brain


Below, above, and between the lines.  3

      School days, school days
      Dear old Golden Rule days
      Readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic ...

      lines  4

No! Not those lines!  5

Sorry. I am an old fogey who tends to wander off. And besides, I didn't even speak English. Just something my granfather sang for me. That and "Home on the range."

      Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
      And the skies are not cloudy all day
      ...
      The red man was pressed from this part of the west ...
 
6

He lived in the States for some time. My mother was born there. In Fairhope, Alabama. But this is not about that. This is about a different school, a different country, different time, between different lines. This is about taking courses at Sir George Williams University in Montreal, at middle age.  7

I thought it a good idea to become a chemistry teacher and began to take evening classes to qualify. My job as a technical editor did not offer much of a prospect. And no pension plan. It would be a long slug because I could only handle a few courses at a time. I felt lucky because I could dispense with taking first-year chemistry and physics because I had graduated as a technical chemist. Felt lucky—then.  8

My favorite subject became literature—eventually. Joyce's "Dubliners." Peter Weiss's "The investigation"—three s's. "Lady Chatterley's lover." "The catcher in the rye." "The Great Gatsby," by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Baldwin's "Another country." Hemmingway; Camus. That sort of stuff, with a lot of reading between the lines.  9

I believe the professor's name was Abrams. A fascinating performer he was, in an auditorium filled with hundreds of students who expressed their appreciation with bursts of applause.  10

We were divvied up in classes of thirty about, tutored by teaching assistants. Mine was horrible. To me she was. She kept spurring us on to look deeper into the stories. And so I tried—too deep apparently for I was about to fail the course. It is from this experience, I believe, that Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" has become a companion for life. This may not make much sense to you, but hang-on, we'll get there.  11

Knowing where an author is coming from seems to me essential. That goes for a report, a news item, any story. Obviously so for opinion pieces, political or otherwise.  12

And for literary art, of course, of course. The stuff between the lines, intended or not. And the more a reader has in common with an author, the easier will be the understanding. Now, it so happens that Joseph Conrad and I do have some things in common. Things my TA missed out on. That, I am quite sure, was the main cause of a big problem: possibly, probably fated to failure. I disliked her; she disliked me.  13

What other surprises were in the offing? Tragic predicament. I'd better quit. And so I did. There was no shortage of opportunities for making a living as a technical editor. I had a good reputation and three job offers as well. But still .... Upon reflection and some unpleasant experiences at my place of work, I decided to give the studies another go. I returned for one year full-time after negotiating keeping my full salary for serving that year simply as an editorial consultant. The firm was stuck with this deal and they knew it.  13

But this is about reading between the lines, the lines of "Heart of Darkness." I may pick up that other story some other time, if so inclined and still able to follow through. By the way, I took the required literature course again, with a different TA; kept quiet like a good boy and passed with a B. And at the end of that full academic year I got a job at Quebec's first English community college, Dawson College, on the strength of life experience and ready to manage the physical installation of its chemistry department. Lucky. Lucky.  15

Conrad once told a friend, "I have spent half my life knocking about in ships, only getting ashore between voyages. I know nothing, nothing! except from the outside. I have to guess at everything!" Well, don't we all merely surmize our way through life—a good many of us dressed up in competitive confidence—but this is not what Conrad meant. What he meant was being out of touch with society for long stretches of time—he and I have that in common.  16

I grasp his frustration. Teenage years under German occupation. Migration to another country at age 26; seven years as a technical editor while still needing to improve my English. Back to school at age 39 without much time to spare for ordinary family and social life. My wife enduring me! That forever recurring thought how well she managed enduring it all!  17

Conrad moved to England at age 29 and began a novel at 30. I moved to Canada at age 26. English not native to either of us. Conrad changed career from sailor to writer around age 36. I became a teacher at age 41. Conrad's literary career began at age 38. I became a technical editor at age 34. A big difference between us was that he was well educated much earlier in life. All in all, the differences far outweigh any similarities.  18

A few things struck me on first reading of the story. Apparent references to Catholic religious establishment, to schools of psychology, a preoccupation with light and darkness that I soon linked to solarization in photography, to some word play and suggestiveness. Alerted, I did a second reading, slowly, pondering. Gleams of varnished sprits, vanished spirits. Yawl, jowl. Shutters. Nomads, mnonads. Welded together without a joint. This led me to comment in class on my thoughts about the novella. Most of what I said was dismissed out of hand. My technical references drew a blank in my TA's skill kit. Bridging art and science? Out of the question! Then I met an assignment with a brief paper about reading between the lines of a story in "Dubliners," about finding, to me, clear evidence of undertones of raw sex. No go! Well, what can I say? Joyce is Joyce. And I felt left to shrink away.  20

