Transactions and Transtextualities: "The Lagoon," "Because of the Dollars," "The Warrior's Soul" and "Christmas Day at Sea".
The first part of the title of this lecture is "Transactions and Transtextualities." The word "transactions" is easily explained. All four works which I discuss include reciprocal transactions and appear to illustrate the general rule that the better Conrad is writing, the more ironic become the transactions or modes of reciprocity. The word "transtextuality" is a coinage of mine which was explained in my book entitled The Deceptive Text. The publisher's editor confused it with transsexuality, but (perhaps alas) there no connection. There is also a big difference between transtextuality and intertextuality. Julia Kristeva, more than thirty years ago, defined intertextuality as the vast sum of linguistic and cultural knowledge that makes it possible for texts to have meaning. She explained: "Every text is constructed like a mosaic of quotations." (2) A transtextuality, on the other hand, is much more local and specific. A transtextuality occurs when a significant narrative feature extends within and across two or more texts within an author's range of works. That significant narrative feature may be a characterization, a plot-sequence, a location or perhaps a distinctive thematic duster. (3) Arguably, the four specified works illustrate various kinds of transtextuality. This lecture suggests that the theme of transactions and the procedures of transtextuality are interlinked. Perception of a transtextuality can be seen as an informative reciprocal transaction between reader and author; and Conrad, I argue, was particularly interested in this interlinkage. He knew that the author writes only part of the book; the reader provides the remainder.
My subtitle lists the four texts under discussion: "The Lagoon," "Because of the Dollars," "The Warrior's Soul" and "Christmas at Sea." If you are an experienced Conradian, that list may induce a mental yawn because, though diverse, they are all minor pieces. But I have chosen them for various reasons. One reason, obviously, is courtesy. Our host, Texas Tech University, holds typescripts and/or proofs of these works, and the documents are part of the conference. Again, there is to be a performance of the play "Laughing Anne," a play based on the tale "Because of the Dollars"--a tale which was first published under the title "Laughing Anne." A second reason for my choice is a democratic sense of concern for the underdog, a desire to defend, if not to champion, the little fellow. These four underdogs in the Conradian canon say, "Come on, give us a chance; at least we're not harnessed to a great dog-cart of commentary, as is Heart of Darkness." The next reason is prudence. "The whirligig of time brings in his re venges." (Twelfth Night V.i. 375-6) There was a time, around 1910, when the tale "Youth" and the memoir The Mirror of the Sea appear to have been more highly rated by numerous readers than were Heart of Darkness and Nostromo. Some cultural change (perhaps one inaugurated at this conference) may eventually make critics rank "The Lagoon" above Heart of Darkness and "Christmas Day at Sea" above "Autocracy and War" or even Nostromo. A further reason is that a sense of transtextuality entails a sense of imaginative and qualitative osmosis (osmosis being permeation of a division), so that customary compartmentalizations within a body of Conrad's works may be eroded if not subverted. Some of the merit of a highly-valued text may thus trickle into the text which has a relatively low valuation. Qualitative osmosis is a neglected aspect of critical evaluation. An apparently weak item may be seen not as an isolated and disappointing text but as a relatively weak yet thematically enriching part of a predominantly strong sequence. Seemingly digressive allusions may in a larger context become non-digressive. My final reason is sentimental osmosis. Conrad remarked in A Personal Record that he had known Dickens's novel Bleak House so long and so well "that its very weaknesses are more precious to me than the strength of other men's work." (PR 124) Long familiarity with Conrad's writings may make even his minor pieces seem more attractive than some other writers' major pieces. This is no more and no less logical than tolerant acceptance of the changeability and fallibility of an old friend.
The theme of this lecture is, in Conrad's words, "men short-sighted in good and evil." (6) The lecture has four parts. Part 1 is called "Preamble." Part 2 is called "Transactions," and it's divided into sections A, B, C and D. Part 3 is called 'Transtextualities," and that is similarly divided. Part 4 fits 2 and 3 together and is called "Conclusion." Part 1, the Preamble, ends now.
Conrad was fascinated by the rhetorical figure hysteron proteron: "latter former," or last put first. Hysteron proteron is, for example, an aspect of delayed decoding, oblique narration, and the Lingard trilogy. Accordingly, I follow his example and discuss the four specified texts in reversed chronological order, the last first.
