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Joseph Conrad Today
Publication of the Joseph Conrad Society of America
ISSN 0162-413X
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The following are excerpts from book reviews in recent issues of Joseph Conrad 
Today.

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Spring 2020 Reviews

(Scroll down for all reviews in this issue; reviews from the Fall 2019 issue follow)

J. A. Bernstein on Jeffery Mathes McCarthy,  Green Modernism

Green Modernism: Nature and the English Novel, 1900 to 1930

Jeffery Mathes McCarthy
Palgrave Macmillan, 2016
262 pp. $84.99

It’s Not Easy Being Green

In Green Modernism, Jeffrey Mathes McCarthy attempts to show that modernism, long understood as a “reaction against the political, aesthetic, and social formations of modernity,” also depends on a kind of literary engagement with the “natural world” (13-14). What exactly that engagement entails, and what is meant by the “natural world,” are two outstanding questions. The answers to each tend to vary quite a bit among the works studied in this volume, which range from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Under Western Eyes and Ford’s The Last Post to Mary Butts’s Armed with Madness and Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Other reviewers have faulted Green Modernism for failing to resolve these questions. Writing in English Literature in Transition, for example, Mara Scanlon notes: “A Congolese river is not an English forest is not a working family farm—yet too easily these and other elements of ‘nature’ are collected under that one term” (“Green Modernism & the Ecocritical,” 6.2, 2017, 256). Writing in Modern Fiction Studies, Ian K. Jensen laments what he calls McCarthy’s “new materialist” approach, especially in so far as it “bracket[s] the issue of language” and “fails to acknowledge that the only material component of a work of literature is the text itself” (63.4, 2017, 768).
What both reviewers overlook, however, is the extent to which McCarthy is acutely aware of these problems—both the ambiguity of what “nature” means and the question of whether a “materialist” account includes (or extends beyond) language. Indeed, one of the central tasks of Green Modernism, as McCarthy explains in the Introduction, is to trace the history of this “crisis of definition” over the term “nature” and to look at the ways that “modernist invention” helped “rethink just what the realm called ‘nature’ might actually be” (6). Language itself plays no small part in this re-defining, with Conrad’s narrator in Under Western Eyes, the ironically-named Teacher of Languages, for instance, famously proclaiming in the opening paragraphs that “words” are “the great foes of reality” and finding himself trapped in a “wilderness of words,” as he puts it. Jensen is right that Green Modernism does not deal at length with the questions of language’s ontology and whether, or how, it relates to the material world. Where the omission is perhaps most surprising is in Chapter Three, McCarthy’s discussion of Under Western Eyes. If critics like Edward Said are correct, and Under Western Eyes is largely about the “attempt to transcend language by vision” (“The Presentation of Narrative,” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 7.2, Winter, 1974, 122), then any truly-encompassing account of modernism’s ecological component, especially as it pertains to Conrad, needs to take into consideration the very meddlesome question of how Conrad conceives writing: whether it is “physical” or not; and thus how it shapes, or finds itself shaped by, the environments humans perceive. 
. . [Full review in the JCT issue]



Anne Keithline on Wieslaw Krajka, ed., Some Intertextual Chords of Joseph Conrad's Literary Art

Some Intertextual Chords of Joseph Conrad's Literary Art

Wieslaw Krajka, editor
Conrad: Eastern and Western Perspectives
Maria Curie-Sklodowska UP / Columbia UP, 2019
272 pp. $60.00 hardcover

Close to the beginning of this collection, which takes as its unifying theme the concepts of intertextuality and juxtaposition, Peter Vernon reminds us that Henry James once commented on a distinctly Conradian strategy for narrative development, as demonstrated in Chance. According to James, Conrad creates a chain of narrators whose interconnected stories cause the formation of the subject at hand to “glory in a gap,” and the reader to experience “a profound hovering flight of the subjective over the outstretched ground the case exposed.” The glorious gap, and the hovering flight, go far towards explaining one of Conrad’s exemplary qualities: the fact that, as Professor Krajka writes in the introduction, Conrad’s “literary works have a wonderful ability to enter into productive intertextual relationships with numerous and varied literary texts and contexts, even remote ones” (11).  The critics in this collection do not so much try to fill the gaps as to identify the contours of the overlapping shadows cast by Conrad’s subjects as they move over the outstretched ground of art and culture. 

