Skip to main content

Joseph Conrad Today

Journal of The Joseph Conrad Society of America

Penang, 1910????

Be Heard! -- Make a Difference!

Join the conversation on the article below by clicking "Comments on 'Woke Culture on the Conrad Industry'" to the right.

You can also select Blogs above.

To see the full current issue of JCT and have access to all issues back to Spring 2009: members log in (upper right corner); otherwise, to join the Society select "Join & Subscribe" above

Recent Blogs
Recent Blogs


Woke Culture on the Conrad Industry: 

Alice M. Kelly’s Decolonising the Conrad Canon

Yael Levin

Decolonising the Conrad Canon

Alice M. Kelly

Liverpool UP, 2022

264 pp. $139.69


In “The Anti-Racist Educator Collective’s video on Decolonising the Curriculum” (2020), Navan Govender unpacks the way colonialism venerates sameness. According to Govender, the colonial project promotes and fixes a canon founded on monoculturalism and monolingualism. Alice M. Kelly’s Decolonising the Conrad Canon takes its cue from Govendor’s call to provide plurality in the place of the same, a call to consider multiple ways of knowing and of doing. Kelly’s vision of how Govender’s prompt might be applied to a reconsideration of Conrad’s work is summed up in the closing pages of her book. She writes: 

The colonial canon does not require our faith or fidelity, as modern readers, because it is, at base, a lie constructed to tell the story that some bodies are human, and others are not. … The first step in decolonising the curriculum, then, is the simple understanding that the singular genius of the white male author-God cannot and does not represent universal human experience. This is not a radical suggestion. (231)

The summary reflects both the strength and weakness of Kelly’s work. Decolonising the Conrad Canon makes for a compelling rereading of Conrad’s Lingard Trilogy; it offers many engaging and illuminating chapters to support its ambitious premise. The argument is accompanied by nuanced and productive readings of the novels in question. We are introduced into sexual dynamics and details of identity that have not yet been tapped by critical readers. These are rewarding finds. 

The book is weakened only by the same lack of intellectual humility that it diagnoses and warns against in the very tradition it aims to dismantle. Colonialism, dead white writers, gloomy white men, the patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy and the Conrad label make up one loosely connected conceptual category that lacks nuance and depth. These labels are oftentimes interchangeable under the banner of a corrupt, dehumanizing source of enduring trauma. The Conrad canon and its traditional critical reception is made to bear the brunt of this charge – as Kelly suggests that it is his readers, perhaps even more so than the author himself, who have made him a dehumanizing author. My discomfort with the discourse used here is not ideological. We agree that colonialism is corrupt, that the patriarchy fixes inequality and that heteronormativity needs to be challenged. Where I disagree with Kelly’s method is in her choice of language and tone and the way she channels populist discourse. Kelly sets out by making the following claim:

I personally think it is possible to engage with a text, be moved by words on a page, without foregoing every other principle you bring with you to that text. I believe there is a way to read dead white men as products of our time, without losing our humanity, without eliding or perpetuating the inhumanity of which Achebe writes. (7)

The insistence that we have been dehumanizing ourselves in reading this multitude of authors, rendered interchangeable as so many “dead white men,” is not only dismissive of the unique vision of each, but also of the varied and honest critical endeavors their work has generated. 

My reading of Decolonising the Conrad Canon is an attempt to read beyond this rhetoric. The book’s introduction, where much of this form of thinking and proselytizing is focused, frames the book in a way that is conceptually unhelpful. Where the rest of the book offers critically engaging insights on Conrad’s Trilogy, rigorous close readings of the novels that are accompanied by interesting and often original intermedial juxtapositions, the introduction offers populist ideas that are backed by a mixture of theoretical discourses that are not always immediately relevant or fair. The language is manipulative rather than analytic. Because of this, the opening chapter weakens rather than supports the project. The introduction would have better served the book, to my mind, if it had articulated what the subsequent chapters actually show. . . .

(To read the full article, select "Open Access" above, or click here.)

Calls for Papers for the Joseph Conrad Society of America Panels

at MLA 2024, Philadelphia 4-7 January 2024

Splendid Difficulty: Teaching Conrad

Conrad's works feature linguistic sophistication, narrative complexity, psychological nuance, subtle irony, political contestation, and historical challenge. While some might seek to avoid difficulty, this panel instead embraces difficulty and considers how precisely the most challenging aspects of Conrad's art can empower students and cultivate subtlety, humanistic and historical breadth, and even humility. This panel invites papers that consider how the multivalent difficulty of Conrad’s works — syntactic, psychological, political, or aesthetic — offers pedagogical opportunity. Comparative approaches are welcome.

Send 250-word proposals to Debra Romanick Baldwin by March 15, 2023.

Melville, Conrad, and Life

Both Melville and Conrad appeal to the concept of life allied with their artistic activities. Moby Dick is pervaded by appeals to the appeal to life, as in the description of a whale skeleton become a chapel: "Life folded Death; Death trellised Life; the grim god wived with youthful Life, and begat him curly-headed glories." Conrad, too describes the action of art in fruitful tension with the kinetics of life, as when in his 1897 preface, he connects art with seizing a fragment "from the remorseless rush of time, a passing phase of life." But how exactly do these writers understand and see their relation to "life" -- vegetative, human, physical, spiritual, ethical? This panel invites papers that consider metaphysical, aesthetic, ethical, linguistic, biological, or cultural approaches to the concept of life, including its potential tragi-comic polarities, in Melville and/or Conrad. How do these authors use the concept to challenge ethical or cultural assumptions, or to innovate and animate their own art?

Send 250 word proposals to Mark Deggan & Meredith Farmer by March 15, 2023.

Joseph Conrad Today appears twice a year, and it has been the journal of the Joseph Conrad Society of America since the Society's founding in 1975. JCT contains feature articles, book reviews, conference reports, calls for papers, notes and queries, Conrad sightings, and other news and information of significance to our members and to Conrad studies worldwide.  

For more information about the Joseph Conrad Society of America, please see the main Society website at If you are not already a member and would like to join, please stay on this page and select "Join & Subscribe" above.

Join us. Stay up to date with Conrad scholarship by joining the Joseph Conrad Society of America. You'll have access to electronic copies of Joseph Conrad Today, and you'll automatically be added to our email list for the latest announcements.   
Write for us. If you have an idea about a feature article, Conrad sighting, or other piece for possible publication in JCT, please write to If you are interested in submitting a book review, please write to our Book Review Editor, Kim Salmons, at bookrevieweditor@
Send us news. Please let us know about upcoming conferences, notes & queries, and any other events related to Joseph Conrad and Conrad studies--write to the Executive Editor at