or after listening to this show,
not only to get the most out of what follows,
but also because it's a beautiful novella.
So here we go with Joseph Conrad,
a discussion of The Shadow Line.
This is our last meeting of the academic year,
and I'm very pleased to have with me to colleagues from Stanford.
The book under discussion tonight, The Shadow Line by Joseph Conrad,
is a book that I chose.
I've been asked by a few people why did I choose that particular book by Joseph Conrad?
And the answer is not obvious.
It's not one of his most well-known books.
He wrote it rather late in his career in 1915, I think it came out.
The consensus in the traditional scholarships around in Conrad is that after 1911,
his work and his writing took a precipitous decline in quality,
and yet many people believe that The Shadow Line is a kind of late masterpiece.
Conrad didn't die until 1924,
but I tend to be of the opinion that The Shadow Line is definitely worth another look.
I chose it for more specific reasons as well,
or I think it's short enough for this kind of form.
And also, I think it can be approached, it can be interpreted in,
well at least at four different levels, probably more.
One is, let's say, the literal level.
In other words, it's a story about Conrad's experience of becoming a captain for the first time,
of assuming his first command, most of what you've read in the book is autobiographical,
in the literal sense that let's say 80 to 95% of this account is literally true to the facts
of his Conrad himself experienced it during his first command.
So there's that literal level at which it holds a certain fascination.
I think it's also at the historical level, one can interpret that.
It would require a different kind of interpretation, because it is written after the outbreak of the First World War.
The book is dedicated to his son Boris, who had at the age of 1718,
I didn't roll and had gone off to fight in the First World War.
So there is some kind of parallel between the shadow line that our protagonist has to cross in this ordeal
that he goes through in the story and what the soldiers would be going through in a different context,
but somehow the analogy between those two situations seems to be promoted quite explicitly by Conrad
through his dedication to his son and all those others, English young men who had enrolled in the war effort.
I believe there's also a psychological interpretation that would be altogether different.
The literal and historical, where we're dealing with the turmoil in the psyche of the main character
and the kind of intense pressure that he has been subjected to given the adversity of circumstances that he has to face on his First Command.
And this sense of whether he is actually adequate to the challenges that he has to face,
or whether he is going to collapse under the pressure of the emergency.
And if we get a chance later in the discussion, we might draw attention or I might draw attention to the passage in his own fictional diary
that he writes during the moment of crisis where he doubts his own fitness for command and seems to fall into this resignation
that he finally is coming face-to-face with his own insecurities.
Insecurities, I go all the way back to his childhood and he's very close to coming to the conclusion that he was not good enough.
And he is pulled out of that self-doubt in a very critical moment as we know by ransom the chief steward who stands in for all the other men in the company, the ships company.
And I would like to argue, but I don't want to preempt anything that our participants are going to say that it's ultimately this vision of how much we depend on other men.
How much we depend on others, how much we need others in order to come out on the other side of these kind of crises.
Finally, I think there's a possibility of metaphysical interpretation, but I'm not going to go into that now.
If there's occasion I might draw attention to the way in which one can read this whole account as one of the most profound literary depictions of the emotion of dread,
of anxiety and how it entails something about the relationship between being and nothingness.
But that is really in the speculative realm if we have time we can get into that.
But as we stand here, I want to first hear what our participants have.
I've chosen very deliberately because I believe that Professor Rush Rem, who is an actor, a director, and professor of drama and the Department of Classics here at Sanford, works a lot on Greek tragedy.
There's a way in which the role of fate, the tragic necessity, the order of necessity plays such a huge role in Conrad's works in general, but also this book in particular.
So along with courses on ancient theatre and culture, Rush also teaches courses on contemporary politics and the media.
And United States imperialism probably very busy at the current moment as we speak.
They also directs and acts professionally serving as artistic director of the Stanford Summer Theatre.
And that is a professional theatre.
I'm sure many of you are familiar with that that presents a dramatic festival, film series, and symposium based on a major playwright each summer.
He's the author of several books. Let me just mention radical theatre, Greek tragedy in the modern world, the play of space, spatial transformation in Greek tragedy, marriage to death.
I like that. The conflation of wedding and funeral rituals in Greek tragedy.
So we'll hear first from Professor Rem, and then we'll move on to Monika Greenleaf, who is a professor in the Department of Slavix, as well as the Department of Comparative Literature here at Stanford.
Monika is a Polish extraction, which is particularly relevant in this case, because Conrad, although he became a naturalized British citizen, and I believe it was 1886, and did not embark upon a writing career until he was a British citizen.
There's many ways in which his roots are entirely Polish, and I think that Monika is going to speak to us a little bit, at least, about the role of that Polish heritage and what kind of space it occupies in the book.
Monika is the author of also several books, Puchkin and Romantic Fashion. She edited a book called Russian Subjects Nation, Empire and the Culture of Russia, it's called An Age, and she also has a forthcoming book with a very interesting title, Amor Fatty, which is the Latin for a love of fate.
This subtitle is How Russian Theater Reconceives Time, so we are going to give our participants about 15 minutes each to make their opening statements, and then I will maybe query them for a little bit after that, and then we will open it up to general discussion. So, rush your own.
Great, well, that sounds loud to me, that better guess. I was really thrilled when Robert asked me to join this panel this evening, because I was given this book at a time comparable to the narrators, when I was leaving Australia and I had just gone through something difficult.
I read the book, and I read the book in a course founded relevant in certain ways, but that was 36 years ago. I haven't read it since until a couple of months ago, and what I found is the book speaks even more powerfully to me today.
In fact, much more so, and I'm going to spend a minute or two trying to figure out why that might be. And to do that, I want to talk a little bit about the title, the shadow line, and what that means, and of course the ostensible subject is the shadow line between late youth and maturity.
But if you think about the phrase, I moved to think about the shadow, a person might cast from the sun, the steam and send poem, right, had a little shadow goes in that with me, which moves of course with the sun, right, so the shadow line is moving, or the idea that the line is shadowy or ambiguous or vague, so you can actually determine what is demarcating as itself.
Of course, the song, right, the value of the shadow of death, and I think that that is probably the last one is the reason why I found the book particularly relevant, and I think Conrad points it in that direction at the end, if you remember, and I'll just read it, ransom is leaving, it's the final lines of the book.
And he's going up the stairs, and the narrator hears him consciously step by step in mortal fear of starting into sudden anger, our common enemy, it was his hard fate to carry consciously within his faithful breast.
He's a common enemy of termination, that line into shadow, I guess. And so I think that's probably the reason why the book speaks most powerfully to me now, more than it did even when I was in the sense closer to the age.
And now what I'd like to do, because I come from the theater, is to say a little bit of a theatrical approach, if I may, to just two aspects of the book, and I hope that that will generate some memory from you, who just read it, and also possibly open up some more interesting lines of interpretation about it.
And they would simply be this, I just want to race through some settings in the book, and in the same way the characters associated with those settings.
It's kind of a theatrical way you might think about something where it's at, and who's in it, and what are they doing.
It's not to argue about Conrad as a theater person, although only he could tell us more about that, because it turns out he actually was interested in the theater, and his father was involved in it in Poland.
And the first setting is actually the ship that he's leaving, and one of the little details, right? It's a scholarship.
And if it weren't for its internal propulsion, it would be worthy of a man's love, trouble with the book, and it's not quite the red ship.
And he has several encounters with people on the ship, or basically surprised that he wants to leave it.
And I could detail them all, but the one that I'd like to just spend a second on is the second engineer who's actually named John Neven, this is his name.