          The first paper in the collection, Peter Vernon’s “‘More perjured eye’: On the Relevance of Under Western Eyes,” discusses “how Under Western Eyes offers a pastiche of other texts to signify the fictionality of certain aspects of the narrative” (14).  Biblical references begin on the first page and remain the primary touchstone of the paper. Razumov, throughout the novel “an intelligent but weak protagonist who is adrift in the Space of Russia in the Time of pre-revolution” (14), has, by the end, “been washed clean in the blood of the lamb (Rev. 7.14; 12.11)” (13).  The overall effect of this paper is to appreciate and celebrate Conrad, and the wealth of well-selected references seems to have been marshaled, in large part, with the goal of responding to Leavis’s “faint praise” that “Under Western Eyes was merely ‘a most distinguished work’” compared to other political novels, like The Secret Agent (39). Vernon comes down on the side of Eloise Knapp Hay in the judgment that “Under Western Eyes is Conrad’s last great political novel” (40). Vernon parts with Hay, however, at her assertion that “Conrad eradicated his father’s ‘idea that Poland was a mystical reincarnation of Christ’” (38), reminding us—and here is what the Biblical points have been building to—that “mysticism is manifest in the Christian symbolism linked to the Haldin family: romantic, wrong-headed, but finally—heroic” (39). . . . [Full review in the JCT issue]


Nic Panagopoulos on Joseph Conrad: Prefaces 


Joseph Conrad: Prefaces

2nd Edition
With a foreword by Owen Knowles
Fire & Ash, 2016
xi + 214 pp. $21.00 hardcover

This volume of Conrad’s collected prefaces and author’s notes, beautifully bound and printed by Fire & Ash Publishers of Toronto, is a republication of an edition that first came out in 1937 and includes, besides a foreword by Owen Knowles, a rare essay on “Conrad’s Place in Literature” by Edward Garnett. The appendices also contain the original prefaces to A Personal Record and Victory as well as “A Chronological List of the Published Works of Joseph Conrad.” 

          Two questions spring to mind: firstly, why collect Conrad’s prefaces in one volume; and secondly, having done so once, why reissue them? Knowles provides an answer to the first question by arguing in his foreword that the introductions to the major novels “fascinatingly trace the origins and evolution of these works, showing how they grow out of a rich store of life-experiences, including the writer’s personal memories, and an inherited store of anecdote and hearsay” (xi). Of course, even the introductions to the “minor” works reveal invaluable insights into Conrad’s attitude to life and art, and the relationship between the two. This is particularly true of the prefaces to The Nigger of the “Narcissus” and A Personal Record, which have been seen as literary manifestos in their own right and important statements of Conrad’s artistic creed. . . . [Full review in the JCT issue]

Fall 2019 Reviews

Ruben Weiss on James Purdon,  Modernist Informatics

Modernist Informatics: Literature, Information, and the State

James Purdon
Oxford UP, 2016
xiv + 224 pp. $77.00 hardcover / $74.99 electronic

 

          James Purdon’s Modernist Informatics: Literature, Information, and the State traces the development of informatics, the science of information management, to the advent of “new information controls in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century government systems” (6). The book therefore provides a “prehistory of cybernetics” (ix), but to consider Purdon’s project solely from this perspective would be to do it a disservice. Purdon advocates for a new understanding of informatics as “the government of information,” a deliberately ambiguous phrase that calls to mind “the way information has emerged as both the basis of modern political power and one of its primary objects of attention and control” (6). The study discusses a wide variety of works from disparate cultural fields in relation to their historical contexts, offering a fascinating account of how the metamorphosis of the modern conception of “information” enabled the state and the modernist imaginary to shape one another.