2. A. "Christmas Day at Sea"
This looks like the slightest and most trivial of the four pieces, and it's the latest in date, written early in 1923 and published in a Christmas number of the Daily Mail in that year. It's a piece of reminiscence, clearly aimed at the Christmas publishing market. The two opening sentences invoke, with fine Conradian irony, a vast transaction between God and mankind. Conrad says:
Theologically Christmas Day is the greatest occasion for rejoicing offered to sinful mankind; but this aspect of it is so august and so great that the human mind refuses to contemplate it steadily, perhaps because of its own littleness, for which of course it is in no way to blame. It prefers to concentrate its attention on ceremonial observances, expressive generally of good will and festivity; such, for instance, as giving presents and eating plum-puddings. (CDaS 29)
It's the familiar theme, stated by the narrator of Nostromo and in the Author's Note to Nostromo: men short-sighted in good and evil. God becomes man on earth; and the human mind cannot comprehend this vast fact (presumably because the Creator has made the mind too small) but concentrates on trivia. The bathetic defeats the august. Conrad then purports to be recalling two Christmases in the past. One was a foggy Christmas in the English Channel, when a big ship nearly ran down his own vessel and was therefore greeted not with Christmas blessings but with a "yell of execration." The second occasion was, it seems, a Christmas in the Southern Ocean in 1879. The transaction here is one introduced thus by
Conrad: "It was, in my view, a proper live-sea transaction, no offering of Dead Sea fruit...." Dead Sea fruit are, of course, a recurrent image in his work, cited in The Mirror of the Sea, in Lord Jim and Nostromo. The legendary apples of Sodom on the Dead Sea looked delicious but tasted of bitter ashes. Conrad alleges that the giving of presents at appointed times is usually "like exchanging Dead Sea fruit in proof of sham good-fellowship." On a live sea, however, the gifts are genuine: salty, he says, but they "never taste like ashes in the mouth." In this case, Conrad's ship, a wool clipper from Australia, provided a gift for an American whaling-ship seen in the midst of the ocean. A keg, a small barrel, was dropped into the sea; inside it, newspapers and two boxes of figs for the whaler's crew. The whaler "dipped her ensign in thanks." (At a time when Conrad owed his newfound prosperity largely to the U.S.A.--to the New York Herald, to the publisher Doubleday, and to the Hollywood film industry--it's psyc hologically apt that he should now recall or imagine a transaction in which a gift is sent from a British vessel to a U.S. ship which has told its story. Imaginative reciprocity.) Thus a simple, positive transaction is vividly recalled--or so it seems--by the prosperous and successful Conrad near the end of his life. It throws into relief, by contrast, the appallingly negative transactions in the earlier works.
2. B. "The Warrior's Soul"
In this tale, which was written between December 1915 and April 1916, and first published in 1917, the crucial transaction is the payment of a debt of honor. This story of the Napoleonic era tells us that, in the past, an innocent young Russian at Paris, Tomassov, was warned by an aristocratic French officer called de Castel that the Russian Embassy staff, including Tomassov, were in danger of arrest by the authorities. Thanks to the warning, Tomassov was enabled to escape back to Russia and maintain his career in the army. "You may command my life," he told the Frenchman. Years later, Tomassov and his fellow soldiers are harrying the vast column of Napoleon's army during the retreat from Moscow across snowy wastes. Tomassov is accosted by a French officer who turns out to be de Castel; the officer is half-dead from cold and weariness, and begs to be shot. He claims that he has lost his faith and his courage. After a long pause, Tomassov grants his wish and shoots him. The narrator, a Russian officer, sums up the matter as follows: "One warrior's soul paying its debt a hundredfold to another warrior's soul by releasing it from a fate worse than death--the loss of all faith and courage." (WS 26) That sounds clear enough. But this narrator then adds: "You may look on it that way. I don't know." In any case, we are told that there are two victims here, not one. De Castel has been executed. But later, Tomassov is thought to be a person who killed a prisoner in cold blood; so he resigns from the army, and buries himself "in the depths of his province, where a vague story of some dark deed clung to him for years." So the transaction here is ironic enough, but its irony is bleakly compounded. In return for a past favor, Tomassov had killed his benefactor; but what, by the criterion of an elite, is an honorable execution, is also, by the criterion of customary law, a dishonorable killing of a prisoner. Partly as a result of the conflict of value systems, partly perhaps as a result of a traumatic deed, Tomassov's life is blighted. In its closing pages, then, this rather neglected and underrated story spirals into ethical ambiguity characteristic of Conrad at his best.