And he's a misogynist, Conrad Teller, the narrator tells us, and he's deeply upset because he thinks an area is leaving the ship because he's after a woman.
And he's quite upset about it, and the narrator says something which is not a man without some judgment already.
He recognizes, and I quote, "Nobody but a friend could be so angry as that."
So there's something about, and already the motifs that Robert brought out, which I'm going to return to again and again, is this idea that there are friends and comrades, and one can find a way through some of the difficulties that the shadow line puts in front of you by virtue of your contact with friends and people who care for you.
And one of the things the narrator realizes is the captain can't, and the guy who wants to give him some tonic because he thinks his problem is liver, and this man, Neven, are all, in some sense, on his side, and trying to help him.
But it's not a woman that other narrators after.
In fact, he says, it's not a McNee, the narrator points out, it's not a married story, it's actually a romance, it's a divorce.
He wants to divorce himself from the ship and the sea. And so in order to do that, he goes to the next scenic place, which is the harbor office.
And I find that little scripture that remarkable, but just quickly, lofty, big, cool, white room, everybody in the room, officials and the public were in white.
This is his white world, probably white in other ways as well.
But what does he get from there? He gets his papers to leave the ship, and the description is that the official hands them to them, hands them to him, as if they were passports for Hades.
So we get a sort of fortite, some problem may lie ahead.
And then of course, the next place is the officers home.
And so the divorce that the narrator wants to make is clean, like complete, because if you remember he walking away and he thinks, "Oh, I'm not going to stay to hotel, then I would just be a passenger. I'll stay at the officers home, so he's still, you know, sideling around, there's reference to the sea."
And then to pick up the notion of the Hades, the officers home is still as a tomb.
Description in there's language air and this kind of pulpit environment.
And I could say much about that, but it anticipates, I think, this scenario of an interior, a linguitative, you can say that.
The delay before he can embark on his ship when he finally gets it, and of course, the horrible, torpid stillness of the sea in, I think, chapter 4 and 5, where he's caught in the inability to move.
But you get a little bit of that already in this setting in the officers home.
There, of course, he meets Captain Giles, a central character in the piece.
And Giles remember talks and the narrator doesn't like what he's saying. He's part of the same thing.
I'll just read a quick passage from that. He's not attuned to the wisdom of Captain Giles.
He says of him that he had an appearance of a man from whom you could expect sound advice, moral sentiments, with perhaps a platitude or two thrown in on occasion.
Not from a desire to dazzle, but from honest conviction.
But for the narrator, Captain Giles sounds like a polonious.
It matters on and it's just what he calls it a part of the hollow conceit that it's all just stupid and overrated.
So he's not attuned to take care of what Giles has to say.
And so this Mellez that he suffers is kicked into action by the recognition from Giles that there might be a command in the offing.
And that generates the narrator's locomotion, as he says.
As soon as I convince myself that this stale, unprofitable world in my discontent contained such a thing as command, I was moved.
And of course, that's a reference to Hamlet. And there are many others, another one that pops up all over the book.
But another theatrical perspective is the influence of Shakespeare on this piece.
And one of the examples, when he decides to confront the steward to find out about the letter that has been not been delivered to him, he says, what we wonder is what medium do that.
He says, well, it was an impulse of some sort and effect of that force somewhere within our lives which shapes them this way or that.
No, my will had nothing to do with it. There's a divinity that shapes our ends of Hugh, Hugh, the how we will, and Hamlet.
There's something that he can do it and there's a sentence in which there is fate, destiny, something that is guiding him.
That takes me back to the harbor office where you remember him, he's Captain Ellis, who is this deputy Neptune.
The squad is a self-reflecting divinity of the sea. And that suggests now a new view of this harbor office.
Still white, it's white stones, white ports, he still brings that up.
But now it's related to commercial power and interest. He says that Ellis was holding a pen, not a trident.
And then the official pen, far mightier than the sword in making or marring the fortune of simple toiling men.
It looks like we're going to get the representation of the harbor office is now a seat of power against which the common sailors must rebel.
But when he leaves, Ellis walks into the door with his new command, the narrator opens the door.
And he says, "At the last moment the fellowship of semen asserted itself stronger than the difference of age in station.
It asserted itself and Captain Ellis' voice, goodbye, and good luck to you."
So somehow something bigger than the commercial difference, the age difference status difference operates this suggestion that there's a solidarity that goes with the sea.
I'm going to jump to many other little settings and let us get ourselves to the ship where he finally sees the ship from the launch.
In the description of the ship, which is going to be his new home, quite romantic and eloquent, it's my ship.
He sees it like some rare woman. She was one of those creatures whose mere existence is enough to awaken and unselfish delight.
It is good to be in the world in which she has her being.
So we're back now to the world of romance, really, and now everything is fulfilled just with her, the ship.
And then he finally steps on the deck of the ship and it's even more.
Nothing, I quote again, "Nothing could equal the fullness of that moment, the ideal of completeness of that emotional experience which had come to me without the preliminary toil and disenchantments of an obscure career."
He's like someone who dropped out of the queue and then jumped to the front of it.
I'm interested in that. I don't have to go through all the crap of getting there.
It's kind of wonderful, we should have destiny connected to the ship.
And then so that seems to be the sort of the, if I may say, so the end, from my reading, the romantic part of it, if you will.
Because now he goes down, the setting now takes him into the captain's cabin.
And you remember he sits in his chair, the captain's chair.
Turns out to be the same chair that the previous captain had died in.
But this is what he says in that chair, it's page 51.
A succession of men had sat in that chair as though each had left a little of himself between the four walls.
You too would seem to say, talking to himself.
You too shall taste of that peace and that unrest and an important passage here.
In a searching intimacy with your own self, obscure as we were, and as supreme in the face of all the winds and all the seas.
In an immensity that receives no impress, preserves no memories, and keeps no reckoning of lives.
By which I think he means, I locate myself in this, in watch as a dynasty of people before me.
But it's not heroic in the sense that he realizes it's up against the sea.
An immensity that is not interested or impressed by you at all.
So this is the kind of tension that operates once he gets on board the ship and he's sitting in this chair.
And what's intriguing about that, he looks in the mirror and he says he doesn't think himself is alone.
He sees his long line of people before him in the future that might sit in such a chair.
There's an idea of a role with the commander of the ship.
And it's wonderful because theatrically so intriguing, somebody's watching him and he doesn't know it.
Mr. Burns is in there if you remember, watching him, and then of course he has to rise, put on a role, it's a rise.
Leisurely he says that be leisurely, doesn't look like he's out of control.
And seeing that old man, he says in the face of that man several years, I judge older than myself, I became aware of what I had already left behind my youth.
And so now we're moving into the next phase.
And of course in many wonderful characters on the ship, most important of course is Ransom to cook with wonderfully clear descriptions.
A deadly enemy in his breast who had schooled himself into a systematic control of feelings and movements.
A priceless man altogether, soul as firm as a muscle of his body.
His magnificent kind of hero of the peace really in a way.
Well, if you remember the one thing now to go back to the setting on the seafront, I mean before he gets the command is the delay.
The ship can't get ready, they're people that are sick, they have to put on your supplies and he's just puzzled and baffled by this delay because he wants to move.
He's into the mood of heroic action.
Once the sea I was not afraid of facing anything, the sea was now the only remedy for all my troubles.
So it looks like, ah, if I get to sea, and of course we know what happens when he gets to sea.
Right, runs an even greater delay.
The ship won't move.
In that cabin downstairs he discovers the quine line has been, well, replaced by some gritty substance that does nobody any good.
