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THE SPACE OF THE UNTOLD: CONRAD· S ALLUSIVENESS' Robert Rawdon Wilson University ofAlberta ra The Nigger of The "Narcissus" stands out as a narrative massively (paracursively, it may be said) constructed from images of space. Each sense of space examined in the previous section of this essay plays a significant role in The Nigger. Physical space in all senses is obviously important, but it is particularly the notion of an intertextual space that I shall attempt to analyze in this section. The resonance of untold stories is unmistakably audible in The Nigger, but it is supported, even enhanced, by complex images of physical space. Conrad does not achieve this effect merely through allusions and the untold stories of the crew members. Pulling the background forward, allowing it to dominate the reader's perception of narrative foreground, stems in part from elaborate stylistic devices. In the case of The Nigger, style reinforces the general effects of narrative allusiveness. Conrad ' s style is a strange mixture (perplexing or exciting) ofhighly exact seafaring terminology, including geographic terms, and evocative descriptive words. Conrad ' s predilection for words, such as "immortal" (as in the phrase, "the immortal and unresting sea" [162]) and his recurrent use of words with classical suggestiveness, such as "shade" (141, 173), have always bothered some readers. Watt comments upon Conrad ' s "tendency to editorialize, to force the reader to accept his way of seeing things in an obtrusive and insistent way" (97). Readers (especially, it may seem, undergraduates) often seem to find Conrad ' s style "slow, heavy, and rather involved, especially in descriptive passages" (Shand 14; Mudrick refers to the "unctuous thrilling rhetoric" 297). This may seem to be a fair comment upon a notoriously difficult style: an abundance of simile, a staggering number of adjectives (words are seldom unmodified), a methodical use ofparticipial phrases, and a vocabulary that This is the concluding part of an extended essay that was begun in the previous issue. Victorian Review 162 (Winter 1990). Robert Rawdon Wilson25 is, at once both imprecisely evocative and precisely analytic, frequently exotic. The similes alone disturb readers: Guerard counts twelve from the second chapter and asks how Conrad gets away "with so much obviousness," concluding that he manages it because the similes, always in a speaking voice, work "visually and morally at the same time" {Conrad the Novelist 122); Foulke finds them "incessant" and serving to superimpose "inflated visions of men and events upon naturalistic description" (107). Conrad ' s style has not been to every reader ' s taste. The exact technical vocabulary (the catalogue ofnails, for example [678 ]) helps to shape the Narcissus in the mind ' s-eye: a precise, concrete, imaginable embodiment of a worldship. On the other hand, the suggestive, evocative, latinate terminology calls forth the larger background of seafaring. The diction on this level may not have exact meanings, but it assuredly does possess an exact purpose. The diverse levels of diction reinforce the narrative disposition in which allusions to background, remotely elsewhere and elsewhen, play important roles. Henricksen's analysis of language levels in The Nigger (following a Bakhtinian model) reveals the "heteroglossia of the ship" which both exists in, and helps to create, the "centrifugal and centripetal forces within the social unit that is forming across linguistic, national, and racial boundaries" (786). The structural bifurcation between background and foreground is actualized by a range of narrative devices, of which the skillful use of a mixed diction is only one. This dominant structural pattern in The Nigger seems everywhere evident: the mindprint upon the narrative. One of the most striking modes of this bifurcation occurs in the rhetoric of Conrad ' s descriptive passages. These cameo-like passages contribute to the sense of difficulty that readers sometimes encounter with Conrad ' s style since they make part of its putative "slowness and heaviness" and are, in any event, among the purplest of purple passages in Conrad ' s writing. They can be seen to express, however, the structural bifurcation between background and foreground. A few representative passages will demonstrate Conrad ' s creation of spatial effects. However, it is important to bear in mind that descriptive passages such as these pervade The Nigger and are common throughout Conrad's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 24-39
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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