Another strength of the tale is, of course, the vivid rendering of the wretchedness of the retreating Grand Army of Napoleon, now a vast column of soldiers so exhausted, cold, and numbed that when the Russian cavalry charge among them they are too weary and stupefied to resist, so that the assailants gradually desist from the slaughter. "It was like cutting down galvanized corpses that didn't care." The Russian narrator also remarks: "There is nothing incompatible between humanity and a warrior's soul. People without compassion are the civilians, government officials, merchants and such like" (WS 16-7).
"The Warrior's Soul" was published in 1917, during the Great War; and the view given to the Russian veteran there is a view commonly expressed by the Great War poets, notably by Wilfred Owen in such poems as "Insensibility," "The Parable of the Old Man and the Young," and "Dulce et Decorum Est." Though set in the Napoleonic era, "The Warrior's Soul" can easily be construed as Conrad's oblique comment on World War I--on the scale of the slaughter, the wretchedness of the troops, the sense that the combatants are the victims of those people far away who utter belligerent slogans without themselves having to suffer; a transaction in which lives are sacrificed on an ambiguous altar.
2. C. "Because of the Dollars"
This tale was written in 1913 and 1914 and first published in 1914. It's a melodramatic tale with grotesque villains. Even here, though, the sequence of transactions becomes a bitter downward spiral. Davidson, the well-meaning hero, meets Anne, the former prostitute. Being sympathetic to her, he agrees to bring his ship to a remote riverside hut in the jungle to help her present partner's trading venture. That's the first transaction. But that partner and his vicious associates plot to rob and kill Davidson. Anne warns him, so he defeats the ambushers; but one of the gang takes vengeance on Anne by killing her before being killed himself. Davidson then, because Anne had saved his life, decides to adopt her young son. It's a moral transaction, an attempt to repay a debt. But, in return for this altruism, he loses a wife and daughter. The wife, initially suspecting that the boy is his illegitimate son, and being a mean-minded person in any case, says she will leave Davidson if he does not send the boy to an orp hanage. He declines to do so, so the wife goes back to her parents with his daughter. Davidson thus loses his own child as punishment for adopting Anne's. As for that son, he is educated by priests and is determined to be a missionary abroad. The story concludes thus: "[P]oor Davidson is left out in the cold. He will have to go downhill without a single human affection near him ..." (BotD 211).
You may share the view that "Because of the Dollars" is too melodramatic to be a convincing tale. But it generates a characteristic effect of Conradian bleakness when we see that altruistic transactions lead a good man into ambush and eventual loneliness. As in the cases of Lingard in An Outcast, Jim in Lord Jim, and Heyst in Victory, the man who appears to be a providential benefactor is eventually betrayed and isolated.
2. D. "The Lagoon"
"The Lagoon," written in 1896, was published in Cornhill Magazine in 1897. If you accept that a transaction is a reciprocal activity, some kind of deal or exchange, you will notice that what is so striking about this early tale of Conrad's is that reciprocity is repeatedly denied where you would expect it to be affirmed. Of course, one transaction dominates the narrative. A white man visits his Malay friend, Arsat, whose wife is dying; and during the night the Malay tells the story of his elopement with the woman who became his wife. But everywhere you look in this tale, apparent mutuality reveals distrust, hostility and isolation.
