RARA-AVIS: From Conrad to noir: a list

From: billha@ionet.net
Date: 03 Mar 2000

Someone asked the question of how Conrad might have influenced noir.

1. With his heads mounted in the garden, Kurtz was a serial killer. There's the connection to our favorite American tendency.

2. OK, if you object he didn't necessarily kill them himself, then Kurtz was a sort of Godfather, a mafioso of the Belgian Congo. [Recent estimates put deaths of natives in that region somewhere in the millions by WW I.]

3. Conrad helps transfuse hapless killer psychology, perhaps germinated by Dostoevski, into modern fiction. Thinking here of The Secret Agent, Victory, as well as HoD. [Secret Agent made into Hitchcock's Sabotage.]

4. Graham Greene was haunted by Conrad (his own admission) and, it seems to me, was espec. haunted by HoD when he helped create one of the classic noir films, The Third Man. The city as the jungle with eyes; Harry Lime as Kurtz.

5. Marlow's attraction to Kurtz, his characterizing Western ideals as like idols we worship, possibly a Big Lie, just like the "idea" of Western Civilization...I mean how noir do you want to be? [Too bad this side of Heart of Darkness is not aggressively taught in high schools.]

6. Marlow's characterizing his listeners as only straight because their neighbors and the local policeman are watching vie with some of the darkest things Twain used to say about the human race (though I'll give Twain the award in this department).

7. If Hemingway influenced HB fiction, there's at least the possibility that Conrad influenced Hemingway. Think of Hemingway's worst moments, when he has a character philosophizing, like the infamous "they'll get you in the end" (loose memory here) speech in Farewell to Arms or the hokey symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea... Let's blame Conrad. Or EH, trying for profoundity in a style that resists the vagueness necessary to carry it off.

8. And, if you look for them, there are actually little noir gems in Conrad: a murdered porter as an improvement in the trail; Kurtz' collection of heads as showing a "certain lack of restraint"; guns that squirt lead into a hippo who seems to live on; the burial of Kurtz as [they] "buried something in a muddy hole."

Bill Hagen

# To unsubscribe, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to majordomo@icomm.ca.
# The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 03 Mar 2000 EST