Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why do they call it a kangaroo court, anyway?

Current book: Lord Jim
Pages read: 3-88

Ok, so before I get to Conrad, I have to report that I had a dream last night in which I expounded to my mother, father, and older brother upon the absolute wretchedness of Rabbit, Run. I believe I called it "pornographic in its utter awfulness". (Pornographic, here, in the sense of having no redeeming social value.) The extent to which I dislike John Updike is fairly astonishing, since he has managed to invade my subconscious months after I read his novel. I mean, really. I have to admit that I woke up fairly amused. Also, subconscious, even I feel that pornographic may take it a bit too far.

Anyway, Conrad. Um. I remembered him being kind of terrible from when I read Heart of Darkness for high school senior English, but I was willing to entertain the possibility that that was the undeveloped impression of a 17-year-old who read the entire novel in one day. While it no doubt was, I'm afraid that Mr. Conrad has failed to redeem himself thus far in my subsequent experience. Lord Jim starts out fairly well, actually, with a rather poetic portrait of Jim, a sometime seaman in the service of the colonial British navy and various merchant organizations, working his way around the South China Sea and experiencing Malaysia and other points of Southeast-Asian interest. There are some beautiful descriptions of Malaysian flora and fauna, as well as the general atmosphere of the cities and ports, that I found quite compelling and surprisingly accurate to my personal experience (which happened in the late 80's and early 90's, so it's kind of cool that it meshes with Conrad's 1899 novel).

So that's all fine and good, but eventually Jim gets on a ship that ends up in some kind of disastrous accident, and suddenly we're thrust from a vague hint of said accident into a narrative provided by an officer witnessing Jim's trial for his role in that accident. It's an incredibly abrupt shift, and this officer, Captain Marlow (Ring any bells, Heart of Darkness readers? Yeah, I thought so.), begins his story by talking about several completely unrelated events and people. It's an entire chapter, then, before we learn why this guy is even talking to us and what the hell he has to do with Jim; I found it quite maddening, actually. (It kind of reminded me of Faulkner, who also can't keep a timeline together to save his life. Or his reader's sanity.) So, eventually, as I said, we find out that Marlow is a spectator at Jim's trial, and we're just now beginning to get the story of the fateful accident from Jim as he speaks to Marlow in the evenings after the day's hearings have concluded. It seems that the two are going to become fast friends.

We know a little about Jim's character at this point, and it mostly consists of the fact that he's a man who puts enormous store in personal pride and integrity. He embodies the idea of honor to such an extreme degree that he lets no insult go unnoticed or unavenged, but also feels duty-bound to do the right thing in every circumstance. The trial, then, is suspect to the reader already because it implies that Jim did something immoral or incorrect by allowing the ship he was on to run aground (Or something. Frankly, it's pretty unclear what happened at this point, or why, precisely, Jim is on trial, but it seems that he's being blamed for the accident and the deaths it caused.), and that clearly doesn't fit with what we've learned about his character at this point. We'll find out more as his story unfolds, which I hope that it will do in a way that makes at least some vague kind of sense and occurs in roughly chronological order. (But I'm not holding my breath, dear readers. I know the ways of Mr. Conrad.)

1 comment:

  1. Claire, get well soon!

    I'm looking forward to following your reading. This is wayyy better than Cliffs Notes.

    -Your cousin Adam



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