One place I haven't talked about is the deck and he does go on deck.
He says at one point when he realizes that the quine line is not there anymore.
The quine is going to save all the people from sicknesses.
It's like gold, he's his faith in it, just like the ship was his faith in it.
The faith in the quine line that is gone.
And he has to go on deck and he says at some point that, see if I can find this because it's quite a wonderful little passage.
Yes, he hastens on deck and he says as part of his training and instinct,
quote, "the difficulties that dangers the problems of the ship at sea must be met on deck."
And there, intriguingly, we meet the rest of the crew.
Would you have an idea you've been introduced to yet?
We meet Frenchie and I think his name is Gambrol and this weird second mate that's troublesome and sick.
And they don't judge him for the neglect of not actually double checking, triple checking, the quine line.
And this leads him to a remarkable phrase.
I ask myself whether it was a temper of their souls or the sympathy of their imagination that made them so wonderful, so worthy of my undying regard.
And in this crisis, in which many of them are sick and some of them are getting increasingly sick,
their refusal to judge him leads to his recognition that he owes them his undying regard.
I'll just jump to a couple more things and then stop.
This languidity, the torpedo, the failure of movement, the fact that the sea and the sky and the elements merge, don't seem to be discernible from one another,
and get them nowhere it would appear are a kind of challenge that this, the hero of the piece, has no notion he would ever face anything like that.
Whatever he's going to face would be something more active and engaged and it's not.
It's a kind of weird survival.
And then as you know, and as Robert pointed out, there's a storm brewing or something, it's the sky's getting dark and he's stuck in the cabin, he doesn't know what to do, and Ransom comes down and tells him you belong on Dexter, and he goes up and meets his destiny, if you will.
And they're waiting and waiting and waiting.
And just a quotation from that passage, it's so beautiful.
He sees a small circle of light and then the characters we men in out of it, the pinnacle light, which I think he's blown out by the storm.
But this is what he describes it as, and this gets us to the metaphysical level that Robert was talking about, I think.
Such must have been the darkness before creation.
It had closed behind me.
I knew I was invisible to the man at the helm.
Neither could I see anything.
He, Ransom, was alone. I was alone. Every man was alone where he stood, and every form was gone to spar, sail, fittings, rails.
Everything was bought it out in the dreadful smoothness of that absolute night.
And then Alhamdulillah, the rain comes, right?
Darkness becomes water. Wonderful. Darkness on the water.
And that water leads to eventually two of breeze and eventually to them arriving in their port.
And last thing I want to say about the setting is the fact that the ship arrives at port.
And then in a standard heroic notion that the shadow crossing the shadow line is actually in arrival that something you would think, "Ah, we've reached it.
Something has happened." But in fact, as you know, he has to watch the sick carried off the boat.
He has to say goodbye to Ransom to whom he owes an enormous amount because he and Ransom basically alone managed to get the boat into the harbor.
And also he is now refitting the boat to go out again.
The sense is that the arrival of the shadow line is only a new continuation.
There's no clear arrival here on the shadow line, really is a shadow line.
But what, in my view, in many ways, is important critics like Alhamdulillah, and I encourage you to read Ian Watt.
This is it, and as Robert mentioned too, there is a recognition through all of this in all of these different settings and all these different characters, some of whom are villainous and evil and stupid, but others of whom are of great help and encouragement in that without all of those people.
The narrator of this book would never get through it, would never have arrived anywhere.
And at the end when he meets Captain Giles at the very end of the book just before he says goodbye to Ransom at the end, Captain Giles tells him that there is no rest for any of us reminding us that Giles, the platitude in his Giles, actually knows something and has given the narrator in a sense of confirmation of what he's actually doing, which is to go back out to see and carry on.
And the last thing I just want to say is that I did saw a piece of Robert mentioned World War I, and I did a piece recently in World War I theatrical piece of compilation of writing.
And there's a poem by Teve Hume, I think he's his name, H-U-L-M-E, Home, who was killed at the Battle of Arat in 1917, the year this book was published.
There's a poem called "Trances Santel Wau", and just two lines in this poem. Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do, but keep on.
Well, I'll try to jump in with a number of comments and questions for you, but I think that we're going to just move on to Monika first and then we'll get into it all.
Okay, I'm shorter and let me see, I guess it'll be awkward if I stand to stand or turn. I do so. Can you see me for back there? All right.
I'm glad to have read this book through Professor Rem's eyes. It's much better through his eyes. I love the book, but going through all of the scenes and noticing how the spaces are shaped, you know, from tiny to bigger, you know.
And so on. It makes you realize what a theatrical imagination Conrad had, as well as a simplest imagination, you know, philosophical, fatal, you know, all of those things, how many different sides there were to him.
I was actually asked to talk about the Polish aspect. I don't know if it interests you at all, whether you know that he was Polish. And what I want to talk about is why would a Polish man leave Poland age 17 join the merchant marine, you know, learn about English for the first time through being on the sea, learning lots and lots of very specific vocabulary, he became an incredible dandy,
about the exact maritime vocabulary, couldn't stand for an extra word to be added. And it's such an unlikely story for an aristocrat, you know, from a very impoverished country and so on. And so let me just speak about Conrad, where he came from and in a sense why he produced such a complex vision and such a complex way of writing.
Joseph Conrad was born in Beradichyf, in Ukraine, what is now Ukraine. His parents were there because they were Polish revolutionaries of a socialist cast. They were both aristocrats, but they belonged to that kind of, you know, Russian Polish, you know, who sympathized with the poor. Very well educated because in Poland there was still, you know, it was a Catholic country and they had a lot of Catholic schools that studied Greek, Latin, Poland,
had hetero-rennissons, it was part of the Renaissance world. And so because of this, you know, the revolutionary activities, they were sent to the way in Russia, you were, to exile. And there they, after about seven years, one after the other, they died, both of TB from the terrible conditions. And so he was left orphaned and he was cared for by an uncle who was quite different wealthy.
Practical, always supported Conrad and he was the one who said yes, go ahead, go to the merchant marine, get the land under your feet, get the sea under your feet, learn how to do things in the world. Don't just be an idealist like your father. You know, Poles have done that for too long. We live, you know, with our heads in the clouds and now it's time to step on the earth and, you know, and engage with the world.
And he made it possible he essentially put Conrad on a staithand. But let me just speak about what Poland was because nobody really remembers any of this.
In Poland, you know, goes back a thousand years to when it became the Roman Catholic country. And in, but it became weaker and weaker. And in 1775, Catherine the Great, who was the Empress of Russia, German descent, very, she created the biggest empire that
Russia had known it was as big as the Roman Empire. So she was very proud. She got to be friends with Frederick II of Prussia and Maria Teresa of Austria, the three empires. And they decided to split up Poland in 1775 into three.
And the point of this is that Poland lost its body. It had no land. It lived under the imperial dictates of these three empires, each of which had different rules.
And one of the rules was stamp out the Polish language and don't let Poles have a higher education. So Poles became fanatics about their language. Their literature was supposed to create, recreate the body of Poland. There was no land. There was no body. But the language would continually recreate it.
And that was what Apollo Kojon-Yoski, Conrad's father did. He was tremendously literary. He translated Shakespeare's comedy strangely.
And Conrad's first memory of a literary initiation was walking into his father's office. And daring to look at his father's papers on the desk. He was seven years old.
And then his father came in, you know, and he cowered because he wasn't supposed to be there. And his father said, read that.
And he started reading it out loud. And his father said, good, that's pretty good. And it was his translation of the two gentlemen of Morona into Polish.
