Debates Forum

Debates Forum

  1. Zugzwang
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    17 Feb '21 23:491 edit
    @teinosuke said
    Interestingly, when "The N-word of the Narcissus" was published in America, the publisher insisted that the title be changed to "The Children of the Sea". This was not because the notorious racial epithet in Conrad's original title was thought likely to offend, but because the publisher judged that American readers were not likely to want to read a book about a person of colour!
    Pushkin is known as Russia's 'national poet'. If he were American, however,
    then he likely would be marginalized as an African American writer.

    It's interesting that Pushkin was not really a native speaker of Russian.
    He grew up speaking mostly French, the language of the Russian court.

    Joseph Conrad and others have proven that not being a native speaker does
    not necessarily preclude one from becoming a great writer in that language.
  2. Subscribershavixmir
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    18 Feb '21 04:17
    @teinosuke said
    Achebe's essay condemned Conrad as "a bloody racist". Yet when he was asked later about his perspective, he said that he did not want people to stop reading Heart of Darkness: "It's not in my nature to talk about banning books. I am saying, read it – with the kind of understanding and with the knowledge I talk about. And read it beside African works."

    There has been much ...[text shortened]... r-beer. However, I wasn’t going into any of these. I was going into the yellow. Dead in the centre."
    Heart of Darkness is written in the first form.
    Any “being racist” comment can only be levelled at the narrator of the tale, not the writer of the novel.

    You can’t say that Leon Uris was a Catholic who died a violent death, because the narrator dies at the end of Trinity either.
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    18 Feb '21 05:492 edits
    @shavixmir said
    Heart of Darkness is written in the first form.
    Any “being racist” comment can only be levelled at the narrator of the tale, not the writer of the novel.

    You can’t say that Leon Uris was a Catholic who died a violent death, because the narrator dies at the end of Trinity either.
    You mean, "in the first person", I assume.

    It's quite true that we shouldn't equate the values expressed by a narrator with the values of the work itself. However, that does not mean that the work itself has no values. The question of whether Marlowe (narrator of Heart of Darkness) is a racist is a separate matter from the question of whether the novel itself, or its author, are / were racist. However, the latter question can still be asked.

    In fact, even had the novella been told in the third person, it wouldn't be safe to equate even the most explicit statements of Conrad the narrator with the actual attitudes of Conrad the author, or with the overall attitude of the book itself, which is a matter of its total effect, the combination of narrative voice with incident, character, structure, symbolism, etc.

    You can't say that Leon Uris was a Catholic who died a violent death; you can, however, say that Trinity is a novel that conveys a particular attitude to Catholicism and to Ireland. The same writer's Exodus is a Zionist novel not because its hero is a Zionist, but because its whole narrative structure, tone and series of incidents are crafted to endorse the Zionist cause and to dismiss or reject the Arab one.
  4. Zugzwang
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    18 Feb '21 07:01
    @teinosuke said
    You mean, "in the first person", I assume.

    It's quite true that we shouldn't equate the values expressed by a narrator with the values of the work itself. However, that does not mean that the work itself has no values. The question of whether Marlowe (narrator of Heart of Darkness) is a racist is a separate matter from the question of whether the novel itself, or its aut ...[text shortened]... series of incidents are crafted to endorse the Zionist cause and to dismiss or reject the Arab one.
    Teinosuke replied to Shavixmir.

    In the film, 'The Bridge Over the River Kwai', there's a racist subplot in which the
    Japanese are shown as utterly incapable of designing and building a bridge and
    need the superior British to do it for them. In reality, Japanese engineers were
    very good and quite capable of building bridges without any Western assistance.
    Japanese military fortifications were quite impressive.

    In some Chinese internet forums, people make jokes about ambient Western racism.
    If Chinese scientists or engineers are the first in the world to achieve something,
    they would expect some Westerners to accuse them immediately of 'stealing'
    all their concepts and work from superior white scientists or engineers.

    So if there's a discussion about a new Chinese aircraft, someone might joke,
    "Which Western or Russian aircraft is this supposed to be a copy of?"
  5. Subscriberkevcvs57
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    18 Feb '21 09:18
    @teinosuke said
    Achebe's essay condemned Conrad as "a bloody racist". Yet when he was asked later about his perspective, he said that he did not want people to stop reading Heart of Darkness: "It's not in my nature to talk about banning books. I am saying, read it – with the kind of understanding and with the knowledge I talk about. And read it beside African works."

    There has been much ...[text shortened]... r-beer. However, I wasn’t going into any of these. I was going into the yellow. Dead in the centre."
    Another classic I should have read but I've watched Apocalypse Now a few times and it seemed to be anti war ( western imperialism ) but also racist in its depiction of the Vietnamese.
  6. Subscriberkevcvs57
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    18 Feb '21 09:21
    @duchess64 said
    Note that, as usual, Kevcvs57 keeps hurling insults or lies.
    How many times do I have to keep reiterating this quotation?

    "Strikes me as something more than that, it’s almost as if he [Shakespeare] must be eradicated
    from the school libraries and cultural memory simply because he is a white voice."
    --Kevcvs57

    Note Kevcvs's hysterical comment about 'eradicating' S ...[text shortened]... 'fragile'.

