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31:2, Book Reviews CONRAD UNDER CRITICAL EYES Ted Billy, ed. Critical Essays on Joseph Conrad. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987. $32.50 The Conrad industry, like ol'man River, just keeps a rollin' along. Of the making of books about Conrad—be they biographies, editions of the letters, accounts of his "philosophy" or socio-cultural milieu, critical readings of individual works, or exercises in critical theorizing—there is apparently no end in sight. Critical Essays on Joseph Conrad is simply the latest collection to appear between hard covers. Part of the explanation for such frenzied critical activity can, of course, be chalked up to the usual suspects: professors who publish lest they perish; editors who fill their journals' pages with increasingly narrow, specialist "news"; book publishers with an eye on guaranteed library sales. But the balder truth is that Conrad fends off critical saturation because he is perhaps iAe pivotal figure linking a nineteenth-century world with a vision of our own. As Cedric Watts puts it, Conrad "stands at the intersection of the late Victorian and the early modemist cultural phases; he is both romantic and antiromantic , both conservative and subversive." In short, Conrad has been linked with a wide variety of words ending in "ist": romanticist, realist, impressionist, symbolist, modemist, existentialist, nihilist. But lest one imagine that Conrad has been rendered entirely the captive of the critics and their "speakable rites," let me hasten to add that Conrad remains central for a simpler reason—namely, his power to make us hear, and feel, and see. Several important decisions went into the making of Billy's anthology. One was to place a greater emphasis on the present state of Conrad criticism rather than on its extensive history, in effect to include articles that had not become the chestnuts of previous collections. The result is that entries by such influential Conradians as F. R. Leavis, Albert Guerard, Thomas Moser, and Frederick Karl are conspicuous by their absence. On the other hand, Billy's "Introduction" does an admirable job in tracing both the history and the controversy that has surrounded Conrad's fiction. For the specialist, Billy's chronicle is even-handed, readable, and best of all, accurate; moreover, students will find his references to "Works Cited" extremely helpful. The bulk of Critical Essays is, of course, taken up by the eleven articles Billy has chosen. With the exception of an original piece by Leonard Orr, the others first appeared in journals like Conradiana, Novel, Journal of Narrative Technique, Boundary 2, and ELT. Even more significant is the fact that the remaining essays focus on matters of language, narrative technique, and versions of deconstruction, the exception being Zdzislaw Najder's "Conrad in His 200 31:2, Book Reviews Historical Perspective"—an essay that suggests simultaneously the community of world writers within which Conrad labored (e.g., Maeterlinck and Strindberg, D'Annunzio and Chekhov, Sienkiewicz and Hauptmann) and Conrad's "oppressive consciousness of man's loneliness." Indeed, the title of Leonard Orr's article tells us much about the assumptions lurking behind Billy's editorial bias: "The Semiotics of Description in Conrad 's Nostromo." In short, Critical Essays is a with-it collection; Conrad, without quite appreciating the fact, was a meta-fictionist, the sort of writer who is self-referential, reflexive, consumed by the impossibilities of telling his tale, rather than by the tale itself. No doubt this would come as shocking news to Conrad, but, then again, he did not have the benefit of reading, say, Penn R. Szittya's "Metafiction: The Double Narration of Under Western Eyes: If Under Western Eyes is a novel of concentric fictions, its subject embraces more than the shadowy politics of the East. The novel is what Robert Scholes has called in another context metafiction —fiction about fiction, and especially about itself. Its concerns are with the sufficiency of fictions as bases for life; with the possibility of interpretation; and ultimately with the insecurity of the novelist's work, which as Conrad was uneasily aware, was to live, even while he wrote about the truth, within an invented world. Among the implications of this renewed interest in Conrad's deconstructing "language" is an...


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