And that shows you that Conrad had aged seven kids. You know, he could really read and he really got it.
And that's one of the reasons that Shakespeare's so important for Conrad because it was his father's obsession and his language.
And the fact that it was comedies because everyone thinks Poles are very dramatic and very tragic and all this stuff.
Poles are also extremely ironic. They see everything ironically with many layers. And that sounds like Conrad too, right?
And Conrad's name was Yuzef Nana-Kondra-Kojon-Yoski. And that's also significant.
The reason Conrad is a very important name in Poland. That meets Gavic wrote his great romantic Polish poet.
He wrote a play called Conrad Valen-Raud and it was about a pole living in the Russian Empire the way meets Gavic did.
And pretending to be loyal to Russia while actually being a rebel pole inside.
And all the Poles denounced him as a traitor. They think he's gone over to Russia and he leads the secret double life all the time until finally he shows himself to be the revolutionary and so on.
And this was the model for Conrad to be secretly a pole to he was denounced in Poland for being a traitor for leaving, for not remaining with the patriotic literature that he was supposed to be going off into the world.
And Conrad said to you know you need to leave in order to show your love because if he had stayed in Poland he would have stayed this little provincial trapped in this claustrophobic environment which he felt as total claustrophobia with all just you know everyone treated him just that you're a continuation of your father.
He left and suddenly he's in Marseille you know 17 to age 20 rough town crazy town he was gun running for the Spanish Carlos.
He was such an adventure and he was really this very if you look at the pictures he was this aristocrat you know very full of etiquette very formal everyone always commented on that you know Virginia Woolf said you know this incredible aristocratic demeanor but then the terrible accent.
How could someone with that accent right like that you know and people couldn't get around that and he actually in his work called a personal record he says it's all in the accent.
He's very funny you know you have to know how to grip people's emotions not their intellect and it's all in the sound the intonation it's the accent and he just just not just his terrible accent which you knew about but he knew he was creating a
What a lot of people say that's not English one of my colleagues student and said he doesn't write English he's writing Polish in English you know it's just a calc but in fact the fabric of Conrad's writing is really it's many languages.
He is a you know he loves he loves the idioms of every language the body language of every nation you notice how good he is at the caricatures he's always watching he has this incredible eye and and so some of the components of his style are Polish romantic poetry which is one of the great romantic poetry it's just in Polish so how would you know that.
But it's very you know it's very muscular it's kind of like Milton but me it's really strong and then there's it's also very romantic it has it's sort of proto symbolist a lot of mystical philosophical.
And so there's that part of him and then there's the positive positive part from his uncle which is no life really know it with your hands know it with your senses know how to work know how to leave a mark take and and also especially as you notice in the story be responsible.
You know when you rise to be a master then you have your wedded to this fate and you know people depend on you.
Now 1915 as Robert said was the year that for one thing Conrad knew that people were talking about his decline and he felt it himself he actually had time to go.
He was a very sensitive and you know he had he had been orphaned very early and and so he constantly had these breakdowns of confidence just all the time but he continued to write these incredibly massive adventurous novels each one exploring a different continent the entire society the politics you know all of the strange adventurous characters.
And so you know he took on these massive things you know that just about killed him and then he would go on.
And so he knew that he had been in a kind of a decline and he wrote to his friends how difficult it was to keep trying but you know I always think about him what Beckett said you know they all fail better keep failing but fail better.
And so when you get to the shadow line you really notice that he's talking about a young man's life moving from childhood across that shadow line to follow in the footsteps of all the young men who have had to go through that initiation.
So it's not I'm going to be a hero it's that I'm going to join you know the footsteps the same as why sit in a chair and it's not a dynasty of blood he says but a dynasty of experience.
And you have to go through the experience all the way you have to immerse yourself in the disaster before you can you know discover who you are what's left.
And in the book he says I knew I was no good and that is very poignant because it has that business of being in a doldrum and being arrested has to do also with the feeling about his writing that he didn't anymore he couldn't produce more.
And you really get the feeling that he stripped away that marvelous plushie exotic you know philosophical gorgeous descriptions you know crazy adventurous heroes he strips it all away to this very like the when you take the plush off and it's just you can see the canvas.
And that's all there is left just this drip down canvas of what a man is capable of toward the end of his life because he knew that he was going.
And he and he uses the shadow line that his son is going to cross over into this terrible war which he seems to have felt before it was happening the trench warfare he describes those skeletons in the hold you know trapped down there and you feel the the
the people starving and the trenches the thing that his son and his generation were going into it's quite amazing the way Conrad felt time you know weaving what was going to happen in the future because he sensed what it was coming from.
And so the shadow line you're right that the shadow line is there and there's always more of it he was 1915 he died in 1924 and it was incredibly important for him not to pretend that he was still capable of the gorgeous stuff that everyone said oh that's the great Conrad but that he was capable of writing about decline facing death we.
And death weakening not facing death in some super heroic way but as Robert says actually showing what you know that with the very last strength you have the last bits of your vision and the experience that you've gone through to be as loyal to the end of it and not even though it would be easier to let it pass in silence or to say something heroic about it to actually let everyone see the where.
And still that responsibility to say something which I think we saw so I hope that was of some youth.
I have a few remarks and maybe questions for our participants I guess.
For Monika just because you ended with this suggestion that there is something in the shadow line which is I don't want to say it's anti heroic but it's certainly not heroic and there is not an overcoming of the challenge.
Any exaltation of the will it's not the willpower of the men it's not their heroism facing adversity in each case there seems to be an intrinsic weakness in these characters.
So, Ransom we know has a weak heart and that weakness is what seems to also be make his contribution heroic contribution all the more impressive because it's coming out of a sense of his own fragility, frailty and mortality.
He says at the end I'm sorry I'm just in a deep funk about my heart and he leaves a ship.
In the case of the men the infirmity has to do with the the color and the malaria that they're suffering from and it's in that weakness that nevertheless they do the minimum that's required which is the maximum that they could actually give to the situation in order to haul in the sales and make sure that the ship doesn't get dismasted at all.
The narrator has his own weakness and here I guess I'll ask a question to rush about this as well.
His weakness seems to be have something to do with self doubt but it doesn't begin that way and I don't know if you've the two of you felt the way I did that the first part of the book the first two books when the narrator is has just left his own
ship and he's with Giles and he has a certain kind it's not a smart aleck is the wrong term but he seems to have a certain impatience a sense of superiority and it seems like he has not been humbled sufficiently in the way that he will be be humbled after he approaches and then crosses that shadow line and that therefore he has an attitude of the same situation.
He has an attitude problem.
The way in which the crisis is resolved I think is through an acknowledgement of the weak the intrinsic weakness and impotence of human beings when they are on their own the passage that rush you read about each man was on his own in that darkness.
It's only when they actually come together and help each other out this is recognition that you have this extreme dependency on others in order to pull yourself through a situation that things are resolved.
So that here's the first question then for Monika.
Do you understand Conrad's decision to write this story in such a way that he as you said he wants to make it a thread bear kind of narrative?
He wants to surrender all the kind of heroics of his previous style of writing which was full of law and full of rhetorical brilliance and so forth.
There's a certain kind of deliberate be humbling of the style itself that accords well with the message.
I was thinking about late life work, Beethoven's quartets, the lake quartets and the stripping down to where just the edge of the note next to the other note and they're doing this and they're such unbelievable tragedy in it.
And then when you listen to those when you go back to the ones I love the middle one suddenly you just think no no no no.