The Malay boatmen take the white man to Arsat's hut. The view of white men taken by the boatmen is this: "White men [are] unbelievers and in league with the Father of Evil.... To the warnings of the righteous they oppose an offensive pretense of disbelief." Their view of Arsat himself, another Malay, is almost as bad: we are told that they dislike him not only because he is a stranger in that region but also because he has chosen to dwell in a ruined hut. He is "not afraid to live amongst the spirits that haunt the places abandoned by mankind. Such a man can disturb the course of fate by glances or words." And what about the friendship between the white man and Arsat? Certainly they have fought side by side in the past; but the narrator says this of the white man's attitude to Arsat: "He liked him--not as much perhaps as a man likes his favorite dog..." (TU 191). While his wife is dying of fever, Arsat tell the white man of the elopement. Once he had fallen in love with a young woman who served in the retinue of the local ruler. Because of the ruler's fear of a great woman, he says, there was no chance that Arsat would be allowed to marry his love. So he consulted his brother. Eventually his brother advised elopement. Arsat, his brother and the woman run away, pursued by the Rajah's men. The brother sacrifices his life to hold off the pursuers. Instead of dying alongside his brother, who had repeatedly called his name, Arsat escapes with his bride, to live the life of an outcast. But now, as the tale concludes, she is dead. He declines to depart with the white man. Arsat is haunted by guilt for his brother's death; furthermore, he hints, he will soon launch a vengeful though suicidal attack on the Rajah's men.
Wherever you look for mutuality in this tale, you find degrees of alienation. The bride, we are told, was a woman "with audacious face and triumphant eyes" during her time with Arsat. Though Arsat's brother gives his life for the couple, he has spoken scornfully of the woman as she who "can neither run nor fight, but holds your heart in her weak hands." The Rajah himself lives in fear of a woman. In the closing lines of the tale we are told (with delicious alliteration) that Arsat "stood lonely in the searching sunshine; and he looked beyond the great light of a cloudless day into the darkness of a world of illusions." What the story suggests is that mutual understanding is an illusion in a world where loyalty to one means treachery to another; in a world where prejudices and passions are repeatedly divisive. As Conrad said to Cunninghame Graham, "Fraternity means nothing unless the Cain-Abel business" (Letters 117). But, of course, he said this fraternally enough to Cunninghame Graham, his dear friend. And w hen you look back on "The Lagoon," you realize that the most positive transaction to offset that emphasis on isolation and betrayal has been not only Arsat's tale, told so frankly and revealingly to the white man, but also the transaction between the anonymous narrator and us: a narrative which solicits a sympathetic understanding of the situation. One of the most splendid paradoxes of Joseph Conrad's writings is that he tells stories of isolation and noncommunication by means of techniques that repeatedly extend cooperation, solidarity and comprehension. That's one of the great Janiform features of Conrad.
3. A. "The Lagoon" again
"The Lagoon" was written within a year of the longer tale, "Karain." If you read both tales and let a little time elapse, you may find that the two stories tend to blend in the imagination. The reason is that both of them have the same historical period and location, both have a similarly lush descriptive texture, both concern two Malay brothers, one of whom loves a Malay woman; in both the brothers go on a long journey caused by a love affair, in both the love affair effects a degree of division between the two men, and in both one of the two brothers dies while helping the other. For instance, the tales have as their geographical and historical location the region of Celebes between the 1860s and 1880s in the aftermath of the wars between the states of Wajo, Boni, Soping and Si Dendring caused by disputes over the inheritor of Si Dendring. An obvious difference between the two tales is that in "The Lagoon," one brother sacrifices his life so that the two lovers may escape, whereas in "Karain" one brother is treacherously killed by the other so that two lovers (this time a white man and his Malay partner) may escape. We see how a man may be not only his brother's keeper but also his brother's betrayer. Feminists may notice that, in each case, love for a woman causes a breach in the fraternal bond; and they may see that these early tales are thematically linked to numerous other works of Conrad in which elopement with a woman seems to unman or isolate her male partner and to bring about a vengeful and destructive pursuit. That last statement may stir echoes of the ancient past. Around the same time as the writing of "The Lagoon" and "Karain," Conrad was working on the novel The Rescuer, which was published more than twenty years later as The Rescue. In the opening pages of The Rescue, a ship's mate, Shaw, is talking to his captain, Tom Lingard:
"Women are the cause of a lot of trouble," he said, dispassionately.... I remember, we had once a passenger--an old gentleman--who was telling us a yarn about them old-time Greeks fighting for ten years about some woman. The Turks kidnapped her, or something.... They were unenlightened in those old days.... But to fight ten years. And for a woman!"
"I have read the tale in a book," said Lingard.... "She was very beautiful."
