restricted access The Scopic Drive and Visual Projection in Heart of Darkness
Abstract

Using Jacques Lacan's arguments about the gaze, this essay examines the dialectic of looking and being looked at that runs through Marlow's tale in Heart of Darkness. The scenes of looking often contain ideological symptoms of colonialist voyeurism, in their repeated emphasis on intrusive and yet thwarted vision. The scenes of being looked at frequently produce sensations of "scotomization": a term I borrow from Lacan to describe experiences when the human subject feels reduced, imagines himself as insignificant, invisible even—transformed into a dark spot or scotoma in the visual field. The scotomization of Marlow 's European I/eye during the river trek, in particular, suggests his precarious mastery over the foreign region he visually explores. The larger trajectory of Marlow's tale, I argue, ultimately reveals a visual sublimation, as it turns from physical sights that are threatening, inscrutable, or fascinating toward the metaphysical insight purportedly provided—through vicarious vision—by Kurtz.


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