And that's how I felt reading the shadow line that suddenly he was letting us see the bare bones of it and what it was that he faces each time he goes into the storytelling situation full of doubt.
So full of doubt that maybe he has to layer on all this Victorian you know all of this stuff you know all of these immense crises because that's what we'll be keep.
It's just because you know and because he was young and that's how you know you think of Jackson Pollock you know and the movements of the body and so on.
And so I when I was what I wanted to say about the weakness is that in the beginning he is not listening to Giles every second he's thinking why is he taking so long why does he keep going on.
I could be doing other things he's always trying to rush him it's all about tempo the young man's tempo and the older man's tempo and he even calls him with his sort of disgusting uncle like you know
complacency which I have to say goes back to his uncle you know the practical guy with all of this practical you know advice.
And then when he is on his you know the mast you know and so on the people downstairs who can only work with the ounces of energy that they have in a certain tempo and the
Ransom with his heart the whole his distinction is that he has learned how to move just as fast and as slowly as he needs to feel that his heart won't start skipping a beat.
And this is the our character has this really poor sense of timing which doesn't allow him to align himself with anybody he's always rushing ahead.
That's the case throughout the whole narrative or only at the beginning.
It's at the beginning but it's really emphasized about him and he continues to have this monologue in his head which is in resistance to every time.
Because I find that in the second half once they're on board and he takes command that he actually pays himself exactly right and he speaks in these subdued tones to the men and he with a certain kind of kindness and he earns their
their respect and let's say they're their loyalty to him through the right toneality but let's say he has the right accent.
I don't know if the same thing as tempo but I think he adopts exactly the accent in his in the way he gives commands to the least.
One problem just to say one last thing that you what you were saying made me realize how much Conrad always feels like he's on stage and someone's watching him.
He is petrified that they will find out about the the Quine 9 and he's so worried about that and what will they say and then will he tell them and how will he tell them and that's why he keeps his voice low because he's still trying to you know he's
eating from inside by the sense of purity. Although he does tell them early on and then it's the surprises you know that he finds.
So Rushley can I ask you a specific question with your remarks because you mentioned part one and part two and say the preboarding and that after the do you find that the the theme of immobility that obviously the dead calm for 15 days.
No wind and this immobilization is actually the continuation of a psychic state that the first officer or narrator when he was the first officer of the ship that he left.
That there's a strong case to be made that he our narrator was suffering from what we today might call a clinical depression.
He is there's no rational reason why he gave up a perfectly good birth as first officer of a steamship.
The young man it was it would seem that from a career point of view it was kind of suicidal but he felt that it was going nowhere. He wasn't that he felt that this is like you know you have to be I guess Dante scholar like you know my formation is that a Dante scholar when you're in the dark wood of being fair no one.
That state of depression is where you're immobilized paralyzed by immobility you don't know which way to move so all movement comes to a stop and in his psyche he is he is in a place where he doesn't know how to move forward.
And rather when he gets the command he thinks that he's over it but he's not over it what he has to do he has to go to the very core of it and there's something about like the objective correlative of this dead sea that refuses to lift any wind to carry the ship forward that seems to put him at the very heart of a psychic condition that we might call paralysis or or
depression and he has to come out on the other side of it. I don't know if that I never thought of that. I think that's a pretty good description because he
he talks about the first ship and he says that there was nothing he could have asked for more from his mates there and he said something I can't remember the wonderful phrase about it. So it baffles him it baffles the captain that he says goodbye to it baffles Giles it baffles everybody wise left.
I never thought of it in terms of clinical depression I thought of it in terms of something like midlife crisis. But midlife crisis is young but it's perhaps the same thing. But then it's intriguing isn't that that what spur is him on is the very thought that he actually might have something even better than he could conceivably have imagined.
And that's a sense of almost me talks about the fact that it was resisted by the chief steward that that made it even more enticing and exciting to him. So whatever it is it's a kind of romantic notion of destiny hitting him tapping him on the shoulder in spite of himself that gets him right out of it right away. But as you point out it only gets him further ultimately further into it.
I would want to say one thing about the doubt that he has what we talked about which is that maybe I'm no good. And what's intriguing about that and if you pointed it out is that that's actually two references to him writing a diary. He says I never kept a diary but I did it.
And he reads this and what I like about that is that the fact that it's in the book but clearly it's encapsulated in something he's written. It doubly allows you to understand that that's not going to be the state he's in because it's already embodied in a written something that he's survived and gone beyond. And it's intriguing that it pops up there. A self confession to himself as a writer.
And that makes sense and that of course fits in with the thoughts that you had about. Can I keep writing? Can I, you know, for Conrad, can I be you know, can I.
I have anything else to say. Could I say what you're thinking about that. You may not remember but because I started reading word Jim and it's so it's fresh. Lord Jim does the very same thing. Young Jim suddenly throws it up and everyone says why the hell did he do that. You know, he had this good birth and so on. And he throws it up and then it's at the end of the sentence.
It says nobody had the slightest idea of the sensitive, you know, complicated reasons for it. They were completely invisible. So there it's like, you know, this immense inner life that then acts out and all people see is the irrational action and have no idea what the roots are.
And when he goes when Conrad or Conrad heroes go to see, you know, as you pointed out, the epigraph is from both led about the the placid mirror of the sea. The sea gives you back what you bring to it. And so he goes there and everybody thinks the sea will be free.
The land is the complicated place. The sea will be free and I'm just it's me and infinity. And then there he is himself around himself. And the whole, you know, the reason for throwing everything up and attempting to get away actually just circles him and he's back in it.
And the one thing you can say about the sea and Conrad is that it will try you. Yes, it will try his heroes and if there's any weakness, whatever weakness there is in the character logical makeup, the sea will expose it and you either deal with it.
Or you don't deal with it. Although, Monica has brought up Lord Jim, which is a much earlier narrative where Jim who would have the makeup to be a perfectly honorable, excellent sea man actually finds himself on a steamship with a crew of white men who are basically scoundrels.
And rather villainous because there's a crisis the steamship in the middle of a night runs over a derelict and it punctures a hole. The crew there's about five or six white men on the crew and they are convinced everyone is totally certain that the ship is going to sink at any moment. They have about 800 the Muslim pilgrims going on their on their way to Mecca.
And they're all asleep and so the crew all except Jim you know, jump ship because there's not enough life boats to save them. Everyone and they keep saying jump jump jump jump jump and the contagion of example is such that Jim who had all these heroic notions of the sea life jumps from the patina.
And miraculously the patina does not sink and is found two days later by another vessel has drawn to port and then Jim has to go to court and he has to live this yes, a live with his guilt.
But I think that if the crew had been of the crew of the shadow line that can the example or the role that others play in determining your own destiny I think Jim never would have succumbed to that that act of desertion.
Yeah, I like that a lot. I was going to say there's a couple of things that the Giles says early on. If rumor after he gets his command and he comes back the narrative comes back to the officers home.
And he's angry to three little encounters he has an encounter with Hamilton who was trying to sort of get maneuver into the job and he handles a kind of loathsome character and he imputently waste his hand at Hamilton like you know, you know really.
And he says it hit Hamilton like a like a like a like a shot from a gun.
And then he says he'd not yet sufficiently gone to the shadow line to recognize that the chief steward who had helped maneuver to try to move her Hamilton.
And he felt so angry at this of course later he's going to discover deceptions much greater right with the quinine. And he says and this is something that Giles says he says he doesn't think that the chief steward is fit to live.
And that Giles says as to that it could be said of a good many.
And then four pages later of the chief steward he says that that that the narrator says well that she's sort of must have been crazy to risk his job to try to get Hamilton to get him away because wasn't paying a rental and stuff right.
