restricted access Writing About Violence in a Secular Age: Conrad's Solution
Abstract

Twentieth-century writers continually claimed that the "nightmare" of contemporary violence was inexpressible. In the past, communal beliefs had justified or condemned the most horrific acts, but the late nineteenth-century crisis of belief made any consensus about the meaning of violence unattainable. This situation produced an aesthetic dilemma because representation always conveys beliefs. Heart of Darkness offered a solution to this dilemma. Standing at the confluence of nineteenth-century realism and turn-of-thecentury symbolism, Joseph Conrad represented the "nightmare" of colonialism by attaching symbolic meanings to realistic accounts of a historically recognizable world. Although this solution has become the target of ethical and political protests, notably those of Chinua Achebe and Fredric Jameson, the multiple meanings of symbolism reflect the competing beliefs of a secular culture. Embedding historical events in multiple narrative patterns, symbolism preserves the structure of meaning without imposing any single meaning.


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