I review “Heart of Darkness”

This story is supposed to be one of the Most Important Stories ever written. I’m not going to go into why (Western Civilization vs. the Primitive Jungly Darkness racism blah blah blah). I’d never bothered to read it, having gone to school during the education system’s brief hiatus from Dead White Malelandia. Anyway, I finally read it some time last year. Here is my review. (Full disclosure: this is elaborated from a comment I left on another website.)

I decided to finally read “Heart of Darkness” and found it on Gutenberg or some other free e-text website. I’m doing this catch-up thing with the so-called Western Canon; not because I think that all the works therein are the greatest things ever written, but because they’re part of my civilization’s history and if I’m going to fight certain aspects of Western culture I need to know where these ideas are coming from. So, to the story. I was… unimpressed. The plot is simple: a European guy goes to a country in Africa to look for another European guy. He takes a boat down a river through a jungle, finds the guy, the guy dies, the narrator returns. And that’s it. There’s not a lot of action. And I’m not sure why I should care about the characters: neurotic, coddled white guy leaves “civilization” for the scary jungle, realizes during the journey that he’s out of reach of warm beds, hot baths, and people who care about his feefees to the exclusion of all else, and doesn’t like it one bit. All the other white guys are typical of white guys in a white male supremacist society: they’ve always been on the top so have never had anything really difficult asked of them, and when they find themselves far away from the creature comforts they think they are entitled to they react like big babies and “go native” — that is, become supreme assholes that no actual “native” culture would tolerate from its own. Maybe in the 19th century this was a new, novel, horrifying concept, but now it’s old hat at the very least and I’ve never been interested in male characters who lose control. I think people who stay in control of themselves and are civilized and gracious no matter what their circumstances are so much more interesting.

The theme of the story is supposed to be about how civilization is a safe haven from the darkness that lurks within the human soul, and that it’s all too easy to leave civilization and go into the darkness, civilization is so fragile, etc. About that: actually, in the story the protagonist was on a boat (a steamboat I think or at least it wasn’t a native canoe or raft) built by his civilization, which could at any moment turn around and take him safely back home, and in fact (spoiler!) it did. His quarry, Kurtz, died from being old and sick (as far as I can tell, the text doesn’t elaborate), which totally could happen in the middle of Victorian London as well as the “uncivilized” jungle. And actually, the guy had built a house, so it wasn’t like he was living on the ground covered in mud and worms. I’m afraid that “no civilization” is represented mostly by the scary dark jungle (well, it’s a fucking bunch of trees at night, of course it’s going to be dark), and worst of all, by the scary “primitive” native tribespeople, especially the female chieftain or whoever she was supposed to be. (Which character, however, struck me as a perfectly normal woman grieving normally and in a rather dignified if non-European fashion for someone she apparently had come to esteem. If Conrad meant to write her as some savage dark earth goddess capable of eating men’s hearts raw or whatever, he failed with this one. This character — unnamed — came off as more civilized than the pathetic white guys.)

Anyway, I was rather bored with the story. At least Apocalypse Now, the film inspired by the story, had explosions and a tiger.

The Free Market Is Not A Free-For-All

Original thing I was going to post on has been canceled because this happened: in a comment thread about a publishing company’s follies, one of the commenters told a story about a coffee shop that failed because despite the nice decor and cookies, the coffee was lousy. I thought something was missing from the story so I asked:

Didn’t anyone tell him his coffee tasted like sock water?

I got the following reply from another commenter, not even the one who was telling the story:

He’s running the business. It’s nobody else’s responsibility to keep him in business.

Okay, I admit I blew my stack (and at first mistook the second commenter for the one who told the story, I was that mad). Because, what the fuck, you hear a story about someone whose business is failing because of some simple thing (in this case, bad coffee), and your answer to a question as to whether or not anyone had ever told him what the problem was that there was no reason to tell him because “it’s nobody else’s responsibility to keep him in business“????

See, this is why so many people are against capitalism and the “free” market. Because they see this sort of “fuck you, I’ve got mine, I don’t care if you starve” attitude from too many of its proponents, this attitude that even if you do everything right one tiny mistake OR EVEN unforeseen shit happening like a hurricane or other natural disaster wiping you out means your business should fail and you should crawl off into a hole and die, this dog-eat-dog nasty-ass treatment of other people, and of course they start looking at socialism, communism, anything communitarian that seems to promise a system where people won’t be treated like disposable garbage. What the fuck do you expect? I mean seriously, what the fuck?