And you risk a job by not delivering the letter to the narrator to which the Giles says as to that same phrase right.
I believe everybody in the world is a little mad. And if you remember the narrator doesn't like it and he says well you or a little mad because why did you give up your birth.
Now the point is that doesn't really explain why he gave up the birth but it doesn't remind you that there is this.
They don't make this too soft because Conrad is not a softy but there's a kind of ecumenical message in Giles that understands humans are actually not aligned with the narrator's notion of moral perfection or whatever he thinks is right.
John and with the young man's judgment and Giles is an old man with an older man's judgment.
But in my view as I said before I think finally his judgment's end up being not those of a polynious, a matter of but actually filled with some kind of achieve wisdom or something.
And that eventually and there's an example of it where so on board the boat.
I mean he could say you you you you you you scoundrels I don't care if you're sick get up on board but he understands that you said that this is the deck he's been dealt.
And he's got a nice pun.
Very nice.
And then he has to you have to play that out and as you say he does.
And I actually just to add on about the you know the feeling that the shadow line is a book end you know that there's this enormous arc of works.
And in Lord Jim Jim is accused of the narrative goes back and forth you know it fills in every possible perspective it's a little bit like just ask you have to say brothers Karamaza for you see them murder from every angle and every time it's just as interesting to hear it all over again.
But in this case Jim and set becoming more or less I don't know do you guys know Pippie long stalking sorry.
And the cannibal king you know he goes he becomes the king of practically of this island you know very tropical very exotic.
And then he has to face the music and it's almost as if he becomes a konrati and novelist he conquers all of these you know tropical places it's very exciting and dentures and so on.
But in the end it doesn't save him from having to face the music and in the end he does.
And the shadow line just collapses it takes you know it goes from here to there so that it's the very same story.
And also I just wanted to mention about the skeleton you know the people getting thinner and thinner he was always so aware of the people in the hold on all of those middle crossings all the terrible crossings where the people on deck.
In the little state rooms that are so luxurious and then the people below.
And there's a hidden quotation from Hamlet which is over this to solid solid or solid flesh would melt which I think is actually like the you know one of the tuning forks of the story because it's only when they're flesh the flesh of their habits of their you know sort of dramas about themselves and especially the bodies below when they start to melt away.
Then what you're talking about the interdependence at this completely because they've been they know when you're on the ocean that's the only thing that will save you nothing else.
So one last thing I would say but we'll open it up to questions from the audience is about let's say the meta the metaphysics might be too heavy a word.
But the the notion that there's in this story as well as so many of Conrad's other sea stories especially there's a very overbearing sense of guilt that the story reveals and it's a guilt that lurks inside the self that doesn't that can stay hidden throughout an entire lifetime unless it is exposed by circumstance.
And in this case so Lord Jim which he wrote when he was a much younger man still Jim had what rush will recognize as this Aristotelian how much Tia which is badly translated as a kind of tragic flaw.
But there's something in the character to save Lord Jim that is it's guilt written that there's a weakness there's something that plays itself out as a destiny in that book because it doesn't happen once it happens actually three times so here the guilt is something that the narrator has to come to terms with in the journal he speaks of it really in terms of an original sin.
That original sin that does not have a Catholic redemption on the other side of it because even though Conrad described himself at the end of his life as a pole Catholic and gentleman.
He's very hard to understand what he meant by a Catholic because he was also a declared atheist but this notion that you have an acknowledgement of an intrinsic guilt which means basically human fallibility and the inability to be on the basis of one's own resources to be the foundation for one's self and therefore the help the need for the help of others.
It's turning to your fellow men and women men in Conrad's case because we're on a ship that that takes the place of God there's there's not a God who comes to save you.
There is only our own weak mortal fallible selves that can come to each other's aid in these certain kinds of things.
I think that's right.
I wouldn't say something about guilt though.
It seems to me that the narrator he says several times he feels guilty but he's guilty about it.
I don't think it's an existential angst actually.
He says he feels guilty because he didn't check the Quinine page 91.
The person I could never forgive was myself.
Nothing should ever be taken for granted.
The seat of everlasting remorse was sewn in my breast because he took for granted what the doctor said there's plenty of Quinine and he thought it would happen.
I want to just link that to one of the passage because I think it's a wonderful little.
They're now out of the storm and they're running with only two people and he's trying to steer the boat.
He says Providence was taking us.
I was just staring at it.
Couldn't control anything.
He says what is the line?
He says remorse must wait.
I must steer.
That's the two lines.
I thought about that a little bit.
Remorse must wait.
I must steer.
I thought what is that?
Remorse guilt, right?
That's something he can choose to control.
I will not feel remorse.
I can control it.
But I must steer.
I think it's actually that which he cannot control.
Something bigger than him is that whole dynasty of command is speaking through him and that
picks us back to what you were saying is it's a kind of the role demands to go back to the feet of the role demands that I steer.
The personal part of me, the remorse part of me, not universal guilt, but my personal guilt for something, I have to say no to now.
Do it with it later.
I have something else that must be done.
Now I mean, this may be, there's a lot of ways to parse it, but I like the different mosques.
The one is the must that he has control over and the other is the must that he doesn't.
A kind of sated belonging to that, the role of commander and a kind of loyalty to that larger role that isn't in a sense by the way.
I think the guilt, if you tie it to a specific action, then failure to check the coin line in any court of law, he would have been absolved of that.
He had a note from the doctor, there was absolutely nothing that would have required that he actually go open the contents.
The point about guilt is that you cannot control everything.
That's right.
In terms of circumstance.
What his remorse is that he is finally a finite mortal, limited human being, who, like any human being, has only a limited control over the control of his fate.
And therefore, guilt is an original condition that we all have to deal with.
And what we can do in the face of it is steer.
Namely, respond to the particular situation.
Yes, a kind of existentialist reading.
But I wanted to say one thing is that I think we all know that if we fasten on one concrete bit of guilt, it's just to fasten it onto something.
Because it's free floating and it's always there and it's a much bigger guilt.
Conrad had an immensely strong sense of the inequities happening all the time in the world that are under the texture over visible.
People ignore it and that we are driving the beautiful earth into disaster.
And nothing that's happening now would have surprised him because he was already interested in the ecosphere.
He was already interested in human depredation and the madness of political systems and so on.
And he investigated them so closely he wanted to see them close up.
And so there's plenty of the guilt.
But then you try to control the guilt by saying I'm guilty for that looking into the Gwenan files.
I think the time has come for your questions.
Yes, please.
Would you say something about the dead captain?
In fact, can I ask that question of Russia?
Because Russia put a lot of emphasis on the fact that he occupies this, the most recent, he's a newcomer to this dynasty.
And that is the nobility of the chair.
And yet his predecessor is this scoundrel who sold the quinine in order to go hoaring in the red district of the hyphen.
So what does that say about a couple of things.
You remember the narrative?
Well, thank God he didn't die in the bad.
That would have really been hard for you.
And that would not be in any sleep anyway because of the storm.
Because of the stillness.
Yeah, I think that that's important.
This is something again I took from Ian Watson's say.
But you see in the book examples in the last captain, what Burns calls him, is a water.
I mean an absolute rudder.
Evil, malevolent.
A horrific example of what it would mean to be a captain.
There's a little parallel you probably remember from Moby Dick.
Remember that his last captain plays a violin.
And Burns tries to get him to stop because they can't sleep.
But it's right out of the stub telling.
Would you put some, you know, towel on the bottom of your leg because it's keeping us all awake.
