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  • Conrad and Languageed. by Katherine Isobel Baxter and Robert Hampson
  • Jennifer Janechek (bio)
Katherine Isobel Baxter and Robert Hampson, eds. Conrad and Language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016. 219 pp. ISBN: 9781474403764 (hardback); 9781474403788 (e-book).

Katherine Isobel Baxter and Robert Hampson's Conrad and Languageis a wide-ranging and comprehensive treatment of a central topic in Conrad studies—that of Conrad's understanding of, and wrestling with, language, both as a symbolic system and as a national or regional tongue. With eleven chapters, an introduction, and an afterword, it approaches this subject from divergent and yet complementary methodologies—from affect studies (Josiane Paccaud-Huguet) to disability studies (Baxter) to critical terrorism studies (Andrew Glazzard). The collection might rightly be divided into two sections, with the first six chapters addressing Conrad's exploration of the relationship between word and thing—of the ability (or inability) of language to accurately represent experience—and the next five chapters focusing on Conrad's multilingualism. Thus, although the editors claim in their introduction that the chapters in this volume follow in the tradition of Jeremy Hawthorn and Martin Ray by "approach[ing] the topic of 'Conrad and Language' not from the perspective of comparative linguistics or stylistics, but rather in terms of that 'more than commonly developed consciousness of language', which produced 'an awakened philosophical curiosity about language,'" only the first six chapters really do so (6). The final five chapters follow more closely the trajectory established by the pioneering work of René Rapin, Irmina Pulc, and other scholars who mapped Conrad's negotiation between the various languages he spoke or had in his consciousness. To be sure, these chapters extend beyond the domain of pure linguistic analysis, as they establish telling connections between Conrad's "macaronic" tendencies (his habit of oscillating between languages while writing) and larger concerns of cosmopolitanism, transnationalism, [End Page 189]and colonialism, and they are quite valuable in the new angles they adopt in examining "Conrad's existence within and between multiple languages" (Baxter and Hampson 8). Taken together, the chapters in this volume offer a well-rounded and innovative study of Conrad's personal and artistic preoccupation with language.

In his afterword, Laurence Davies identifies two common threads that run throughout the essays: first, he notes an attention to ethics—either the ethics of speech and writing or the ethics of interpretation; second, he detects an awareness "not so much of absence as of incompleteness, loss and imperfection" with regard to language (206, 208). To these I would like to add the following three themes: double voicings in Conrad's texts, Conrad's self-consciousness about his readers, and Conrad's struggle between desiring rigorous linguistic precision and his mistrust of language. These topics are certainly not new to Conrad studies, but they are approached with innovative methodologies that render the content and form of analysis very unique indeed.

Many of the authors correctly discern a linguistic doubleness in Conrad's works. In his examination of Conrad's use of nautical language, Hampson argues that by using mild swear words, substitutes, blanks, and inventive language to represent less palatable swear words, Conrad "offers a double-voiced text: an irreproachable text for the delicate or juvenile reader and a readily translatable text for those with stronger nerves" (19). For his part, John Attridge locates a dualism within Conrad's stylistic imagination between a desire to represent concrete sensory experiences and an interest in more abstract concerns, a dualism that creates a slippage between material and metaphysical worlds (53, 61). Yael Levin also notices a doubling at the narrative level with a dichotomy consistently drawn between the character who acts and the character who remembers and narrates (68). According to Levin, this doubling—and concomitant collapsing of the distance between subject and object—demonstrates Conrad's refashioning of subjectivity along modernist lines, where the subject is no longer cohesive and impregnable but instead is perpetually open to invasion by the language of the other (70). One of the most original pieces is Christopher GoGwilt's chapter on how Conrad probes the transcription, transliteration, and translation of Malay into the Romanized print form of English, which exposes...


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