          At the heart of the book is the tension between information and the desire to exercise control over it and over the means of its production and dissemination. The capitalist drive of the late Victorian period saw information transforming into a commodity, albeit a strange commodity: one that can exist in multiple locations simultaneously, and consequently cannot be completely secured (2–3). The state’s attempts to control information have wide ramifications, on both a national and a personal level. For example, the state’s use of identity papers—passports, driving permits, intelligence files—to track and monitor its subjects, necessary for the administration and safeguarding of a fast-growing population, entails “the displacement of ‘identity’ as a social concept from the living self into the archived dossier” (71). The embodied self becomes a kind of “data abject,” since “the link between the body (a physical entity with a consciousness of its own history) and the ahistorical archival double” is called into question (76). The modernist figures Purdon discusses—such as Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, Elizabeth Bowen, and filmmaker John Grierson—“were uniquely placed to understand these new manifestations of state textuality and their implications for cultural life” (19). Thus, to continue the abovementioned example, numerous modernist texts delve into the uncanny scene of meeting one’s bureaucratic double reproduced in various identity documents. This scene concentrates on the difference between official identity and lived experience, and foregrounds the fluidity of the modern self (71). . . [Full review in the JCT issue]


Andrew Glazzard on Helen Chambers, Conrad's Reading

Conrad’s Reading: Space, Time, Networks

Helen Chambers
Springer International, 2018
240 pp. $99.99 hardcover, paperback / $89.99 electronic

 

          Literary critics have long been interested in what canonical authors are believed to have read. For the most part, the aim has been to know whether the reading shaped the writing: the study of an author’s reading has largely been a matter of identifying possible sources. In many cases, lacking the necessary biographical material to really know what the author read (how many of us keep records of every book, newspaper and magazine article we peruse?), scholars would start with the author’s texts and work backwards, looking for internal evidence to show that author x had read book y.

          And so it has been the case with Joseph Conrad, an author who has stimulated a vast corpus of scholarly research into possible sources, literary and biographical. Pioneers such as Zdzisław Najder, Norman Sherry, Yves Hervouet and Hans van Marle left no documentary stone unturned in their efforts to understand what influenced Conrad’s writing, from Polish history and verse, to the “dull wise books” of travel and geography that helped Conrad with the authenticity of his African, Asian and South American settings, to the literary impressionism of Flaubert and that of Conrad’s contemporaries such as Ford Madox Ford and Stephen Crane. . . [Full review in the JCT issue]


Patricia Pye on Owen Knowles and Allan H. Simmons, eds., Heart of Darkness (Cambridge)


Heart of Darkness

Edited by Owen Knowles and Allan H. Simmons
Cambridge UP, 2018
204 pp. $12.99 paperback

 

          As Knowles and Simmons note, Heart of Darkness has taken on “a life of its own” (xxxix) within the Conrad canon, and this justifies its publication here as a single title in the Cambridge Editions,  although already available in the collection Youth, Heart of Darkness, The End of the Tether (published in 2010). As this paperback edition is substantially cheaper than other titles in the Cambridge series, it will clearly appeal to a wider readership, while retaining the scholarly value of a text based on the original pre-print version of the story. This makes it unique among other annotated editions of Heart of Darkness, and introduces to a broader readership the process of editorial “archaeology,” through which scholars can go through the earliest versions of a story in order to “uncover, sift, reject or restore” (xliii).

