Said on Conrad

by zunguzungu

I’m not in love with Edward Said’s 1966 book on Conrad — his dissertation turned into his only single-author monograph — but I like the underlying argument, as I understand it so far, and it does quite a lot to bring into better focus a lot of things that have bugged me about Orientalism. I may write something about that in some fashion in the future. For the moment, though, I just want to share this little bit of Conrad-in-a-nutshell-ium and the nice Huizinga quote that underpins it. From page 11:

There is one story told by R.L. Megroz concerning an interchange between Conrad and his wife: “On one of his naughty days he said that the Black Mate was his first work, and when I [Jessie] said ‘No, Almayer’s Folly was the first thing you ever did,’ he burst out: ’If I like to say The Black Mate was my first work, I shall say so.’” The often willful inaccuracy of Conrad’s memory about his works and life — of which this is almost certainly an example — is too persistent a habit to be glossed over. He chose to consider the facts of his life as an historian, according to Huizinga, considers his subject, as if the actual facts are not yet determined. Huizinga writes:

“The sociologist, etc. deals with his material as if the outcome were given in the known facts: he simply searches for the way in which the result was already determined in the facts. The historian, on the other hand, must always maintain towards his subject an indeterminist point of view. He must constantly put himself at a point in the past at which the known factors still seem to permit different outcomes. If he speaks of Salamis, then it must be as if the Persians might still win; if he speaks of the coup d’etat of Brumaire, then it must remain to be seen if Bonaparte will be ignominiously repulsed. Only by continually recognizing that possibilities are unlimited can the historian do justice to the fulness of life.”