Hum 2b Phillips,_Caryl_and_Chinua_Achebe_-_Was_Conrad_Really_a_Racist

Hum 2b Phillips,_Caryl_and_Chinua_Achebe_-_Was_Conrad_Really_a_Racist

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Debate Was Joseph Conrad Really a Racist? Caryl Phillips Chinua Achebe Department of English Division of Languages and Literature and Yale University Program in Africana Studies Bard College Chinua Achebe leans forward to make his point. He raises a gentle finger in the manner of a benevolent schoolmaster. "But you have to understand. Art is more than just good sentences; this is what makes this situation tragic. The man is a capable artist and as such I expect better from him. I mean, what is his point in that book? Art is not intended to put people down. If so, then art would ultimately discredit itself." Achebe does not take his eyes from me, and I stare back at him. The face is familiar and marked with the heavy lines of aging that one would expect to find on a 72-year-old man's face. But Achebe's lines are graceful whorls that suggest wis- dom. He leans back now and looks beyond me, through the window at the snowy landscape. We are sitting in his one-story house in upstate New York, deep in the wooded campus of Bard College. Eor the past thirteen years, Achebe has been a professor at this well-known liberal arts college, which has had writers such as Mary McCar- thy and Norman Mailer on the faculty. His house is decorated with African art and artifacts, but the landscape and the climate could not be further removed from Nigeria and the world of Achebe's fiction and non-fiction. As though tiring of the wintry landscape, Achebe turns and returns to our conversation. "The man would appear to be obsessed with 'that' word." "Nigger." Achebe nods. "He has an admiration of the white skin. It is the whiteness that he likes, and he is obsessed with the physicality of the negro." Again Achebe falls silent, but this time he lowers his eyes as though suddenly overcome with fatigue. I continue to look at him, the father of African literature in the English language and undoubtedly one of the most important writers of the second half of the twentieth century. What I find difficult to fathom is just why Conrad's short novel. Heart of Darkness, should exercise such a hold on him. Philosophia Africana, VOL. IO, NO. I, MARCH 2007 59
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60 Philosophia Africana Achebe has taught term-long university courses dedicated to this one slim vol- ume first published in 1902. As long ago as February 1975, while a visiting pro- fessor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Achebe delivered a public lecture entitled "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." The lecture has since come to be recognized as one of the most important and influen- tial treatises in post-colonial literary discourse. However, the problem is, I disagree with Achebe's response to the novel, and have never viewed Conrad—as Achebe states in his lecture—as simply "a thoroughgoing racist." Yet at the same time, I hold Achebe in the highest possible esteem, and therefore, a two-hour drive up the Hudson River Valley into deepest upstate New York would seem a small price to pay to resolve this conundrum. Achebe's lecture quickly establishes his belief that Conrad deliberately sets
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This note was uploaded on 09/08/2010 for the course HUM 2B at San Jose State University .

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Hum 2b Phillips,_Caryl_and_Chinua_Achebe_-_Was_Conrad_Really_a_Racist

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