Journal of Modern Literature 26.3/4 (2003) 143-147
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Conrad Scholarship Under New-Millennium Western Eyes
If radical developments in Marxism, poststructuralism, feminism, and postcolonialism have posed serious challenges to traditional approaches to literary studies, then Conrad and Conrad scholars have proven to be more instead of less relevant with each new intellectual development. The recent studies on Conrad, which so deftly incorporate contemporary theory into their interpretations, are perfect cases in point. These studies, rather than being narrow and trendy, bring together a variety of theories in an attempt to honor the complexity and integrity of Conrad's texts.
Perhaps the least compelling of the recent studies is Space, Conrad, and Modernity, which could have easily been titled Laughter, Foucault, and Postmodernity or Frontiers, Language, and Mysticism. This is a book that wanders from one thought to the next, making brief reference to a myriad of modernists and postmodernists, poets and philosophers, mystics and anarchists, but is ultimately less successful than it could have been. The primary problem with this book is its method of analysis, which usually consists of dense forays into theory and then brief reference to a Conrad text. Unfortunately, neither the theoretical approach nor the textual analyses are sufficiently developed. This weakness occasions much disappointment, for the content of this book promises to yield much insight into Conrad and modernism. [End Page 143]
Coroneos's main argument: in contrast to the time-oriented approaches to modernism, Coroneos focuses on the "space of things." One of the primary problems that modernists had to confront was the emergence of "closed space," which is defined as "a world in which all earthly space is charted, claimed, interconnected, creating a 'closed political system'_" (15). In addition to the emergence of closed space is the complication arising from the linguistic turn in the western intellectual tradition, which has effectively blurred the distinction between sign and referent. Given all these developments, Coroneos sets his book "on the shadow-line between the space of things and the space of words" (16).
This focus on space is fascinating and insightful, certainly a topic that could shed considerable light on both Conrad and modernism. But there is a lack of focus in this short book. There are intelligent discussions of the "real scandal of Galileo" (31), "the real scandal of Foucault's own work" (37), and the "scientific scandal" of "the desiring heart" (44). I found myself especially enthralled by a compelling interpretation of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber (39-41), an enlightening discussion of anarchist geography (49-57), and an insightful analysis of philosophy's inability to grasp laughter (150-54). Given the overwhelming complexity of these extremely diverse ideas, it is little wonder that Coroneos had some difficulties bringing all of the material into a single constellation of thought.
Despite the overall lack of focus in this book, there are some excellent observations throughout. By reading The Secret Agent in light of developments in anarchist geography, Coroneos intelligently argues that "Conrad's most urban novel reveals a peculiar secret: the existence of an 'open' space embedded within a 'closed' one" (57), and by reading Under Western Eyes in light of "a beguiling opposition between Russian mysticism and Western reason" (102), Coroneos does a compelling analysis of the psychology of 'Russianness' in Conrad's novel, a psychology that illuminates Conrad's politics. However, these interpretations, while insightful, are only suggestive, and as a consequence, I suspect that many Conrad scholars will be neither convinced nor satisfied. Of course, it is possible that Coroneos merely intended to initiate a dialogue that would take many years...