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 Post subject: The Rum Diary Question #31 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Wed May 19, 2010 11:37 am 
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Why do you think Hunter refers to this author twice in the story? (I have heard him refder to it in an interview as well.) What do you think of Conrad's preface? The link below will take you to the tidbit in it's entirety.



The Nigger of the "Narcissus" is a novella, often regarded as the best of Conrad's early periods as a writer. Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897) marks the beginning of Conrad's ‘major phase’. Its symbolic resonance beneath a realistic narrative, its story of nature's violence and human anxiety and of a ship as community threatened by mutiny, all contribute to its quintessential Conradian power. Its famous ‘Preface’, with Conrad's emphasis on the craft of Art and his almost programmatic ‘impressionist’ claim that ‘my task is, by the power of the written word, to make you see’ is regarded as a manifesto of literary impressionism, and is considered one of Conrad's significant pieces of non-fiction writing.

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colours, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential--their one illuminating and convincing quality--the very truth of their existence. The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts--whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritatively to our common-sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism--but always to our credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment of our ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.

It is otherwise with the artist.

Confronted by the same enigmatical spectacle the artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate, he finds the terms of his appeal. His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities: to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence, is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities--like the vulnerable body within a steel armour. His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring--and sooner forgotten. Yet its effect endures forever. The changing wisdom of successive generations discards ideas, questions facts, demolishes theories. But the artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom; to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition--and, therefore, more permanently enduring. He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation--and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity--the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.

It is only some such train of thought, or rather of feeling, that can in a measure explain the aim of the attempt, made in the tale which follows, to present an unrestful episode in the obscure lives of a few individuals out of all the disregarded multitude of the bewildered, the simple and the voiceless. For, if any part of truth dwells in the belief confessed above, it becomes evident that there is not a place of splendour or a dark corner of the earth that does not deserve, if only a passing glance of wonder and pity. The motive then, may be held to justify the matter of the work; but this preface, which is simply an avowal of endeavour, cannot end here--for the avowal is not yet complete. Fiction--if it at all aspires to be art--appeals to temperament. And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time. Such an appeal to be effective must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion. All art,' therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its highest desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music--which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

The sincere endeavour to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose. And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who in the fulness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus:--My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you _see_. That--and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm--all you demand--and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask. To snatch in a moment of courage, from the remorseless rush of time, a passing phase of life, is only the beginning of the task. The task approached in tenderness and faith is to hold up unquestioningly, without choice and without fear, the rescued fragment before all eyes in the light of a sincere mood. It is to show its vibration, its colour, its form; and through its movement, its form, and its colour, reveal the substance of its truth--disclose its inspiring secret: the stress and passion within the core of each convincing moment. In a single-minded attempt of that kind, if one be deserving and fortunate, one may perchance attain to such clearness of sincerity that at last the presented vision of regret or pity, of terror or mirth, shall awaken in the hearts of the beholders that feeling of unavoidable solidarity; of the solidarity in mysterious origin, in toil, in joy, in hope, in uncertain fate, which binds men to each other and all mankind to the visible world. It is evident that he who, rightly or wrongly, holds by the convictions expressed above cannot be faithful to any one of the temporary formulas of his craft. The enduring part of them--the truth which each only imperfectly veils--should abide with him as the most precious of his possessions, but they all: Realism, Romanticism, Naturalism, even the unofficial senti-mentalism (which like the poor, is exceedingly difficult to get rid of,) all these gods must, after a short period of fellowship, abandon him--even on the very threshold of the temple--to the stammerings of his conscience and to the outspoken consciousness of the difficulties of his work. In that uneasy solitude the supreme cry of Art for Art itself, loses the exciting ring of its apparent immorality. It sounds far off. It has ceased' to be a cry, and is heard only as a whisper, often incomprehensible, but at times and faintly encouraging.

Sometimes, stretched at ease in the shade of a roadside tree, we watch the motions of a labourer in a distant field, and after a time, begin to wonder languidly as to what the fellow may be at. We watch the movements of his body, the waving of his arms, we see him bend down, stand up, hesitate, begin again. It may add to the charm of an idle hour to be told the purpose of his exertions. If we know he is trying to lift a stone, to dig a ditch, to uproot a stump, we look with a more real interest at his efforts; we are disposed to condone the jar of his agitation upon the restfulness of the landscape; and even, if in a brotherly frame of mind, we may bring ourselves to forgive his failure. We understood his object, and, after all, the fellow has tried, and perhaps he had not the strength--and perhaps he had not the knowledge. We forgive, go on our way--and forget.