Why I hate it when you tell me to “smile”

You’re walking down the street, absorbed in your own thoughts, when suddenly a man stops you and tells you to smile. For him, it’s nothing – he thought it was a nice day, you didn’t look like you were enjoying yourself, and he took it upon himself to brighten you up. For you, however, it’s just one more incident in a long line of things telling you that you don’t own your body, that you exist for other people’s pleasure, and that conformity and pleasing others is more important than whatever you personally feel or think.

(Yes it’s an old link. Whatever, deal with it.)

That list of 10 scifi novels everyone pretends to have read

Oh lists, how I love you. Anyway, apparently there are people going around “pretending” to have read books they have not, in fact, read. Insert something about our increasingly conformist, status-hungry society… you know my themes. The books in this list are apparently Important so I guess people feel like they should have read them, and are too embarrassed to admit they haven’t. Well I’m not. A book you haven’t read is a book you haven’t thrown across the room in disgust or tossed in the donation bin at Goodwill. I’ve read a lot of books, some of them over and over. I’ve even read some of the books on the list. Here is my list:

1.Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I’ve not read this. I looked through it at the bookstore and it just didn’t seem like my cup of tea. Still doesn’t.

2. Dune, by Frank Herbert. Oh come on. Who pretends they read this book? I was unaware that having a movie and a miniseries made from a book turns it from a cult classic into a Must Have Read (So Chillax With These Cliff Notes). Anyway, I’ve read it. I even reread it a couple of times. But sometime ago I lost interest in the whole Dune thing. Still, guess what my fave part of the book is: The footnotes, chapter quotes, and appendices just like in a “real” scholarly work only they refer to things inside the novel (as in, they all refer to not real things). I just love that kind of shit. But Jack Vance does them better.

3 Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. I have never read this and never will. Pretentious arse-wash.

4. Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. I read this in high school at the behest of a guy friend I ate lunch with. It was okay, but already seemed dated (one of the few female figures, as I recall, was the wife of some official, who the hero promptly won over — he was looking to get funding or something yawn INO — because he gave her some kind of high-tech gizmo that gave instant pretty dresses at the press of a button.

5. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. This book was a big disappointment to me. I couldn’t finish it. It started off delightfully, with fully drawn interesting characters and a unique situation. But it bogged down in the middle like nothing I’ve read. This was some serious bog time. Everyone in the book just seemed to stop in their tracks and go off into reminiscing mode. I can’t even say this was a big block of exposition or speechifying or any of the other things that ruin a book. I can’t say what it was actually, that slowed the story down so much that it felt like time really was slowing down. There were just too many scenes of fairies and their captive humans dancing dancing dancing.

6. 1984, by George Orwell. Nope, not read it. I mean to though. I did flip through a copy and found a scene where Winston has found a book with blank pages, and decided to start writing a diary. His first effort is so much like the first blog post of someone who has gotten into blogs for the first time that I laughed and laughed.

7. First and Last Men and Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon. This is very early scifi and is weird up the wazoo. I’ve read First and Last Men, can’t recall if I read Star Maker. You can find them if you go to Gutenberg e-text, but be prepared, because those old guys had really strange hobbies.

8. The Long Tomorrow, by Leigh Brackett. I’ve never even heard of this thing. I’ve read some other Leigh Brackett stuff. In any case, this would not be some of it, because in general I avoided and still avoid post-Apocalyptic novels. I just can’t. No one who is not my age or older remembers what it was like living under the constant fear that one or the other of the principals involved in the Cold War would eat a piece of bad fish, or break up with their girlfriend, or something, and then PHOOM it’s all over. Also maybe back then it was New and Now but eleventy-umpteen years and novels with interchangeable plots involving wandering across a post-nuke landscape and encountering religious crazies (always Christian or Christian-derived cults) and my phaser is set to “avoid as thou wouldst a band of ravenous radioactive mutants.”

9. Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delaney. Nnnoooo thanks. I’ve read a couple of Delaney novels (Babel-17 and Tales of Nevèrÿon) but was never attracted to his more arcane stuff.

10. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. I’ll pass, thanks. For one thing, I was traumatized by reading one of his short stories about a couple who accidentally boil their baby. As for this one, reading the plot is enough to keep me away. I have no patience with the constantly reiterated obsession Americans have with Daddy and celebrity.

Anyway, there you are. Some of them I’ve read, some I haven’t but plan to, some I haven’t and never will.

The ugliest fountain in the Western Hemisphere

ugly fountain

Can be found in Winchester, Virginia, USA. I have no idea why it exists; most of these things have plaques or something denoting who constructed it and why, but apparently whoever brought this object into existence (sometime in the 1970s probably, because the hideousness, the colors, the tiny square tiles set in a random pattern, all scream “the No-Taste Decade”) was too ashamed to do so. It is a mystery.