The Heart of Darkness

Hola mi gente,
I honestly believe that, borrowing a Trumpism, Bill or Hillary Clinton could hang a Latinx or Black person In the middle of 5th Ave. and many of us would still vote for them. In many ways, they’ve already killed many people of color.

* * *

04-09-16_ The Heart of Darkness

In the Heart of the Heart of Darkness

Exterminate all the brutes!
— Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

 

An anti-imperialist treatise at a time when imperialism was politically correct, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Western canon. And for good reason. While Conrad has been fairly taken apart by post colonialist critics, I have to say they’re missing the point. This is a brilliantly anti-imperialist, anti-racist work of an artist at the height of his power as an innovator in literary ideas and techniques.

Based on his own journey into Africa in 1890, Conrad’s most brilliant work is Audacious, experimental (for its time), satirical, and yet deeply humanistic, the novella has continued to provoke controversy and analysis.

The story takes the form of a story within a story. Charles Marlow tells a group of British friends about his journey into a part of Central Africa identified as the “Congo Free State,” which was then the private property of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Known as “The Dark Continent” in the Victorian Era, with all the negative attributes of darkness attributed to Africans by the English, Africa was viewed as the ultimate “other” by Europeans: its inhabitants were assumed to be sub-human, the continent seen as a vast untapped reservoir of riches to be plumbed. Marlow recalls the atrocities and absurdities he witnessed: A French warship bombarding the continent, the cruel, inhumane treatment of enslaved black laborers, and the brutal greediness of white colonialists driven by the insatiable lust for profits.

The initial goal of the narrator is to meet the great Mr. Kurtz, an idealistic European trader; but upon confronting the dying adventurer, he finds instead a deranged and depraved individual. Kurtz is virtually a savage god, who sums up his view of Africans in the phrase, “Exterminate all the brutes!”

We learn that the “heart of darkness” is not simply a jungle at the center of “The Dark Continent,” it also the corrupt heart of Kurtz, and maybe even European imperialism itself. In a telling statement Conrad writes, “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz,” and depicts London as the center of ominous gloom.

Heart of Darkness proved enormously influential and one of its most famous adaptations was the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece Apocalypse Now, with Marlon Brando embodying “the darkness” at the heart of the Vietnam War.

Today, the “heart of darkness” can be found right here in the heart of America. In using and defending racist stereotypes such as the Clintons have done with the super predator frame, America has created its own “brutes” that must be extinguished or at least caged. And if you think I am exaggerating the power of cognitive schemas, consider a study that discovered a mere five-second exposure to a mug shot of African-American and Hispanic youth (in a 15-minute newscast) raised levels of fear among viewers, increased their support for “get-tough” crime policies, and promoted racial stereotyping.

More interesting, the effects varied according to race. The increase for white and Asian viewers was about 10%. The effect, however (and this can partially explain our dysfunctional support for the Clintons) was more pronounced among African-Americans and Hispanics, with a 38% rise. What is clear here is that exposure to the image of a minority “superpredator” increases the percentage of whites and Asians who subscribe to negative stereotypes about African- Americans and Latinx.

We create our own monsters and those monsters are usually the black and brown lives snuffed out with impunity by the very institutions that are supposed to protect them. And America, like the Clintons, cheer because the lives that being snuffed out or caged belong to murderers without conscience.

Exterminate all the brutes!

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Resources

Free text of Heart of Darkness at Project Gutenberg (click here)

Link to the film, Apocalypse Now (click here)

The Superpredator Myth, 20 Years Later: A deconstruction and study of the effects of the myth of the superpredator (here)

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