          Readers will still need to turn to Cambridge’s Youth collection for a more detailed textual apparatus of emendations made for Blackwood’s serial and the first book edition of Heart of Darkness. However, this new edition should not be regarded as a “junior” version.  There are significant additions, including “The Congo Diary,” and an appendix, “Africa in Life and Art,” which has selected correspondence from the Collected Letters, and extracts from Conrad’s reminiscences. This is a useful feature for everyone, whatever their level of familiarity with the texts. For students and teachers new to Conrad, such contextual material will be a welcome resource. For those already well versed in the canonical quotes and correspondence, it allows for these to consulted in situ, rather than having to be tracked down separately. Here we have, for example, Conrad’s letter to William Blackwood of 1898, where he first mentions The Heart of Darkness [sic] as the “title I am thinking of,” for a “narrative that is not gloomy.” Then there is Conrad’s much-quoted recollection about looking at a map of Africa and declaring “When I grow up I will go there,”  from “Geography and Some Explorers” and A Personal Record. . . [Full review in the JCT issue]


Michael John DiSanto on Mark D. Larabee, ed., The Historian's Heart of Darkness

The Historian’s Heart of Darkness: Reading Conrad’s Masterpiece as Social and Cultural History

Edited by Mark D. Larabee

Praeger, 2018.

xxv + 176 pp.  $37.00 hardcover / $22.00 paperback / $20.90 electronic

 

          Mark Larabee has produced a well-crafted edition of Joseph Conrad’s most famous work that is designed for students of history and literature and general readers looking for an understanding of the text in its time. The book includes introductory material, the text of Heart of Darkness, Conrad’s 1917 “author’s note,” and his “Congo Diary.” Conrad’s texts are illuminated by Larabee’s extensive annotations.

          The preface (ix-xiv) is a brief overview of the purpose of the book. For the benefit of instructors who use the edition, it articulates six “levels” that can be used as guides for students to read Conrad’s novel (e.g., “an embedding of historical facts about European colonialism in Africa”; “an artifact of witnessing” [xi]) along with questions corresponding to each level that can be used to prompt assignments of various kinds (e.g., “What facts about European and African history does the story bring to life?”; “What do the similarities and differences between [Marlow and Conrad] tell us about the nature of survival, witnessing, and memory?” [xi-xii]). The preface is followed by a chronology (xv-xxv) divided in three columns, from left to right: Date; Key Events in European and Central African History; Key Events in Joseph Conrad’s life. It begins with several dates prior to Conrad’s birth, such as “1482 Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão discovers mouth of the Congo River” and “1834 Slavery abolished in British Empire” (xv). It concludes with noting that Conrad's Last Essays was published in 1926 (xxv). For the events in European and Central African history the entries, as one might expect, focus on dates that resonate with questions raised in or problems connected with the novel. For example, no mention is made of the Crimean War (1853-56), but the Boer War (1899-1902) is included. One can imagine arguments for including in the second column a wider range of entries about events in Europe beyond those directly associated with the Congo region, for example, “1884 USA, France, and Germany recognize Leopold’s claim to establish ‘independent states’ in the Congo” (xviii). In light of the way in which the novel opens and the emphasis placed on the Roman occupation of what later became England, some entries regarding that part of history may be of use; however, Larabee does explain in his annotations the Roman references. Considering the purpose of this edition, Larabee has made a chronology that is, in its focus and scope, useful for students, especially those who are encountering Conrad’s novel for the first time and, for those who have previously studied it in a course that is narrowly literary, are contemplating it anew with a historian’s eye. . . . [Full review in the JCT issue]


Melanie Ross on John G. Peters, ed., The Secret Sharer and Other Stories

The Secret Sharer and Other Stories

Edited by John G. Peters

Norton Critical Editions

W.W. Norton, 2015

xii + 599pp. $16.87 paperback / $11.99 electronic

 

I give the psychology of a group of men and render certain aspects of nature. But the problem that faces them is not a problem of the sea, it is merely a problem that has arisen on board a ship where the conditions of complete isolation from all land entanglements make it stand out with a particular force and colouring.                