    I regard Kevcvs57 as hardly more capable of rational 'discussion' than Earl of Trumps.
    I do not regard you as capable of rational debate at all because your intellect is subservient to your prejudices.
  7. Subscribershavixmir
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    18 Feb '21 10:311 edit
    @teinosuke said
    You mean, "in the first person", I assume.

    It's quite true that we shouldn't equate the values expressed by a narrator with the values of the work itself. However, that does not mean that the work itself has no values. The question of whether Marlowe (narrator of Heart of Darkness) is a racist is a separate matter from the question of whether the novel itself, or its aut ...[text shortened]... series of incidents are crafted to endorse the Zionist cause and to dismiss or reject the Arab one.
    You assume correctly.

    The reason I picked "the person" is because that makes it easy to comprehend the stance on the matter.

    Even if a book is completely racist, as long as it is fiction, it says nothing about the writer or his opinions.
    Nobody reads Silence of the Lambs and thinks that Harris eats people.

    Edit: obviously autobiographies, etc. are something completely different.
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    18 Feb '21 11:179 edits
    @shavixmir said
    You assume correctly.

    The reason I picked "the person" is because that makes it easy to comprehend the stance on the matter.

    Even if a book is completely racist, as long as it is fiction, it says nothing about the writer or his opinions.
    Nobody reads Silence of the Lambs and thinks that Harris eats people.

    Edit: obviously autobiographies, etc. are something completely different.
    James Joyce, in Ulysses, wittily deals with the error of assuming that the attitudes of a fictional character equate to the attitudes of the author.

    "— You don’t know yet what money is, [Mr Deasy said]. Money is power, when you have lived as long as I have. I know, I know. If youth but knew. But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.

    — Iago, Stephen murmured."

    But the point is not just that Shakespeare doesn't encourage us to "put money in our purses"; he stigmatises this materialist sentiment by placing it in the mouth of one of his cruellest villains. We know that Iago is a liar, so we might be suspicious even when he offers what seems like sound advice.

    Basically there are three issues to be considered:

    1) Fictional characters and their opinions (which an author and the text s/he produced may or may not endorse).

    2) The writer and his/her opinions (in my opinion basically unimportant; Joseph Conrad has been dead for nearly a century, Shakespeare for four centuries, while their works and the characters they created can be bought or borrowed and read tomorrow).

    3) The book and its opinions, derived from a close reading of the text and its implied attitude to the characters and situations as expressed through literary style and symbolism.

    I'm not interested in "the writer or his opinions", and I'm interested in the characters and their opinions only in so far as they help me understand the book and its opinions. When Achebe said that "Joseph Conrad was a bloody racist", he didn't mean that the actual writer, who died in 1924, was racist; he certainly didn't mean that the characters expressed racist attitudes; he meant that the values and implications embodied in Conrad's book, Heart of Darkness, were racist.

    Similarly, while no one thinks Harris eats people, one can assume that Silence of the Lambs embodies an attitude to Hannibal Lecter and, by extension, to his crimes. Books embody an attitude to the events they describe by definition.

    An obvious example that takes us back to Shakespeare. Macbeth (the play) is a story about Macbeth (a character) who is a usurper and a tyrant. Only an idiot would think that this means that the play is in favour of usurpation and tyranny because its protagonist does these things. In fact the play is very clearly anti-usurpation and anti-tyranny; this is clear because:

    1) Macbeth's usurping the throne leads him through agonies of guilt and despair to a sticky end.

    2) He is tempted to kill Duncan by diabolical forces (the witches, and Lady Macbeth, who explicitly pledges herself to evil spirits).

    3) He is associated consistently with imagery of darkness and night, directly associated in the play's dialogue with evil.

    4) He is contrasted with two virtuous kings, Duncan (whom he kills), explicitly associated with angels; and the King of England (the historical Edward the Confessor) who is attributed with the miraculous power to cure disease.

    5) Shakespeare actually suggests that natural phenomena protest at Macbeth's usurpation: "The heavens, as troubled with man's act, / Threaten his bloody stage: by the clock, 'tis day, / And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp." Which is to say, killing a king is not only bad, but unnatural; the very structure of the universe protests at it.

    In other words, through his portrayal of what happens to a usurper, through the web of imagery, incident and characterisation that he creates, Shakespeare crafts a play that is strongly opposed to rebellion against lawful authority. Needless to say, in the early seventeenth century, at a time when criticising a king could have extremely dangerous consequences, it would have been difficult for him to do otherwise; indeed, the portrayal of Edward the Confessor, and the implication that Banquo's descendants will be kings "to the crack of doom", were transparently intended to flatter the reigning monarch, himself a Scot who had inherited the English throne.
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    18 Feb '21 11:53
    @duchess64 said
    Pushkin is known as Russia's 'national poet'. If he were American, however,
    then he likely would be marginalized as an African American writer.
    Пора покинуть скучный брегъ
    Мнѣ непріязненной стихіи,
    И средь полуденныхъ зыбей,
    Подъ небомъ Африки моей,
    Вздыхать о сумрачной Россіи,
    Гдѣ я страдалъ, гдѣ я любилъ,
    Гдѣ сердце я похоронилъ.
  10. Subscribershavixmir
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    18 Feb '21 13:12
    @teinosuke said
    James Joyce, in Ulysses, wittily deals with the error of assuming that the attitudes of a fictional character equate to the attitudes of the author.