And so it is with the workman of art. Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off. And thus, doubtful of strength to travel so far, we talk a little about the aim--the aim of art, which, like life itself, is inspiring, difficult--obscured by mists--It is not in the clear logic of a triumphant conclusion; it is not in the unveiling of one of those heartless secrets which are called the Laws of Nature. It is not less great, but only more difficult.

To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and colour, of sunshine and shadows; to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile--such is the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a very few to achieve. But sometimes, by the deserving and the fortunate, even that task is accomplished. And when it is accomplished--behold!--all the truth of life is there: a moment of vision, a sigh, a smile--and the return to an eternal rest.

~1897. J. C.



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Wed May 19, 2010 7:06 pm 
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I found this on Wikepedia, a quote attributed to Conrad:

Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow....
In this world — as I have known it — we are made to suffer without the shadow of a reason, of a cause or of guilt....
There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that... is always but a vain and floating appearance....
A moment, a twinkling of an eye and nothing remains — but a clot of mud, of cold mud, of dead mud cast into black space, rolling around an extinguished sun. Nothing. Neither thought, nor sound, nor soul. Nothing.[16] Does it remind you of some of the characters in Rum Diary, perhaps Sala, perhaps Kemp?


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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Wed May 19, 2010 9:19 pm 
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Oh my, Depp In the Heart, that is literally one of the best treatises I have ever read about why someone sets out to write and what the very best writing achieves. I am slightly brain numb, having just finished work but I am completely blown away and will come back and read this again.

I have to admit I haven't read Conrad in many a year, and I am not sure, when I did read him, that I fully appreciated what he was trying to achieve. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if Hunter didn't see this piece as something to hang on the wall and aim at (not literally hehe -- )

What I really want to do is to pull out Rum Diary and look again at the Conrad stuff, and what Hunter refers to.

Needless to say -- I am impressed by what you are attempting and please to be able to participate in the discussion.



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Wed May 19, 2010 9:44 pm 
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deppaura quoted Conrad:
Quote:
A moment, a twinkling of an eye and nothing remains — but a clot of mud, of cold mud, of dead mud cast into black space, rolling around an extinguished sun. Nothing. Neither thought, nor sound, nor soul.


At first reading, this seems in sharp contrast to these lines from the Preface:
Quote:
To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and colour, of sunshine and shadows; to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile--such is the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a very few to achieve. But sometimes, by the deserving and the fortunate, even that task is accomplished. And when it is accomplished--behold!--all the truth of life is there: a moment of vision, a sigh, a smile--and the return to an eternal rest.


On reflection, I think that they are actually making the same point - given humanity's evanescence, the only viable choice is to reach out to touch other human lives.

Conrad's writing has always penetrated my "separateness"; I suspect he struck Hunter the same way. And I think both of them would have liked what Vladimir Nabokov wrote:
Quote:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.


I think all three writers tried to capture that "brief crack of light" and to share it with their readers.


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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Wed May 19, 2010 9:53 pm 
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I know this was a tough one requiring more than the usual reading and thought, which isn't always easy after a Wednesday of work, but I knew you all were up to the challenge! :grin: I even knew the question was coming and am not ready with my answer. :lol: I think this is one we can come back to anytime, especially since we are going into a break shortly before our next book, Hugo Cabret (like after tomorrow's question). Please feel free to revisit any of the TRD questions in the next several weeks! :cool:



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Wed May 19, 2010 10:18 pm 
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Buster wrote:


I think all three writers tried to capture that "brief crack of light" and to share it with their readers.



To give some meaning to the eternal "Is That All There Is?"


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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Wed May 19, 2010 11:08 pm 
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Well, thank goodness there is some time to absorb and ponder this one because my brain is totally :hypnotic: today! But on the surface, my first impression is that both of these men had a lot of say about life and how it works, and they felt those deep and meaningful insights could be shared by cloaking them in a good story.


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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Thu May 20, 2010 1:26 am 
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I, too, am glad we have some time on this. Pretty sad that I'm one of the moderators, and I need more time to answer. Life happens. And my life has been happening too much lately. I'd much rather spend my days discussing great writers and their philosophies.