And I think the point is that if there is one, I mean clearly there's some
potential notion of malevolence extending out from his dead will, which Burns thinks is happening in the
malevolence of the sea, not cooperating and the wind not cooperating.
But in another way to think about it, this is the fact that you have, to go back to this little role metaphor,
the fact that you have a bad player in this dynasty doesn't infect the whole dynasty.
And I think this is an important and wise recognition.
Because it would be overly heroic, which perhaps is a little bit of the case, to just see you as a long tradition of great kings or whatever it is,
or that actually there are bad manifestations of it.
And that would be a mature growth in maturity, be the recognized that, and not let that skew your view of the larger picture,
because it could just make it with cynic, or screw all that, who wants to be a captain anyway.
It was a bad one.
And I think Conrad would have no time for that.
He's too much of a realist in the world.
So that's what I think I mean, there are much more to be said about him, but I think something like that.
This is somewhat of an observation, but comparing the two novels, I mean, comparative Conrad,
the evolution of Conrad from the time of Lord Jim to now, that would be an interesting subject, right?
In terms of his own personal evolution, I mean, Robert, you mentioned him being a Catholic and an atheist.
I don't know if early in his career, his name is then he evolved.
He was not a Catholic.
Well, I mean, but my point is that was in comparing the two novels, there might be evidence of an evolution of Conrad himself.
And so can you have a much more secular observation?
What that evolution might consist of?
I don't know. I actually haven't, I bought the book tonight.
So I haven't read that, but Lord Jim, I read something on the bill.
And I thought it was a fascinating comment you made, Robert, about the fact on the Patna, the crew just left, right?
And there was Jim, right? And he ends up jumping as well.
And here there's a similar situation, but the crew behaves differently.
Well, I think one thing that Monika suggested is that one different swing, Lord Jim, and the shadow line is that Lord Jim is just a brilliant, modernistic, kind of tour de force of a miso-nabim, of narrative, a proliferation of narrative perspectives all on one event, which is why did this one fact?
I, Jim jumps from the Patna, everyone is trying to figure out probe what the meaning of that. It's like this bottomless hole, Jim says, I think, I felt like I jumped into an everlasting deep hole, and can never get out of it.
All of the characters and all the multiple narrators in Lord Jim are going into that same black hole, and it turns into this very complex style of modernistic narration.
It's a vortex. And then there are all these vectors, every single story is a different vector, trying to plunge down into the vortex, and enlighten them, and instead it becomes part of the vortex.
But what you were saying is that the shadow line has a very different technique, and so the evolution, it maybe it's that he has drawn in the sails, that he's--
He's drawn his ambition, that he's being more-- well, that he's be humbling himself as a writer of the way his character has to be humble himself. Can we get a question from Katarina from Poland?
Katarina! Katarina!
Thank you very much. This was so wonderful and so incredibly illuminating, and I want to ask about, precisely about modernism, and I wonder,
whether there is human-gen theater, and you mentioned the importance of the eye and of the vision.
And I want to point to one moment when he actually sees the ship for the first time.
It's not through his own vision that he sees it, but he has to be directed to the ship, and someone has to show the ship to him.
So in a way there he needs, as it were, an external eye to-- or a tool, an external tool to point to that ship.
And the word "eye" appears a few times then, and I wonder whether we might actually see the modernistic aspect, which I see very strongly there, because he also seems to grapple with modernism in that book, a lot through a cinematographic eye, and through cinema,
and in a way, whether we could also read the title, the shadow line, perhaps, in a more camera-opscura point of view, or really in the context of the rise of cinema as a shadow play also.
Just, well, maybe under the rush, go ahead. Don't know anything about modernism.
But you made me think there is actually-- it's not a cinema, but there is actually a photograph, if you remember, in the story.
He sees the photograph of the old captain with the woman, who was a woman in the high-fong, and he actually talks about her sort of layers, her card reading stuff.
So I don't know. That might not be the eye you're looking for, but.
Well, I just wanted to say that he claimed to absolutely despise cinema. He thought it was just the lowest possible thing.
But he was very interested in things like camera-opscura and the shadow graphs of the late 19th century.
So he loved and the hand shadow artists.
So he loved all of that that was made with the hands, you know, real building and things like that.
And he thought that cinema was going to destroy literature and that it was completely cheap, you know, and so on.
So, you know, if anything, there's kind of a contrast between those.
Charlie, I'd like to second cuttery in his comment. Thank you to all three of your wonderful conversation.
I expected Rush to talk more about World War I because it's so much on his mind.
And maybe if I could invite you to, you know, explore that historical level of interpretation, just a thought.
I guess it, I wonder if it feels to you the same way that in the middle of the book, I could see a parallel metaphor parallel that this group of men gets out somewhere.
They think they know where they're going and they are arrested, stalled, lost, you know, unable to move forward or back.
But then unlike World War I, they in fact turn back and all of them leave the ship.
Nobody, they don't all die.
It's not finally a story of devastating life loss.
So maybe we should talk about that.
Thank you. I was going to say more about it than when Robert Bauderp thought I'll just cut this a little bit.
But I've read a little bit about Conrad and World War I and his, he was, he followed the war.
He said he wrote things about him in his book you mentioned.
I think he'd been to Poland just before and was caught when the war broke out.
So he's all sort of like biographical relationship to it as his son, she pointed out, which is clearly a nod to the fact that this book is more about than about the sea.
It is about people meeting a kind of destiny that they didn't quite choose and all of that.
And there are many, many parallels like that.
The one that hit me the most was, and it's related to its question of solidarity.
One of the readings we did in this performance was from Siegfried Sassoon, who, as you know, was a famous poet, a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a one to another.
But he was also much decorated and he survived the war. He lived until I think '67.
And I think the second he was, you know, much decorated, he was a hero.
And I think the second time he was wounded, he was back in England recovering and he wrote a famous letter to the times in which he denounced the war.
And he said, and this meant a lot because he was from a big family and he was, you know, kind of a name.
And he denounced it because of the idiocy of its continuation, the futility of the situation of the people at the front.
And this is the kicker. After that, he was put in the psychiatric hospital for a while to see if they could, you know, get him right because he had basically, they thought he must have what they call shell shock, but he didn't.
He knew what he was doing.
Then he chose to go back to the front and fight, not because he hated the Germans, which he didn't feel anything about that at all.
But he felt loyalty to his troops was better.
The solidarity with his troops on the front was better than the idiocy on the home front where everybody was going, "Gung Ho, we can win the first time."
"Gung Ho, we can win the war, we wonderful, you know, England, New Barales, killer Germans and all of that."
Now, I dislike that because it's a recognition that the way out may not be the most obvious way, but it definitely involves solidarity with your mates.
And I think that that's something that we've all talked about. So that's the thing that I got in a sense.
The parallel I found most intriguing, and there's a quote Ian Watt as this wonderful quotation, I just if I made it, which is very short.
What Watt sees as Conrad's, well, one of his claims in the book, one of the things he celebrates is, and I'm quoting him now, "A binding engagement of oneself to a course of action which transcends any purely personal advantage."
Which fits so well, it's no longer, I'm going to be a commander.
Nor does it, I'm going to win a Heroes Award.
Remember when he lands, he just says, he says, you must be pretty tired and he says, "Well, you must feel tired."
He says, "Well, yes, I'm tired, but do you have faint of heart? I don't know anymore."
He's absolutely a man open to Giles' discussion, and as I said, there's no rest for any of us, which he seems to agree.
So I just think there's something in that that's assumed, like, I'm not going back to the fort and winning more medals.