    "— You don’t know yet what money is, [Mr Deasy said]. Money is power, when you have lived as long as I have. I know, I know. If youth but knew. But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.

    — Iago, Stephen mu ...[text shortened]... ently intended to flatter the reigning monarch, himself a Scot who had inherited the English throne.
    If you call Conrad a racist, who am I to presume you mean sentiments portraid in a work of fiction?

    I’m pretty sure most people took it to mean that Conrad was a racist.
  11. Zugzwang
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    18 Feb '21 18:49
    @shavixmir said
    If you call Conrad a racist, who am I to presume you mean sentiments portraid in a work of fiction?

    I’m pretty sure most people took it to mean that Conrad was a racist.
    Shavixmir replied to Teinosuke.

    I would interpret statements like 'Conrad was a racist' to mean that he supposedly
    held some beliefs common in his time that now are widely regarded as racist.
  12. Subscribershavixmir
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    18 Feb '21 19:28
    @duchess64 said
    Shavixmir replied to Teinosuke.

    I would interpret statements like 'Conrad was a racist' to mean that he supposedly
    held some beliefs common in his time that now are widely regarded as racist.
    And my point is, you or a Nigerian writer, can’t deduce that from a novel.
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    18 Feb '21 20:25
    @shavixmir said
    And my point is, you or a Nigerian writer, can’t deduce that from a novel.
    While my point is, the actual attitudes of the historic Joseph Conrad are irrelevant! He left us a body of work, and when Chinua Achebe said that Joseph Conrad was racist, he primarily meant "Joseph Conrad" in the sense of the books associated with that name. Achebe made this quite explicit:

    "Whatever Conrad's problems were, you might say he is now safely dead. Quite true. Unfortunately his heart of darkness plagues us still. Which is why an offensive and deplorable book can be described by a serious scholar as "among the half dozen greatest short novels in the English language."

    And the main crux of his essay is to argue that, because Heart of Darkness is a racist book, it should not be considered a great book:

    "The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot."

    Achebe was interested in Conrad's personality and psychology in so far as they might help to explain the racism which he thought was manifest in the book he wrote. Whether one agrees with him or not that the book is racist, I think he's quite right that the book is the thing that matters. After all, the only reason Conrad is known to us nearly a century after his death is because he wrote books that we can still read today.

    So no, one can't deduce from Joseph Conrad's novel whether Joseph Conrad the man was racist. But nobody cares about this; Conrad is dead; Heart of Darkness is alive. The question that matters to me as a reader is not whether Conrad was racist, but whether Heart of Darkness is racist. And that is something I can deduce from the novel; indeed, I could deduce it from nothing else!
  14. Zugzwang
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    19 Feb '21 00:38
    @teinosuke said
    While my point is, the actual attitudes of the historic Joseph Conrad are irrelevant! He left us a body of work, and when Chinua Achebe said that Joseph Conrad was racist, he primarily meant "Joseph Conrad" in the sense of the books associated with that name. Achebe made this quite explicit:

    "Whatever Conrad's problems were, you might say he is now safely dead. Quite tru ...[text shortened]... ist. And that is something I can deduce from the novel; indeed, I could deduce it from nothing else!
    Teinosuke replied to Shavixmir.

    To look at it from another angle, Richard Wagner was anti-Jewish in his life.
    Israel has asserted that's enough reason to ban his music from being played there.
    But I don't perceive any evidence of anti-Jewishness in his music itself, though
    I suppose that some critics will do their utmost to stretch to claim that it's there.

    Most people don't care that much about what kind of man Richard Wagner was (he died in 1883).
    The only reason why people care about Wagner at all is because his music endures.

    As I recall, after the Second World War, some people (e.g. Reuben Fine) argued
    that Alekhine should be stripped of his world champion title in chess because he
    wrote (he may have denied it) anti-Jewish articles while living under Nazi occupation.
  15. Subscribershavixmir
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    19 Feb '21 05:521 edit
    @teinosuke said
    While my point is, the actual attitudes of the historic Joseph Conrad are irrelevant! He left us a body of work, and when Chinua Achebe said that Joseph Conrad was racist, he primarily meant "Joseph Conrad" in the sense of the books associated with that name. Achebe made this quite explicit:

    "Whatever Conrad's problems were, you might say he is now safely dead. Quite tru ...[text shortened]... ist. And that is something I can deduce from the novel; indeed, I could deduce it from nothing else!
    Does it matter that Heart of Darkness portrays racist attitudes?

    In hindsight, from out enlightened perspective, does that not actually make the book better? Like looking into the darkness of past attitudes to see where we are now and how far we still must go?
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