Re: RARA-AVIS: The Old Man & Conrad & Short Books (was Paying by weight (was Dennis Lehane))

From: pabergin (
Date: 02 Mar 2000

I apologize for the long subject line. I didn't have the time to make it shorter.

Mark suggests that Conrad is a better exemplar of the truly effective short book by virtue of the subtlety of his symbolism:
>I would not use Old Man and the Sea as my example (if I were going to the
classics, I'd probably choose >Heart of Darkness).

and continues (speaking of OLD MAN)

>I always thought the reason this book was so popular among high school
English teachers was
>because the symbolism was so overt, knocked you over the head, that no
student could possibly miss it

Ahem. Now then. I consider OLD MAN a masterpiece, but hardly for the symbolism. (Symbolism is, in any case, an 19th century device that has no relevance to modern, or even 20th century, fiction.) OLD MAN is an opera, a saga of human determination and its limits. Its strength, and its value as literature, lies there.

Ahem again. To call HEART OF DARKNESS, which every student of literature has been clouted repeatedly over the head with -- by the English teachers Mark so rightfully disdains -- in the hope that he (or she) will come to understand what symbolism is, subtler in any way than OLD MAN is to reveal a paucity of understanding, or even experience. Conrad was arguably the most ham-handed of "classic" (specious term, anyway) novelists. Let's get real. The rusting machinery, the rot, the increasing claustrophobia. Subtlety indeed. Grace objectified.

Hem was a body puncher, and nobody every accused him of subtlety, but even he could have made a better job of HEART than Conrad did. I mean, shit! You ever read that book? The best thing that can be said about it is that it's not as bad as THE SECRET SHARER or -- horrors -- NOSTROMO.

Read OLD MAN again. Carefully. Then tell me ANY Conrad even belongs on the same shelf with OLD MAN.

Betcha can't. PB

# To unsubscribe, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
# The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Mar 2000 EST