Wed, 5 Dec 2007

Lord Jim

— SjG @ 11:17 am

Joseph Conrad, edition of 1917, read as an eBook from

(I started writing this a month ago, and it’s been languishing in the “finish me!” queue ever since.)

Ah, Lord Jim, the bane of Ms. Vessey’s Junior English class. When I read the book then, it was under protest. The rules were as follows: every sentence would be extracted for symbolic analysis, and an elaborate cross-referencing would ensue. Thus, it came to the point that if Conrad mentioned anything to do with light, weather, color, temperature, etc, he was clearly telling us how to decode the secrets of the next paragraph.

The direct reading of the text was a rewarding experience which was sullied by over-analysis. Sure, Conrad conveyed mood and texture via the “symbols” were were forced to identify, but I didn’t (and don’t) believe that he coded a whole parallel story sub rosa into the text.

Upon re-reading, I was struck by a number of unrelated things that escaped me in my first reading. I was interested in the depictions of Islam in the Indonesian islands, as well as the descriptions of the lawless Straits of Malacca from a hundred years ago. Some things don’t change. Conrad used a very descriptive vocabulary, and had an aptitude for portraying the strange kinds of characters who inhabit the real world — the kind of people we meet frequently, and think “he’s kind of odd, isn’t he?”

Especially with the theme of conformity and individualism, Conrad seems to be pointing out that “normal” is like a mathematical normal, in that any given constituent is not going to be smack dab in the middle of the mainstream. So normal society is made up of people who are by and large similar in attitudes and behavior, but who each have their quirks and eccentricities.

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