There is still much in "Heart of Darkness" I don't understand. Evidently, neither do teachers and literary critics. Why not? I believe for that very reason persistent throughtout society that arts and sciences are worlds apart. Different bents of mind, roughly speaking—C.P. Snow's two solitudes: the intellectual life of western society split into the sciences and the humanities. Snow felt that is a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. My experience over the last six years confirm that.  21

I have here a Norton critical edition of HoD: "an authoritative text; backgrounds and sources; essays in criticism." As a student, I didn't have much time to carefully read all those background and sources, and essays in criticism. Much of it struck me as pedantic gobbledygook. Looking at some of this stuff again, finding pieces that I now consider worthwhile, I think I judged far too harshly. And I am far from done yet. Problem is that I am an old fogey, 92 in a few weeks, crippled by a faltering short-term memory and so no way of reading all that stuff followed through by contemplation, and so forth. The best I can do now is to reproduce notes I have taken over time, thoughts, mostly the same or similar to those I spoke of in my student days. So, let me give it a go.  22

Here is the first paragraph of Norton's edition of HoD followed by some notes I made:

      "The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide."

From textMy persoal notes
Nellienervous nellie?
cruising yawlChristian (yawl = jowl; cruising = from cross). The next paragraph suggests that cruising refers to life itself.
anchoran early symbol of Christianity, preceeding the cross. Echoes Hebrews 6:19: "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."
the flood had madeallusion to centuries of religious strife in Europe?
nearly calmhardly any resistance.
itFOOTNOTE: Maga: us.
Maga: it."Maga" refers to the first publication of HoD in Blackwood's Magazine, in 1899. It is customary to refer to a ship as "her" whereas "it" may refer to life, to a social condition, to civilization, to the Church or the Christian view of life, or whatever.
being bound down the riverForeshadowing: being bound up the Congo river.
wait for the turn of the tidewaiting for a reversal in circumstances or for some undertaking, e.g. missionary or civilizing work.  23

Hits and misses! What an auhor alludes to in his mind and what a reader's mind makes of it: different things, the more so with literature like HoD.  24

An early appearance of HoD in book format came in 1902, together with two ther stories by Conrad, one of them "Youth". Many editions have been published since. My Norton edition dates to 1963 and, as I just mentioned, this version refers to the Nellie by the word "it" instead "her." More importantly, to me, observe the possible interpretations of this one paragraph's building blocks.  25

I know, know! This is hard to follow. Either do some surmizing or read the story yourself. Here perhaps. Yes, short stories can take a long time to read.  26

I'll do a few more paragraphs—to strengthen my case, to hint at consistency in Conrad's way of writing, some other details. But skip them if you wish. To here. Short-stories can take a long time to read. Long stories too, by Joyce! Till death do us part.  27

      School days. School days.
      Dear old golden rule days.
      Readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic,
      Taught to the tune of a hick'ry stick.
      You were my queen in calico,
      I was your bashful barefoot beau.
      You wrote on my slate,
      'I love you so.'
      When we were a couple of kids.
 
28

      "The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth."

From textMy personal notes
sea-reachto be further civilized, evangelized.
like the beginning of an interminable waterwaythe future; toward expanding western civilization, and/or the eternal Church.
in the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a jointwelding (no joints) vs riveting (joints showing); welding depicts the ultimate unity of Earth/Church and Heaven.
luminous / red clusters / gleaming ...depicting daybreak / aurora / a new worldview(?)
tanneddried blood? (Lit. waterproofed with a compound traditionally made from red ochre, cod oil, and sea water.)
drifting up with the tidepreparing for the Church to further assert itself.
sharply peakedlike peaked paper hats (coraza).
varnished spritsvanished spirits
the air was dark above Gravesend, etc.reminiscent of the inquisition, wars of religion (100-year war).
the biggest, and the greatest, town on earthLondon = Rome.  29a

      "The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. We four affectionately watched his back as he stood in the bows looking to seaward. On the whole river there was nothing that looked half so nautical. He resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is trustworthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom."

