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Reviewed by:
Carola M. Kaplan, Peter Lancelot Mallios, and Andrea White, eds. Conrad in the Twenty-First Century: Contemporary Approaches and Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2005. xxii + 326pp.

In recent years, Joseph Conrad has been shuffled off the modernist stage to a half-lit liminal space—though he is universally acknowledged as an important, if not the proto-modernist, his work has increasingly been relegated to the wings from whence it can be trotted out as a metonym for some aspect of modernism's development but not necessarily treated in its own right. Convenient as this situation no doubt can be, it betrays an increasingly deplorable critical blindspot, a gap in attention that sees Heart of Darkness on many freshman English syllabuses but very little serious scholarly work done on an oeuvre about which—so it seems—everything relevant has been said. Well, if there is any justice, and if this book can sustain itself amid the vast destructive element of academic publishing today, all that will change. "Explicitly ask[ing] each of the contributors to frame their discussions of Conrad . . . in relation to the question: Why read Conrad now?" (xvii), the volume's editors have provoked a barrage of fresh and exciting insights as the question of [End Page 245] Conrad's relevance today is approached from an inspiring range of angles. With what may be the last official interview with Edward Said and essays by the likes of J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Galt Harpham, and Mark Wollaeger, this collection is remarkably strong. The editors have judiciously selected and grouped the essays, included many different perspectives, and tied the volume together with a compelling introduction. The inclusion of a foreword by Miller and an interview with Said—two "big guns" who not only cut their teeth on but have perennially returned to Conrad—is particularly inspired. Miller incisively captures the tenor of the various essays, praises the quality of their insights, and crankily complains about their tendency to rely on "extrinsic" approaches (though this complaint is somewhat unfair, since the volume's guiding question sets the trap for justifications in terms of use value). The interview with Said is indispensable for the glimpses it provides of Said's lifelong, often frustrating but always admiring, engagement with Conrad's work.

The remainder of the volume is broken into five sections, and virtually all of the essays maintain the same high standard. The first section, "Millennial Conrad: Heart of Darkness and the Twenty-First Century," contains especially strong essays by Harpham and Wollaeger as well as an interesting offering from Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan and a somewhat tenuous defense of Heart of Darkness by Benita Parry. Harpham's essay argues that Conrad's struggle to master English as he wrote his greatest works relates directly to his treatment of identity and paternity: "by depicting the identification of one character with another, Conrad was casting into narrative form the very struggle he was experiencing with respect to his medium" (22). Wollaeger analyzes the origins of propaganda and modernism in the "mass-media ecology of the early twentieth century" in his discussion of war, mass-media, and propaganda in Heart of Darkness and "The Unlighted Coast," Conrad's only piece of propaganda writing (73). And Erdinast-Vulcan provocatively considers how Heart of Darkness maps out a basic psycho-social need for authority and the absolute while also positing that the Oedipal/neurotic model upon which that need is based is itself historically-produced.

The second section, entitled "Global Conrad," includes three postcolonialist readings of Conrad as well as two papers on The Secret Agent. The logic of inclusion is somewhat elusive here, but the papers remain very strong by and large. The first of the postcolonial papers, by Padmini Mongia, fascinatingly records Conrad's presence in Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things and Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines. Arguing that his work resonates through the later novelists' treatment of male homosocial desire, she also contends, however, that this resonance never becomes a central point of reference [End Page 246] to which the others write back. Christopher GoGwilt follows Mongia with a surprising and convincing consideration of how the representation...


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