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  • Liminal Spaces in Lord Jim and The Rescue
  • Harry Sewlall (bio)

To intervene in the present means, then, to interrupt the performance of the present, by exploiting the in-between spaces. I understand this space, as a liminal space [ . . . ] a transitory space, a space other, a third space that is not here/there, but both. (Fernando de Toro 20)

He [Dain Waris] was not the visible, tangible incarnation of unfailing truth and of unfailing victory. Beloved, trusted, and admired as he was, he was still one of them, while Jim was one of us. (Lord 361)

[Tom Lingard] had wandered beyond that circle which race, memories, early associations, all the essential conditions of one’s origin, trace round every man’s life [ . . . ]

(Rescue 120–21)

I. Introduction

Yoked together by the theme of betrayal, Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900) and The Rescue (1920) continue to invite contentious readings, especially from a postcolonial/postmodern perspective. Tuan (“Lord”) Jim and Lingard, the protagonists of these texts respectively, allegedly betray their Malayan allies because of the stronger bond they share with people of their own race. By this logic, goes a typical argument, Jim betrays the community of Patusan “since his trust in [Gentleman] Brown is apparently based on ‘their common blood,’” and Lingard, “preoccupied with securing the release of the Europeans and obsessed with remaining near Mrs. Travers [ . . . ] forgets Hassim and Immada” (Henthorne 219; Parry 46–47). Such essentialist constructions of Jim’s and Lingard’s subjectivity hardly do justice to the existentialist conundrum posed by Stein in Lord Jim: “How to be?” (213). [End Page 109]

Stein’s tentative answer to this crucial question, which provides the major impetus for the ontology of literary and philosophical discourse, complicates the ethics of being: “He wants to be a saint, and he wants to be a devil—and every time he shuts his eyes he sees himself as a very fine fellow—so fine as he can never be . . . In a dream” (213). What does it mean, in a dreamless, imperfect, and indifferent universe “to be,” not only in the comfort of one’s own milieu, but also in the world of the Other?

Using the eponymously titled Lord Jim as a point of articulation, this essay proceeds to examine more exhaustively, in relation to The Rescue, the notion of what it means “to be” in an alien environment far from the reach of the social, racial, and national identities that sustain us at home. Within the parameters of this predominant theme, the stereotypes of “us” and “them” will be subjected to scrutiny with a view to establishing to what extent individuals succeed in constructing their identity in a manner that frees them from the colonialist mental space of binaries, or, what Abdul JanMohamed has polemically termed “the manichean allegory,” which he argues gives impetus to the fundamental drive of the colonist to impose oneself on the Other (66). In the course of the argument, this essay will interrogate “contrapuntally” Jim’s and Lingard’s “betrayal” of their friends—an unshakeable orthodoxy in Conradian studies (Said 59). The pairing of Lord Jim and The Rescue enables an intertextual exploration of what it means to be perceived as “one of us,” as opposed to “one of them” (Lord 361). While these two texts might seem distant from each other in terms of their chronology, they constitute the intertextual matrix of Conrad’s Malaysian setting, which, to use the words of R. B. Cunninghame Graham, includes all “the great gallery of rogues, the flotsam and the jetsam that the Pacific throws on its beaches” (ix). The trope, “one of us,” which is deployed throughout Lord Jim, transfers, not unproblematically, to The Rescue which assesses the role of Lingard as the lover of Mrs. Travers and the friend of the Malay brother and sister, Hassim and Immada. Finally, this essay will postulate the construct of a “postidentity” in a “third space” of liminality in which to contextualize the characters of Jim and Lingard.

II. Intertextual Resonances

Thematically, the contiguity of Lord Jim and The Rescue is far from fortuitous, as both novels feature European protagonists whose interventions [End Page 110] in the day-to-day...


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