From textMy personal notes
Director of Companieshead of the Church(es); Archangel Michel (he who is like God; slayer of the dragon, healer) = Jesus.
captaincaput, L, head.
hosthostie (unleavened symbol of the) body of Christ.
he stood in the bowsbowed (as before an altar).
nauticalnauty.
resembled a pilotnot being a pilot.
seamansimple-minded, to whom a pilot is "trustworthiness personified."
difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind himHis work was done some 20+ centuries ago.  29b

      "Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other's yarns—and even convictions. The Lawyer—the best of old fellows—had, because of his many years and many virtues, the only cushion on deck, and was lying on the only rug. The Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol. The director, satisfied the anchor had good hold, made his way aft and sat down amongst us. We exchanged a few words lazily. Afterwards there was silence on board the yacht. For some reason or other we did not begin that game of dominoes. We felt meditative, and fit for nothing but placid staring. The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marsh was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun."

From textMy personal notes
as I already said someweheresomewhere = in "Youth".
bond of the sealikeminded.
our hearts togetherrelated to sursum corda (uplifted hearts)?
tolerant of ... even convictionstolerant even of the condemnations (torture, burning at the stake) meted out by the Church's Inquisition, etc..
the lawyer, the Director, the accountantthe Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost; or some associated interpretations. Cf. "Youth".
only cushion / rugcushion = cloud? rug = on earth? Only one who is both heavenly and earthly(?). Think of Michael Angelo's The creation of Adam," which shows a skull. (Conrad spent times in Italy.)
toying architecturally with the bonesRef. Mark Twain, "The Innocents Abroad," Chapter XXVIII.
the accountantTwain's good-natured monk who is toying with the bones?
dominoesalso called "bones."
MarlowQuoting Joseph Conrad himself, "we lay our heads together in great comfort and harmony."
sat cross-legged, etc.The Buddha's lotus position.
ascetic aspecta person who dedicates his or her life to a pursuit of contemplative ideals and practices extreme self-denial or self-mortification for religious reasons. Note: Conrad, who identifies with Marlow, had command of a river-boat on the Congo, an adventure that severely affected his health.
mizzen-mastthe mizzen-mast on a yawl is the second of two masts; mizzen derives from medianus, L., middle (htee crosses on Golgotha).
exchanged a few words lazily"Pater noster qui est in caelo ....."
placidcalm and peaceful ("pax vobiscum").
the day was ending, etc.in Heavenly peace.
angered by the approach of the sunthe Church angered by an encroaching change in worldview; enlightenment.  29c

      "And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men."

From textMy personal notes
in its curved and imperceptible fallthe slow demise of an ecclasiastical hold over human minds.
without raysno Heaven opening for the saved. No halo.  29d

"Everything is vague," wrote philosopher Bertrand Russell, "to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.  30

The Norton edition ends with 18 essays in criticism. Erudite stuff for mere mortals like me, yet one I like to mention. By a George Wiliams; "The turn of the tide in Heart of Darkness." It showed me how much I missed in HoD's very first paragraph. (As I am sure my classmates did as well.):

      "The novel begins as the cruising jawl Nellie drops anchor in the River Thames. The Nellie id forced to make this delay in this journey down the river because the tide, which has been flowing outward (eastward), thus assisting in the journey ('The flood had made') and begins to flow inwards (westward), thus impeding the journey). There being no wind, 'the only thing fot it was to come to ... and wait for the turn of the tide.  
31

It's so obvious from Conrad's writing that he is aghast with the abuses of colonialism. But he goes deeper. Cautioned to be more explicit, he answered: "Didn't it ever occur to you, dear Curle, that I knew what I was doing ...? Explicitness, my dear fellow, is fatal to the glamour of all artistic work, robbing it of all suggestiveness, destroying all illusion." Well, I can't agree, but never mind.  32

Conrad: "My manner of telling, perfectly devoid of familiarity as between author and reader, [is] aimed essentially at the intimacy of a personal communication, without any thought for other effects. As a matter of fact, the thought of effects is there all the same (even at the cost of mere directness of a narrtive) and can be detected in my unconventional grouping and perspective, which are purely temperamental ...."  33

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."—Matt. 11:15.  34

Unspeakable. Imperceptible. Impenetrable. Incomprehensible. Inconceivable. Inconclusive.  35

With horrendous tedium.  36

      School days, school days
      Dear old Golden Rule days
      Taught to a tune by a hick'ry stick ...
 
37

* * *

Elisabeth turned 92 today. Grey hair. Unstained. "I've earned them," she says. Still thinking young. Trying to.  36

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