[Shaw replies:] "That only makes it worse, sir--if anything. You may depend on it she was no good. Those pagan times will never come back again, thank God!" (RES 27)
But they do. Obviously, the allusion is to the legend commemorated in Homer's Iliad, the elopement of Paris with Helen of Troy, which resulted in the ten-year siege of Troy by the Greeks. The allusion makes a highly ironic opening to The Rescue, because later Tom Lingard will become infatuated with the beautiful Edith Travers, and both will have the opportunity of elopement, but fail to seize it. Of course, in several works Conrad offers modern-day counterparts to that ancient legend of elopement which turned man against man and resulted in death. Arguably, the story of Helen, Paris and the Trojan war is a matrix for diverse transtextual development: there are variations of the plot not only in "Karain" and "The Lagoon" but also in An Outcast of the Islands, Chance and particularly in Victory, whose heroine bears the name Lena--a name which, among other possibilities, can be seen as an abbreviation of Helena. A semi-comic variant is found in the tale "Falk." The misogynistic aspect of the ancient legend blend s with the traditional maritime misogyny expressed by Captain Beard in "Youth," who says: "A sailor has no business with a wife"; and Captain Mitchell in Nostromo concurs, saying: "I was never married myself. A sailor should exercise self-denial." I am not, of course, suggesting that Conrad was consistently misogynistic. We may recall the very positive presentations of Emilia Gould in Nostromo or of Natalia Haldin in Under Western Eyes. In any case, we know that Conrad was an advocate of votes for women. In 1910, he signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, supporting that feminist cause. However, my main point in this section is simply that "The Lagoon" offers a cluster of plot-matter and thematic matter concerning sexual attraction, flight, and betrayal that links the tale to a range of other works including An Outcast, Chance, and Victory. Such recurrences may be too mushy to count as transtextualities (they slither on the borderline of the definition), but they help to establish the se nse of an author's imaginative identity, and thus raise expectations which transmit themselves to other texts by that author.
3. B. "Because of the Dollars" again
This tale provides very specific instances of transtextuality. The technique of the tale is that of the doubly oblique narrative. An anonymous character reports to us the tale told by a second character, who is called Hollis. And Hollis is described as "the fellow who had so many adventures and had known so many queer people in that part of the (more or less) gorgeous East in the days of his youth." The reader who is coming as a novice to Conrad's work finds that Hollis is kindly, sympathetic, sensitive. But the reader who knows the tale "Karain," published seventeen years previously, will think: "Oh, it's Hollis again. That kind, observant fellow. I see that his character remains consistent, but understandably he has aged." In the tale "Karain," it was the young Hollis who had crucially intervened to exorcise the ghost apparently haunting Karain himself. It was Hollis who, with fine resourcefulness, had produced the gilded Jubilee sixpence which served as the doubly ironic talisman to redeem Karain. (I say doubly ironic because it is not only a coin posing as a talisman; it is also a silver sixpence gilded so as to be fraudulently passed as a gold half-sovereign.) The effects of such transtextual characterizations as Hollis in Conrad 's works are multiple. First, there is a gain in realism. Such recurrences strengthen the sense of a coherent imaginative world, analogous to and symbiotic with the real world, and from which the particular narratives offered by the author may be regarded as a selection only. There is a gain in both richness and economy, because when we associate the Hollis in "Because of the Dollars" with the experiences of the Hollis in "Karain," our memory supplies descriptive matter that the author does not need to repeat in the later tale. When you see a transtextual characterization in Conrad, there is almost always a gain in thematic resonance and frequently a gain in irony. The theme may be that of time passing and mortality pressing, or of the transition from innocence to experience. The irony may lie in the perception of recurrence or perhaps of reversal. Lingard repeatedly, benevolently, and disastrously adopts unworthy proteges: Almayer and Willems, for example. Marlow repeatedly takes a sympathetic interest in do omed transgressors or isolated misunderstood figures: Jim, Kurtz and Captain Anthony.
