Crystal Rivas November 22, 2010
Conversation between Miller and Achebe.
J. Hillis Miller: Good evening Chinua
Chinua Achebe: Good evening.
Miller: Fancy meeting you here
Achebe: Yes, I agree. Is that Heart of Darkness you are reading?
Miller: Yes- yes it is. Have you read it?
Achebe: Yes I have. ( His face is filled with distaste).
Miller: Really, well this is not the first time that I’m reading it either. It’s considered to be one of the greatest written literature known to man (He lifted the book to the air in a monumental gesture). Everyone should read it and see for themselves.
Achebe: (His face grows stern and eyes filled with displeasure.) How can you honestly consider a novel which “celebrates this dehumanization[of Africa and Africans], which depersonalizes a portion of the human race a great work of art?”(344). “Conrad was a [Bloody] racist”(343) and his work should not be considered a great work as you have stated and should not be read as such.
Miller: (Suddenly realizes how the mood has begun to shift into a debate as he began to think of a counter argument.) “Heart of Darkness” is a literary work not history, autobiography, travel writing, journalism, or any other genre”(465). So it should be read as such.
Achebe: I know what you are thinking, “that it is no concern of fiction to please people about whom it is written. I will go along with that. But I am not talking about pleasing people. I am talking about a book which parades in the most vulgar fashion prejudices and insults from which a section of man kind has suffered untold agonies and atrocities in the past and continues to do so in many ways and many places today. I am talking about a story in which the very humanity of black people is call in question”(346).
Miller: “In heart of Darkness” all the African s Marlow meets are visible representatives and symbols of that “it.” Thought it may be racist for Marlow (not necessarily Conrad, the reader should remember ) to see the Africans as inscrutably “other,” as simple “savages” or “primitives,” when their culture is older than any European one and as complex or sophisticated, if not more so, this otherness is stressed for the primary purpose of making the Africans visible embodiments and proofs that the “it,” the darkness, is a person. This is an underlying feature of all Marlow’s prosopopoeias, but it is made most explicit in the scene where Kurtz’s African mistress appears on the shore… This passage, like the one describing the way the wilderness has seduced Kurtz, seems to indicate that this “it” is after all gendered, that it is female, a colossal body of fecund and mysterious life. Since the wilderness is supposed to represent a mysterious knowledge, “like evil or truth,” This personification does not jibe very will with the “sexist” assertions Marlow makes about the way women in general are, like Kurtz’s Intended, “out of it,” invincibly innocent and ignorant. At the least one would have to say that two contradictory sexist myths about women are ascribed to Marlow, the European male’s tendency to personify the earth as a great mother, full of an immemorial, seductive wisdom and the European male’s tendency to condescend to women as innately incapable of seeing into things as will as men can. All four of these stylistic features constitute a demand that “Heart of Darkness” be read, read as literature, as opposed to being taken as a straightforwardly mimetic or referential work that would allow the read to hold Conrad himself directly responsible for what is said as thought he were a journalist or a travel work”(469).
Achebe: It is the very use of Africa as a symbol that I speak of and for you to simply accept it as a simple is the problem. “Can no body see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?”(346).
Miller and Achebe looked sharply at each other, realizing that they would never meet eye to eye. Their views and reading of “Heart of Darkness” was so different that it was impossible to come to an agreement of who was right and who was wrong. They both stood and quietly nodded their shared epiphany and went their separate ways. Both believing themselves correct.