Letter from Joseph Conrad to Henry S. Canby, 1924 (Norton, 2015: 379)

 

          The Sea Chest. So Leon Edel introduces Henry James's Notebooks, with the literal site of his discovery of such a literary trove; I borrow it to start this review (ix). For John G. Peters’s The Secret Sharer and Other Stories is a sea-treasure chest of a collection. It opens up to reveal, alongside the tremendous riches of the stories themselves, other primary and secondary source documents that tell the story of Conrad’s transit into writing, his metamorphosing from one profession to another, both of which are writ large in this volume. In this scrupulously and carefully curated, annotated, edited and supported collection of “The Secret Sharer”, The Shadow-Line, The Nigger of the “Narcissus” and “Typhoon,” Peters offers a Conradian “auto-hydrography”: what Conrad’s writing of water says about Conrad’s own writing (life) and maybe also about writing in general. This collection or conversion of life-on-the-water into writing (that “Youth” might add to but that would throw off the volume’s structure, more on which below), and not only Conrad’s, shimmers, a mirror of ink, to invoke Michel Beaujour’s Mirrors of Ink: Rhetoric of the Autoportrait (1980) as well as a mirror of the sea—to invoke Conrad’s Mirror of the Sea, and beyond.

          Since Conrad's own process/progress into fiction was from profession (sail) to profession (writer), as the prefatory materials to The Nigger of the “Narcissus” contained in this volume testify, this reviewer will focus at least in part on the practical use of the edition as a means of making the “appeal,” a word Conrad uses at least seven times in the original preface, for literary studies, with and through Conrad, having already used the volume in a literature course at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA). This book brings Conrad to more readers, future “leaders,” in fact, and not just at military or service academies—“leadership” is one very fruitful lens through which to read the stories and is itself a way to make humanistic study relevant without losing any of its interpretive vigor or creative-cum-critical thinking. Indeed, a Marine and English PhD, now friend, introduced this reviewer to “Typhoon” years ago precisely as a text about the responsibility of “command,” hence launching her beyond Heart of Darkness, and for which she will be forever grateful. Peters’s edition stands proudly at the nexus of letters and action, translating work into words in the fiction and showing editorial, interpretive work at its finest in its apparatus. As both Conrad and a different Peter, Peter Elbow (whose book Vernacular Eloquence inspired the writing of this review), remind us, sea and language are both inhuman (though both involve, or are, human-devised tools) and require an immense effort to bring under control, to express meaning. This volume, an inspiring testament to Conrad’s success in both arenas and movement in between, as much about writing as about the sea (and so much more, as Conrad’s initiating words indicate) therefore appeals to all those who desire to write (professionally, in some capacity) as well as to read. It is equally indispensable to any reader, scholar or teacher of Conrad more particularly, as I hope to show in this review. . . [Full review in the JCT issue]



Pei-Wen Clio Kao on Maurice Ebileeni, Conrad, Faulkner, and the Problem of Nonsense

Conrad, Faulkner, and the Problem of Nonsense
Maurice Ebileeni
Bloomsbury Academic, 2015
176 pp. $110.00 hardcover / $42.95 paperback / $34.99 electro