I have a lot of ideas running around in my head (which were accentuated by the posts of Buster and deppaura) but my brain is dead after work today and I may need a few days to compose my thoughts. But I definitely want to express my thoughts on this one. So I say, let's keep this one going. It is certainly worth more contemplation.
:cool:



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Thu May 20, 2010 10:55 am 
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Thanks for giving us more time to ponder this question. I am retired and therefore don't have the pressures of work on my mind - but I feel a little brain-dead answering this question right away. :perplexed:


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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #31 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Sat May 22, 2010 3:14 am 
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I'm still not ready to answer. Too tired tonight. Tomorrow....



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The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.
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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #31 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Sat May 22, 2010 9:21 am 
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I think that as a young writer Hunter, like hundreds of others, aspired to the clarity and depth of Conrad's prose. The whole passage speaks to the nature and purpose of art and the task of the artist.

These two phrases I think are the key to Hunter's reference to Conrad in this book:

Quote:
an unremitting ... care for the shape and ring of sentences
and
Quote:
[yields a ]glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.


We have spoken of his very carefully composed sentences and descriptive passages, and his use of the themes of alienation, otherness, and an aspiration for a deeper, more realized life. All of this is reflected in the Conrad quote.

As a prophet howling in the wilderness of America, Hunter revealed the truth of politics, society, and the human condition as he saw it, and I think he did it very deliberately. His writing was not effortlessly tossed off, but created with care and with a higher purpose in mind.



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #31 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Sat May 22, 2010 9:40 pm 
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Stroch, you’ve highlighted some good quotes from the preface that fit right in to how I see Hunter as a writer also. And I can add a couple other ones to that. I have always thought of Hunter as a seeker of truth:
Quote:
It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colours, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential--their one illuminating and convincing quality--the very truth of their existence. The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal.


If my memory serves me right, I think we discussed something similar to the intent of these words when we discussed Fear and Loathing. I think Hunter has definitely aspired to this in all of his writing:

Quote:
And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who in the fulness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus:--My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you _see_. That--and no more, and it is everything.



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You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.
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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Sat May 22, 2010 9:52 pm 
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deppaura wrote:
To give some meaning to the eternal "Is That All There Is?"

I found this in one of Hunter's letters in The Proud Highway tonight, pg. 410….

“I think this [“Nkrumah Hailed as Messiah” AP clip] bears out Jeseph Conrad’s contention that “we live amid romantic ruins pervaded by rats.” This seems to say the same thing as, "Is that all there is."

Also I want to point out that in the interview with Charlie Rose, Hunter quotes off the top of his head from the preface. To me, that says a lot, that to that day he could still quote from it:

“Any ‘work that aspires to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line.’”

and

“Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off.”

And in that interview Hunter makes reference to himself as being a young and impressionable 20ish year old writer, as if to say “who wouldn’t be impressed with this stuff.” But he also refers to Conrad as being a very solemn guy.



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You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.
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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #32 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Sat May 22, 2010 10:10 pm 
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Buster wrote:
deppaura Conrad's writing has always penetrated my "separateness"; I suspect he struck Hunter the same way. And I think both of them would have liked what Vladimir Nabokov wrote:
Quote:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.


I think all three writers tried to capture that "brief crack of light" and to share it with their readers.

This brings to mind for me the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock in The Great Gatsby, which symbolized the American Dream or anyone’s own personal dream.

And, of course, I only mention this because Hunter was heavily influenced by Fitzgerald AND he has written more than once about the American Dream. And I do see parallels between Daisy and Chenault and Nick Carraway and Kemp.

It also brings to mind "the light at the end of the tunnel" mentioned in Fear and Loathing.



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You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.
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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Question #31 ~ Joseph Conrad
PostPosted: Mon May 24, 2010 12:15 pm 
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I think Hunter related Conrad's thinking and feeling about life. Conrad to me seemed to focus on the depressing side of life and tried but could not look for any length of time "through the brief crack of life" as Buster said. It is good that there are writers that can bring the sadder side of life to the attention of us all - so maybe someone can find an answer. This attitude of despair seem to follow Hunter thruout his life and perhaps helped lead to his too early death. Too bad because Hunter had so much to offer this life.

I would like to add on a personnal note that these type of questions and discussions add so much to my reading experience. I selfishly read many books just for my own entertainment and do not always find the message the author gives within his words. This just goes to show that even at my age - I am never too old to learn!! :lol:


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