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Reviews267 Consciousness and Time: A Study in the Philosophy and Narrative Technique ofJoseph Conrad, by Torsten Pettersson; 209 pp. Abo, Finland: Acta Academiae Aboensis, 1982. It is entirely appropriate that Conrad should be the subject of a study that attempts both to elucidate his conception of die world and to map out the complex relation this overall orientation enjoys to Conrad's more pronounced stylistic techniques, particularly those surrounding temporal development and narrative point of view. Worthy as diis ambition is, however, its realization in Torsten Pettersson's Consciousness and Time turns out to be disappointing. Problems begin in die first section where Pettersson attempts an elucidation of Conrad's philosophy. Pettersson is certainly right to insist there is a coherent world view here, and that no critical assessment of Conrad can be complete without attending with care to these convictions. However, few I think will find his account particularly helpful. On Pettersson's view, Conrad's treatment of every theme, and his stylistic innovations at every point, are to be seen as die natural, if admittedly not "inevitable," extensions ofcertain fundamental convictions about "the nature of consciousness." Somewhat surprisingly , these turn out to be thoroughly "empiricist" in nature: consciousness knows only its own sensory experiences; we are cut off from the world, from other minds; there is no real or objective morality. "It is the human predicament to be equipped without any hope with a consciousness and launched mechanically into a mindless universe" (p. 27), "odier minds are hopelessly unknowable" (p. 29), "all ethical terms are ultimately meaningless" (p. 39), and so on. Thus Conrad is seen as a kind of despairing Cartesian, who yearns for a world where knowledge of others and moral certainty are possible, but who is unable, on essentially Humean grounds, to believe that they are. Claims about an author's fundamental beliefs and about their genetic role in shaping everything else usually come to grief in two ways, and Pettersson provides an excellent case in point. First, there simply is too much subtlety in Conrad's writings to warrant their unequivocal assertion. One hardly feels Stein and the French Captain in LordJim, or anyone in Victory, is "essentially unknowable." Nor does one feel die moral perspective on self-deception in Almayer's Folly or on concealment in Nostromo suffers from the least degree of uncertainty. Of course this characterization of Conrad is not wildly off: Conrad was unusually sensitive to the solitude and isolation certain personal journeys involve, and equally to the difficulty of spelling out what underwrites our most considered moral judgments. But, and diis is the second difficulty, to claim diat these interests invariably take the form they do in Conrad because of some background conception of consciousness simply strains credibility. It is as if we could not account for why they absorb us — or Conrad — as they do unless diey are pressed into some further service. Unsurprisingly, Pettersson is most opaque before Conrad's obsession widi different atmospheres and character types. Finally, it must be stressed that many passages of the best criticism have been written in defense of a questionable thesis. Pettersson's failure as critic to do more than offer die blandest of platitudes is an additional disappointment. Remarks like "the reason why Kurtz has achieved more complete knowledge than Marlow is that he has stepped over 268Philosophy and Literature the edge of death, which Marlow has only peeped over" (p. 83), liberally sprinkled throughout the text, hardly make for inspired reading. Attempting to tie together several genuinely related accomplishments, Pettersson puts forward explanations mat only render Conrad a far thinner and more wooden writer than he is. There is a real, complex philosophy in Conrad, and it is interestingly related to his style, but an illuminating account of either seems to have eluded Pettersson's grasp. City University of New YorkSteven L. Ross Modern French Marxism, by Michael Kelly; 240 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982, $24.00. Hagiography certainly has its place, and there is no good reason for which some Marxist thinkers should be exempted from it. Condemnations may be fun, to proffer and to read, and there is no good reason for which other...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 267-268
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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