In "Because of the Dollars," Hollis tells the story of the honest, well-meaning and altruistic Davidson. The same Davidson will later appear in Victory, as a narrator who concludes the tragic story. As in "Because of the Dollars," so in Victory: Davidson commands the ship, "Sissie," owned by a Chinaman, and Davidson goes out of his way on his voyages to help individuals in lonely outposts. In both narratives, a woman who has had a somewhat immoral past and is now "living in sin" with a man, as she might say, is killed after trying to save a kind man, her benefactor, from a group of thieves. Here the reader's sense that Davidson's experiences contain ironic or even uncanny recurrences may be overcome by the sense that Conrad is economically recycling a dramatic or melodramatic plot situation. There is another consideration. If, in the reader's imagination, the Davidson of "Because of the Dollars" blends into the Davidson of Victory, he extends into a fictional world which, in Victory, includes the malicious ho tel-keeper, Schomberg. But the same Schomberg, gossiping and mercenary, appears in Lord Jim and the tale "Falk." So transtextualities of a very specific kind link the Davidson of "Because of the Dollars" to the fictional worlds of "Falk' and Lord Jim. There occurs extensive imaginative osmosis which may complicate critical judgment of any one of the texts thus linked. Furthermore, in "Because of the Dollars," Davidson explains that one of the villains, Bamtz, long ago impressed, and was parasitic on, Abdulla, "the great trader of Sambir." We know Abdulla well already he was the astute schemer who defeated Lingard in the novel An Outcast of the Islands and defeated Almayer in the novel Almayer's Folly. So transtextualities not only link "Because of the Dollars" to "Karain" and Victory, they also link it to Conrad's first two novels, set in Borneo. Some of the remembered plausibility of Abdulla will thus leak into the characterization of Bamtz, like a blood transfusion into an anemic person. In this way, networ ks of transtextualities create a vastly extensive and broadly coherent imaginative terrain. Apparently distinct texts are seen to be drawn from an extensive imagined world which has, by and large, geographical and chronological consistency. Furthermore, transtextuality erodes the boundary between fiction and fact. Imaginative osmosis takes place here, too. Abdulla, you will recall, is also the scheming trader described by Conrad in the autobiographical work A Personal Record. His character there seems reasonably consistent with his character as rendered in the fiction. The effect is to heighten the authenticity of the fictional works while letting the romantic glow of fiction, and some subliminal suspicion of fictional invention, invest the autobiography. Of course, it could be claimed that particularly blatant instances of transtextuality occur when the tale "Because of the Dollars" is adapted as the play "Laughing Anne." But here the shift in form (from tale to play) and from medium (prose in a book to spee ch in a theatre), and the changes in the plot, create quite different effects from transtextuality within the same medium. There is a sense not of continuity of characterization and narrative but of alternative versions of characterization and narrative. The clock of the plot is put back and restarted. Perhaps we find not transtextuality but countertextuality; not harmony but rivalry. Arguably, the omission from the play text of any reference to Davidson's later troubles with his wife means that the play offers a simplified and coarsened alternative. We may recall Conrad's remark about his adaptation for the stage of The Secret Agent: "I confess that it makes a grisly skeleton." (14) When the reflective narrator is removed, the melodramatic action is exposed. On the other hand, imaginative direction and good acting may turn a skeleton into a seductive body.
3. C. "The Warrior's Soul" again
As I mentioned earlier, one of the most brilliantly effective parts of this tale is the account of the numbed and weary French soldiers trekking across the Russian ice during the retreat from Moscow. We see them largely from the point of view of the Russian cavalrymen who are harassing them. If you remember the tale "The Duel," which had been published nine years previously (in 1908), you will at once have the deja-vu feeling. We've been here before. "The Duel" gives a briefer, but still intensely evocative account, of the wretched plight of the French soldiers on the retreat, being harried from time to time by the Russian cavalrymen. Here's part of the description in "The Duel":
They plodded on, and their passage did not disturb the mortal silence of the plains, shining with the livid light of snows under a sky the colour of ashes. Whirlwinds ran along the fields, broke against the dark column, enveloped it in a turmoil of flying icicles, and subsided, disclosing it creeping on its tragic way without the swing and rhythm of the military pace. It struggled onwards, the men exchanging neither words nor looks; whole ranks marched touching elbow, day after day[,] and never raising their eyes from the ground, as if lost in despairing reflections. (SoS 211)
