Mission civilisatrice

Léopoldville, 1928

Léopoldville, 1928

It ends with heads impaled on poles

In Conrad, writes Dalrymple, there is not just linguistic mastery but ‘a cognitive and a moral quality’. Art, entertainment, and moral purpose are ‘indivisible’.

Probity was perhaps the highest good, the moral quality Conrad admired most; for him, very distant goals diluted probity and finally dissolved it….The good that resulted from doing something with all one’s might had to be tangible or immediate, and not so far removed that it entailed or permitted the doing of evil in the name of the eventual good that it would supposedly produce.

Forced labour, Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company, Belgian Congo 1907

Forced labour, Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company, Belgian Congo 1907

The ‘risks of distance’ are shown by the colonialists in Heart of Darkness.

Kurtz has grand plans for a mission civilisatrice in the depths of the primeval forest that end with decapitated heads impaled on poles.

Conrad allowed no ‘transcendent meaning, purpose, or design’ to the universe:

There were no ultimate consolations for our earthly travails, except such as we can find for ourselves, and that are inevitably modest. Attempts to transgress those dimensions are intellectually absurd and practically disastrous.

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