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Excerpt: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break of day. Whether it meant war, peace, or prayer we could not tell. The dawns were heralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the wood-cutters slept, their fires burned low; the snapping of a twig would make you start. We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us — who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign — and no memories. — Heart of Darknes

 

 

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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  1. There’s Something Trippy About Heart of Darkness | Brittle Paper - January 21, 2013

    […] You may think Achebe is being a tad petty for complaining about Conrad’s adjectives. But that is not at all the case. As an astute novelist, he understands that for someone like Conrad, all the magic is in his style. In this same essay where he calls Conrad a bloody racists, Achebe is gracious enough to concede that “Conrad is undoubtedly one of the great stylists of modern fiction and a good storyteller into the bargain.” Conrad was that sort of writer who could do wonders with everything from adjectives to exclamation marks. Critics have said that there is something photographic about Heart of Darkness. Odd but Conrad writes like he is a film-maker working with light, sounds, and angles of vision to create moods and feels that tell the reader what and how to think about the world being presented before his or her very eyes. (Example) […]

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