Heart of Darkness is all about the ironic falseness of any notion of "civilized." In the name of civilization, Kurtz goes into Africa ostensibly to bring light to darkness but--in fact and from the outset--to bring out the white (light) ivory to the dark moving Thames. The "savages" are unclear because we never do and can never can know how they acted before Kurtz came, but whatever it was, however violent or cruel, we have no reason to think it was about being "civilized" in any Western sense. So the book is about hypocrisy and brutality and self-deception on the part of white Europe. This is hardly even interpretation: Conrad's symbolism is very overt and explicit, as when he shows a dying African with a white thread around his neck or when Marlow realizes how he too could be drawn into the emotion of the scene when he follows Kurtz into a ritual or when he shows the heads on poles around Kurtz's compound--and especially when he lies to Kurtz's Intended, thereby upholding what he knows is not true while always recalling and contemplating "The Horror! The Horror."
But Eliot would have seen this as savage. He was very interested in and used imagery of what he considered "savage," and the dominant psychology of the day assumed a "primitive" and a "civilized" human development. Vittoz, who treated Eliot, even claimed there were two brains, the primitive and the civilized, and that neurasthenia (Eliot's diagnosis) occured when the civilized brain lost control of the primitive brain. The solution was those exercises in regaining control through concentration. Compare, for example, the way Mr. Hyde is called ape-like, and the assumptions of criminal "types," as in Lombroso:
HE [Lombroso] BEGAN WITH THE BASIC ASSUMPTION OF THE BIOLOGICAL NATURE OF HUMAN CHARACTER AND BEHAVIOR:
- A. HE FIRST CONCEIVED OF THE CRIMINAL AS A THROWBACK TO A MORE PRIMITIVE TYPE OF BRAIN STRUCTURE, AND
These ideas permeated all kinds of disciplines, and Eliot not only was familiar with them but chose a psychologist who wrote a book defining them.
>>> Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]> 05/24/10 10:56 AM >>>
I note that this post overlaps my post. Lots here to work out.
Diana Manister wrote:
> Dear Peter,
> By de-civilized I meant less civilized than previously. Not
> uncivilized. Europe's sense of itself as Enlightened could not be
> maintained after the mutual butchery and unethical practices of the war.
> But Kurtz is a paradigm or symbol for de-civilization. It's the
> book's main theme to which all sub-themes and leitmotifs relate.
> Thanks for thinking of that.
> Sent from my iPod
> On May 24, 2010, at 2:16 AM, Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>
> > Eliot was a big fan of THE HEART OF DARKNESS.
> > Is Kurtz de-civilised?
> > Mr. Civilisation, he dead!
> > P.
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: "Carrol Cox" <[log in to unmask]>
> > To: <[log in to unmask]>
> > Sent: Sunday, May 23, 2010 7:19 AM
> > Subject: Re: Mr. Eugenides
> >> Diana Manister wrote:
> >>> Peter,
> >>> Yes dehumanized. De-civilized too, if you will,
> >> "decivilized" (which is also not Eliot's word) is an even more
> >> inappropriate metaphor than dehumanized. The behavior of the clerk is
> >> only possible within civilization! For one thing, even in a
> >> pre-capitalist class societies she would not have been living alone
> >> or
> >> preparing her own meal. Those tins involved international commerce.
> >> Moreover, the entire episode presupposes the atomized social
> >> relations
> >> which appeared embryonically in the 175th-c (and Milton with amazing
> >> prescience grasped) and only fully (and only in England & the U.S.)
> >> in
> >> the 19th-c. They were only beginning to develop in France & Germany
> >> (and
> >> this enters into the causes of WW1).
> >> So whatever the young man and woman are or are not, they are highly
> >> civilized -- and surely Eliot had enough of an historical sense and
> >> was
> >> precise enough in his language (even the silent language of thought
> >> and
> >> intention) that he would never have seen these characters as
> >> de-ciivilized. These vague, sloppy categories introduced by readers
> >> rather than the poem trivialize the whole poem.
> >> Carrolk