This is memorably evocative writing. The cold, the scale of the retreat, the numbed state of the soldiers: all these are well evoked. So, if you remember this when you read "The Warrior's Soul," the following gains ensue. The description in "The Warrior's Soul" is imaginatively confirmed and enriched by associated memory. But, more interestingly, a morally stereoscopic effect occurs. In "The Duel," the main object of our imaginative sympathy is D'Hubert, one of the French officers. We therefore extend our sympathy to the column of which he is a part, and which, in any case, is rendered poignant by the description. So in the pattern of sympathies and antipathies generated by the writing, we see the French army as sympathetic and the marauding Russians as antipathetic. But in "The Warrior's Soul," our viewpoint is predominantly that of the Russians who are harrying the column, at a somewhat later stage when the column is even more exhausted; and a central figure among those Russians is the humane Tomassov: a ma n who desists from slaughtering the enemy when he sees how abject they are. The combination of the two descriptions, the remembered account in "The Duel" and its linkage with the new description in "The Warrior's Soul," concentrates one's sense of what is consistent: there is memorial underlining or double-coloring. There is a strengthened sense of the icy vastness of the environment and of the slow progress of the weary and defeated column. But there also develops, now, that morally stereoscopic view. If the French resemble lambs to the slaughter, then at least one of the Russians can be seen to find such slaughter morally repugnant: he is an innocent who enters the realm of bitter experience. This feature of the tale displays Conrad's endeavor as a conscientious writer to overcome the understandable anti-Russian prejudice which is so marked in his letters and essays. Possibly such empathy was encouraged by the fact that in the Great War, the Russians were allies of the British; but Under Western Eyes, publi shed in 1911, had already displayed a Conradian endeavor to deal discriminatingly and fairly with Russian people; an endeavor which may have contributed to Conrad's breakdown in 1910.
3. D. Transtextuality in "Christmas Day at Sea"
When describing the meeting at sea with the whaler Alaska, Conrad seems admirably precise. The event, he says, took place on Christmas Day, 1879, in latitude 51 in the Southern Ocean, when Conrad's sailing-ship, a wool clipper, was eighteen days out from Sydney in New South Wales, and Conrad was a mate on that vessel. So here appears to be an easy nonfictional transtextuality. We can soon identify the vessel as the wool-clipper Loch Etive, so this part of the essay augments the knowledge of the Loch Etive that we derive from sections 11 and 12 of The Mirror of the Sea. But when we check these details against biographers' researches, we find a mismatch between the essay and the biographical record. At Christmas 1879, Conrad was in the Mediterranean, not in the Southern Ocean, and on the steamship Europa, not on a wool-dipper. The voyage from Sydney to London in a wool-clipper in which he was a mate took place in 1881. After Christmas ashore in Australia, Conrad sailed on 11 January and reached England on 25 Ap ril. No Christmas Day at sea there. So even an incident described in considerable detail in an apparently nonfictional piece of writing is infiltrated by fictionality. It's a familiar Conradian paradox. Just as his fictional works are (in varying degrees but often strongly) influenced by autobiographical factors, so his autobiographical writings are (in varying degrees but often strongly) influenced by the claims of fiction. We know, for example, that the account of the Tremolino episode in The Mirror of the Sea is partly fictional. Cesar Cervoni was not killed by Dominic (or Dominique) but lived on till 1936, thus outliving the author of his violent death.
One way of dealing with this paradox of fictionalized autobiography is temptingly easy. It's what might be called the postmodernist way. Following Roland Barthes or Jacques Derrida or Jean-Fracois Lyotard, you reduce all discourse to the status of fiction by saying we inhabit a world of competing stories, of which the most plausible are taken to be factual; but even these may be superseded by other stories in course of time, just as the cosmology of Newton has been superseded by that of Einstein. The master discourse of postmodernism is the interestingly self-destructive argument that there is no master discourse. The trouble with this procedure of reducing discourse to fiction is that it creates more problems than it solves. It is contradicted by common sense and common experience, and politically it opens the door to totalitarianism. In 1943, George Orwell said:
[W]hat is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could truthfully written....Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as "the truth" exists....If the Leader says.., that two and two are five--well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs....(Orwell 236)
George Orwell's warnings seem, sadly, to have been forgotten by some recent theorists: theorists who were anticipated, but anticipated critically, by Joseph Conrad.
