From August 13–16, 2014 on the downtown campus of Fairleigh-Dickinson University–Vancouver, the Joseph Conrad Society of America and FDU-Vancouver jointly sponsored an international conference, Joseph Conrad: Conflict and Solidarities. The conference theme recognized the centenary of the opening of the First World War, and the resulting papers explored not only the political, but also the psychological, historical, philosophical, and aesthetic antagonisms and harmonies characterizing Conrad’s works and life.
This double issue of Conradiana offers a selection of these papers, beginning with the first of the conference’s four plenary talks. Mark D. Larabee, building upon work begun in his book Front Lines of Modernism, invites us to reconsider The Shadow-Line, not as a private autobiographical story, but as a story in which Conrad covertly engaged what was happening on the Western front, both by using the coded language of the war to express its dilemmas and deadly stalemates and by reconfiguring its physical and psychological spaces in ways that contributed to the conceptual globalization of the conflict.
In the next plenary paper, Robert Hampson introduces and explores the term ‘transnational activism’ and, providing a wealth of historical context, shows how Conrad’s political essays reveal a complex and evolving navigation of international politics informed by the distinctive vantage point of an émigré balancing competing loyalties.
In the third plenary, Allan H. Simmons tackles another approach to the conflicts of the age by grappling with the editorial violence perpetrated against Conrad’s texts by his editors, who often went at the text with a free hand. He considers the case of An Outcast of the Islands, revealing not only the sorts of unauthorized changes Conrad’s early editors made, but also how the more responsible editors of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad navigated a multiplicity of texts marked up by an assortment of hands in order to arrive at a text closer to what Conrad himself actually wrote, and in the process affording a glimpse of Conrad’s creative imagination at work.
Sensitivity to the micro-level of the text continues with a paper from the conference’s first panel. Christopher GoGwilt reconsiders the key Conradian problem of betrayal and attempts to pin down the most elementary principle [End Page 1] organizing how betrayal structures Conrad’s narratives. Building from the accusative charge so often attached to the act of naming (as seen, for example, in the cases of Lord Jim and Nostromo), he suggests that the most elementary lexical unit of Conradian narrative generating the theme of betrayal is the accusative case, the performative act of naming—which also (and not incidentally) reveals the profoundly unstable switching of scripts that attends the linguistic, literary, and cultural process of transliteration into romanized print form.
Stephen Brodsky returns us to the historical occasion of the conference theme in a paper that reveals how a dueling culture, a cult of glory countering genuine honor’s demands of solidarity and fidelity, survived even amid the impersonal slaughter of World War 1, itself seen by many of Conrad’s contemporaries as a ‘duel.’ The romantic dueling ethos imposed conflicting claims of ethics and aesthetics on the life and literature of homo ludens and duplex Conrad, the romantic realist. The next essay, by Pei-Wen Clio Kao, likewise approaches binary conflict, but in a very different manner. Revisiting “Youth,” she argues that, contrary to the usual readings of the story that maintain a hierarchy between a flourishing West and a decaying East, closer analysis reveals that the narrative in fact subverts this dichotomy.
The next papers offer two more approaches to disjunctive confrontation in Conrad’s world. Judith Paltin shows how in Victory, as in other Conradian texts, a series of misprisions prevents the meeting of minds, and action alternates between largely futile attempts to comprehend another’s mind and the sensation of being misunderstood. Though a reading might stop there, Paltin also finds an effort among sympathetic characters to become more adept mind-readers by becoming more perceptive about the dynamics of voice, as a channel that offers a lower bar to mutual understanding, while still carrying abundant content. Brian Richardson...