I'm not going back in the work, because I even believe in the war.
I'm going back because I believe in the solidarity of the company of men that I've been with.
Now, it's not quite the same, but I find that notion that it's a commitment to something that isn't about personal advantage.
What it is is hard to say, but the word most people use the solidarity, and I think Conrad seemed to find that away, not maybe a way out, but away through the personal acts.
Essential angst, dread, all of the other things, meaninglessness, purposelessness.
The fact that nature doesn't help you, the oftentimes seem a level, and the fact that there's a bad captain, the screw, you know, almost killed the crew,
I mean, an on and on and on, if some notion of a wider sense of solidarity.
I just, can I say something that will probably seem a tiny bit strange, but I think it has something to do with this.
And Lord Jim at the very beginning, I think on the second page it describes Jim as being really well-outfitted to be what he was, which was just a water carrier.
He had all these big abilities, and he felt that he had abilities, but the thing that he could really do was carry water, and it was very important to carry water.
And then two pages later, there's this unbelievably beautiful description of all of the Muslims in the whole, and it goes from, you know, group to group, you know, the old men, you know, and the children, you know, the girls at each one of them is described in a certain way.
He describes them in the end, he starts describing them as water pouring, trickling, pouring through the scene, all of it as human water, this form of life that, and then I suddenly thought it's the water carrier.
It's supposed to be the water carrier who senses all of these lives and attempts to bear them, you know, like Conrad bearing through the narrative, all of the lives with him that he feels responsible for seeing, and bringing from the whole, you know, where they're invisible to the surface.
And in some ways it's an explanation of why all the adventure tales that take you to every continent and show you, you know, the things that otherwise you don't see.
But I was really struck by that.
He was meant to be a water carrier, and then that's the thing that he lets go of, Jim.
In fact, I remember the first sentence of Lord Jim verbatim.
He was an inch, perhaps, two under six feet.
And his, if you believe, like Heraclitus, that, you know, your character is your destiny or the ethos is your, then Jim is always falling short of what his, just a little bit short of what he's going to be.
Just a little bit short of what his idea of himself is.
And that he was a water carrier.
He wants to be, you know, the hero and the thing.
And perhaps what you were speaking about earlier in terms of accent tempo and getting into the right attunement, that there might be something about redimensioning your own sense of self with a metric that belongs to reality rather than the imagination.
And that this is a shadow line that our narrator has to, has to cross where all his kind of petulant, overweaning, attitudinal issues in the first part of the novel that there's a, I keep repeating myself, but it's a be humbling.
But it's kind of finding out just how, by metaphor, how tall are you exactly, or just where do you stand.
And that the more you re-dimension, then the more you are able to relate to the others who are on whom you depend.
So there's the one thing I like about Conrad is that there's no glorification of the will.
In a 20th century where the will always comes to the fore as some kind of metaphysical answer to all of our problems is a metaphysics of the will.
There is no metaphysics of the will in Conrad. There's a metaphysics of an acknowledgement of the absolute indifference of nature to human affairs.
And hence, if you don't acknowledge your fundamental helplessness and innocence as, or impotence as an individual, then you haven't got it at all.
You still think you're six feet and you're an inch or two under six feet.
Yes. This is fascinating, and I'm going to read for Jim next.
But one of the things that struck me most about the change in the young man's character from youth to maturity is that he learned that it wasn't about being part of this dynasty of
the one in charge and being the smartest guy on the ship that he learned that it is about fortitude and endurance.
With no guarantee of outcome, you continue to do what you can and be grateful for what you have.
And that's absolute maturity.
So now I want to read Jim and see how he missed the vote on that one.
And curious as to whether this is also something that Conrad came to realize over time and is the century changed and is that first world horrible war happened where heroism becomes very unclear.
And the thing is that it hadn't happened yet.
And we talked about this that in a way Conrad is showing the only way that we're going to Europe, you know, with the whole world, is going to get through this world war is by doing that, by going into the disaster and finding out the little thing that you can do in it.
Because otherwise they entire metaphysics of war and he very much associates it with Germany and President Germany on both sides.
But as soon as you get to a German character, the German is boiling it down to just will and, you know, in this really heavy illiterate voice.
And so it's a remarkable kind of diagnosis of what we're going to have to accept our proud European civilization is going to be in the trenches together in mass graves.
And so the way other people are in mass graves we are going to be in mass graves nameless. But we're going only if we do that will we actually come out on the other side to go into another one 20 years later.
There's a quote that speaks to what you were referring to. It's a very last sentence of chapters five where he's speaking to his men. He says, now men will go aft and square the main yard.
That's about all we can do for the ship. And for the rest she must take her chance.
And you have to take the chance. But you do what you can then you're in the hands of the gods or fate or whatever destiny.
Although he did not have a sense that there was anything benevolent about the forces of destiny. He's all really much more about have to do with the chance. And he says that's why she must take her chance.
But I have to say something that he was, you know, he had had her hard life is life is incredibly full of pain and you know Conrad.
And he was mistrustful. I mean, all polls are mistrustful because they're thrown out into the world, you know, and they have nothing.
And he was very mistrustful and very ironic and so on. But at the end you can tell that he's actually grateful for all the people who accompanied him on this incredible journey.
And I just feel that there's this tremendous gratitude not just, you know, the guilt and the sort of, you know, creating some kind of situation where he's going to deal symbolically with the guilt.
You're completely right that that actually goes by the wayside. And so it's letting go of the obsessions that drove him through that massive work that he did.
And suddenly coming down to, you know, the late quartet, the, you know, the very last sounds before dying, which bring us together and everyone feels it in the late works.
Maybe we have time for one more maybe.
And more. Thank you. Okay, we have two more. So first we'll start in the back and then you get the last word.
Well, I was thinking of the other first command bookie story has which is a secret share.
Yes. And that's like a failure of course. If you have any comments about that, like between the two stories.
Yeah, you know, for me, it was a decision maybe to read the secret share rather than the shadow line.
And I opted for the shadow line because I, the secret share is, it's a very compelling narrative, but it's highly enigmatic and it's intensely psychological in a way that I think does not have the multi dimensionality of the shadow line.
I mean, I've spoken my opening remarks at this book can be approached as on the literal level of the Conrad's experience of his first command on the historical level about the context of the First World War on the psychological.
The political pressures that the narrator is under and then at a metaphysical level. I think with the secret share, the reader is compelled to constantly speculate about what is this highly enigmatic relationship and completely implausible story that seems to require what Ian Watt calls a heterophoric reading, namely an allegorical reading external to the event.
Rather than an internal homeophoric. So I thought that I find that the secret share is a profoundly frustrating story because I'm always challenged her, meaningfully, but I never know if I'm on any kind of footing proper footing.
I thought that's what he wanted me to think. Well, it's a very neat story and he's very proud of it. He said that was it, right? You know, writing the owner who you came to that was it.
And it took him 10 days or something. He never wrote that fast. It was so sculpted and popped out, you know, like a conceit. It's so elegant.
It's a double story. He's clearly rivaling Dostoyevsky. And so he's in the fight the way double stories are. And it has tremendous, it's given so much ammunition to queer studies. Everyone loves it. Everyone loves it.
It's a very neat story. It's high school students love it. And I also, when I read it, I thought this is a much neater sculpted, you know.
And then I decided the shadow line was much more interesting as a late work. And I think for him it was like this, you know, sudden eruption of youthful energy.
Oh, I can write it cool, you know, you know, kind of cool modern sexy story.
Thank you all for coming. Thank you very much.