The more scholars are able to establish the factual hinterland of Conrad's works, the more the critics should be able to recognize and appreciate the various transformative effects of Conrad's creative imagination. But to appreciate fairly that imagination, we need to take account of the ways in which one text may be linked to other texts by networks of transtextualities. We misjudge the ending of Heart of Darkness if we fail to see that it receives an ironic commentary in the ending of Chance. Marlow, an ageing bachelor in Chance, urges a young seaman to woo Flora Anthony, a widow, instead of letting her remain trapped in mourning for the man she loved. Evidently, Marlow is giving that seaman the advice that he wishes someone had given him, long ago, when he had felt love for Kurtz's Intended. The connection, when perceived, strengthens the endings of both works. Again, Marlow has been criticized for remarking in Heart of Darkness that women are out of touch with the truth and live in a beautiful and unreal world of their own. Oddly, he has not been praised for remarking in Chance that women know the whole truth whereas men live in fool's paradise. Marlow is being consistent: consistently provocative. By 1914, Conrad could see Heart of Darkness as part of the Marlow tetralogy, which includes "Youth," Lord Jim and Chance; but critics seldom regard it as such. Awareness of transtextualities complicates aesthetic, moral and political judgments of Conrad's fiction. Consider Abdulla again. When you perceive that the Abdulla of Almayer's Folly is completing the long-term stratagem propounded in An Outcast of the Islands--his stratagem to defeat trade rivals in the region and to advance the Islamic cause--then you perceive a large political irony. This apparently marginal character is really central. The man who was scorned racially by Almayer proves to be more intelligent and resourceful than is Almayer. Implicit is some criticism of white racial and political hubris. The passing reference in "Because of the Dollars" to Abdulla relates the crime of that tale to a vast terrain of racial, religious and commercial rivalry.
"We live, as we dream--alone," says Marlow in Heart of Darkness; but he says those words to the friends who had listened to him on other occasions, notably when he told the tale called "Youth." To appreciate transtextualities is to be involved in a most elaborate series of transactions with Conrad the author. If we bring to one text the memory of other and related texts, we augment what he locally offers. As we move through his imaginative world in which isolation, misunderstanding and betrayal are such recurrent features, we find that transtextualities may offer a contrasting sense of interconnections, of interdependent lives. With most other major writers, we move from separate work to separate work; and though we gain cumulative knowledge of each writer's habits of imagination and technique, we do not gain that Conradian sense of the symbiosis of fictional and actual worlds and lives, or of a greater unrecorded world from which these characters have emerged into the light of utterance and literary history. If people are indeed "short-sighted in good and evil," a sense of the transtextual may, to some degree, be a therapy for moral myopia. And these repeated transactions between the author and the reader, transactions which Conrad so amply solicits and rewards, confirm that Conrad, the great pioneer of modernist isolation and postmodernist skepticism, is also a great guardian of solidarity and cooperation.
(1.) The Editor has preserved the oral style of this lecture.
(2.) "Tout texte se construit comme mosaique de citations": Julia Kristeva: Semiotike, p. 146.
(3.) As Hunt Hawkins observed at the end of this lecture, intertextuality tends to dissolve authorial identity whereas transtextuality tends to accentuate it.
Conrad, Joseph. "Because of the Dollars" in Within the Tides. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1950. Cited as BotD.
-----. "Christmas Day at Sea" in Last Essays. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1955; cited as CDaS.
-----. "The Duel" in A Set of Six. London: Dent, 1954, cited as SoS.
----. "The Lagoon" in Tales of Unrest. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1955; cited as TU.
-----. Joseph Conrad's Letters to R. B. Cunninghame Graham. Ed. C.T. Watts. London: Cambridge University Press, 1969; cited as Letters.
-----. Nostromo. Ed. Cedric Watts. Everyman Paperbacks. London: Orion, 1995; cited as Watts.
-----. A Personal Record. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1955; cited as PR.
----. The Rescue. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1949; cited as RES.
-----. "The Warriors Soul" in Tales of Hearsay. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1955; cited as WS.
Kristeva, Julia. Semiotike. Paris: du Seuil, 1969.
Orwell, George. "Looking Back on the Spanish War"  appended to Homage to Catalonia . Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966; cited as Orwell.
Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Ed. J. T. Lothian and T. Craik London: Methuen, 1974.
CEDRIC T. WATTS, who teaches at the University of Sussex, is the author of The Deceptive Text, A Preface to Conrad, Joseph Conrad: A Literary Life, and, more recently, A Preface to Greene. He is the author of numerous works on Conrad and his contemporaries as well as such authors as William Shakespeare.
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|Author:||Watts, Cedric T.|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2002|
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