          In Conrad, Faulkner, and the Problem of Nonsense Maurice Ebileeni investigates how the two modernist masters represent the irrational tendency of humans in a rapidly-changing world of chaos and uncertainty. In this compact book, Ebileeni undertakes the huge task of dividing the two representative aesthetic ways to confront the turn-of-the-century chaos and anarchy as exemplified in Conrad and Faulkner: one maneuvering to survive it; the other braving to embrace it. Ebileeni draws upon Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, specifically the analysis of the symptoms of neurosis and psychosis, and the concept of the sinthome, to develop his central argument about the intersection of the human consciousness and a chaotic world. 
          In his introduction, Ebileeni begins by delineating the close relationship between Conrad and Faulkner, which has been previously addressed by Peter Mallios in his groundbreaking study Our Conrad (2010). Faulkner imitates Conrad “thematically and stylistically” (2) as an heir apparent to the master’s innovative ideas and ingenious narrative techniques. Ebileeni uses Mallios’s argument as a springboard to highlight the “experimentations in narration” of both writers and to foreground the continuity of their ideological reaction to the chaos of modernity, from Conrad’s “enduring” to Faulkner’s “prevailing.” Specifically, Ebileeni probes the “linguistic nonsense” of both writers in their response to a chaotic universe without the underpinning of human rationality. Ebileeni demonstrates the two writers’ foray into the “linguistic experimentations and inventions of unintelligible sentences and portmanteau words” to lay bare “the possibility of futility in language” (10, 11). This concept of nonsense discussed throughout is realized in the thematic as well as stylistic experimentations of Conrad and Faulkner to (re)present an objective world where human consciousness disintegrates. . . . [Full review in the JCT issue]


Nic Panagopoulos on Matthew Levey, Violent Minds

Violent Minds: Modernism and the Criminal
Matthew Levay
Cambridge UP
239 pp. $99.99 hardcover / $80.00 electronic


          Matthew Levay’s scholarly yet highly readable first book, Violent Minds: Modernism and the Criminal, is sure to appeal to students of the novel, modernism, and popular fiction alike. The impetus behind the project seems to have been Nicholas Daly’s call for a “longer historical dureé for modernism,” to which Levay responds by placing in dialogue a wide spectrum of authors not usually identified with the movement, nor indeed with one another. Violent Minds also attempts to draw closer connections between modernist and detective/crime writing as an antidote to those accounts of avant-garde and popular fiction that treat these genres as completely distinct or even inimical to each other. As Levay succinctly writes in the Introduction: “This book charts the history of that attention to criminal psychology in modernist fiction from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth, and explains why a surprising number of modernist novels are intensely preoccupied with the representation of criminality as a unique form of subjectivity that both affirms and eludes conventional understandings of interiority and identity” (2-3). The modernist fascination with criminality is thus attributed, not only to what is called “crime’s cultural power” (3), but also to crime as a psychological rather than a merely social or ethical phenomenon.

           Violent Minds begins by reviewing the most influential criminological theories that inspired writers of detective fiction in the nineteenth century—from the view of the criminal as an irrational, egoistic, or regressive subject who seems to fly in the face of the Enlightenment project, to more positivist theories of criminality that stress environmental or social factors. Levay goes on to propose that the failure of these more or less scientific accounts of criminality to gain widespread acceptance encouraged twentieth-century writers to fill the epistemological gap with their own innovative narratives, so that “it was fiction that brought the most probing investigations into the criminal mind” (11). On the other hand, Levay argues, modernists were less confident than their Victorian predecessors in their understanding and power to represent criminality, even as they felt more keenly crime’s power to both fascinate and repel. This idea can perhaps be related not only to the Gothic sublime but also to what theorists of tragedy saw as the paradoxical attraction of the genre in its ability to give pleasure to theatre audiences when showing subjects that would shock and disgust in an everyday context. Thus, modernists rejected the moral, scientific, and cultural perspectives on crime that had characterized previous eras, adopting the criminal as an exemplary subject for psychological exploration while placing violence at the center of the novel’s formal concerns. Levay opines that, “despite these links between modernism and criminality, critics have been slow to chart their importance for the field” (12). However, one could play devil’s advocate here by pointing out that the psychologically obscure nature of criminal motivation is only a small part of the overall difficulty of perceiving and representing inner states, while violence, although often central to criminal phenomena, may also assume other forms. Be this as it may, Levay’s argument that the criminal helped modernists “to utilize popular generic conventions, whether to expand the formal boundaries and possible audiences of more obviously experimental fiction or to make genre fiction more responsive to the aesthetic and thematic preoccupations of modernism” (14) is a compelling one and significantly broadens our understanding of the field. . . [Full review in the JCT issue]


Tania Zulli on Katherine Isobel Baxter and Robert Hampson, eds., Conrad and Language

Conrad and Language
Edited by Katherine Isobel Baxter and Robert Hampson
Edinburgh UP, 2016
232 pp. $120.00 hardcover / $29.95 paperback

          Conrad’s approach to language was deeply motivated and shaped by his life, profession and numerous voyages. As a student he had learnt some Latin, Russian, and German and, before travelling to Marseilles and beginning to work on merchant ships in 1874, he could speak Polish and French fluently. After joining the British Merchant Navy and moving to London, he started studying English, which was to become the language of his writing. Finally, his trips around the world brought him into contact with Malay and Kikongo, while he also seemed to be familiar with some Dutch, Italian and Spanish. Due to such a variety of language experiences, Conrad’s fiction has often been studied with reference to the influence of various idioms in his writing. Also, critics have widely focused on aspects of language as related to style and narrative strategies unveiling the author’s elaborate and complex narrative techniques.

          This recent publication on Joseph Conrad and language sheds new light on a complex, fascinating, and much studied aspect of his fiction by underlining the way in which previous criticism has faced the topic and, at the same time, by presenting further original approaches to the articulated question of language (and languages) in Conrad’s novels. Edited by Katherine Baxter and Robert Hampson, Conrad and Language collects eleven essays—plus an Introduction by the editors and an Afterword written by Laurence Davies—which stretch over Conrad’s life and work in innovative, sometimes unprecedented ways. Besides dealing with the author’s multilingual background, the volume focuses on another crucial aspect that has informed previous criticism on Conrad. Drawing from Jeremy Hawthorn’s 1979 study Joseph Conrad: Language and Fictional Self-Consciousness, the editors underline the importance of Conrad’s “philosophical curiosity about language” (6), which developed in a concern with ‘language consciousness’. Therefore, the chapters in the volume “approach the topic . . . not from the perspective of comparative linguistics or stylistics, but rather in terms of that ‘more than commonly developed consciousness of language,’ which produced ‘an awakened philosophical curiosity about language’ that included a questioning of the relation of words and things and a recognition of language’s approximate representation of reality” (6-7). . . . [Full review in the JCT issue]


Marzia Iasenza on Tania Zulli, Joseph  Conrad: Language and Transnationalism 

Joseph Conrad: Language and Transnationalism
Tania Zulli
Edizioni Solfanelli, 2019
124 pp. €12.00

          This volume, published by Solfanelli in the collection Nuova Armorica, is a successful attempt to explore the transnational status of Joseph Conrad as a writer and as a man. Tania Zulli analyzes Conrad’s cross-cultural themes and “voices” through his texts and biography. To this end, some works are compared with those of other writers, such as R.L. Stevenson and Nadine Gordimer, pointing out the peculiarities of Conrad’s narrative both as a Polish émigré and as a British merchant marine captain. For Zulli, Conrad’s transnationalism has to be interpreted as the introduction of a new cosmopolitan perspective on the world conveyed through modern rhetorical strategies and narrative structures. This way, his “polyphonic” and “visual” writing style has been able to influence the works of other authors, crossing the borders of time and space.

          In the first chapter Zulli focuses on the language spoken by Yanko Goorall in “Amy Foster” (1901) in order to investigate the usefulness of speech as a transnational “bridge.” The exile’s cultural-linguistic struggle is considered through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s “pure language” theory. To this extent, Yanko represents the solitude of the exile in a foreign country and the impossibility of expressing himself and his feelings in comprehensible words. This picture opposes Benjamin’s idea of “pure language” and becomes in Conrad the symbol of communicative failure. The description of Yanko’s complete loneliness conveys Conrad’s reflections on his own past condition of outcast with no home and no language. Speaking does not help Yanko in any way. Even speaking to God is not useful “to improve the isolation and melancholy of exile” (34). . . . [Full review in the JCT issue]