Monday, November 20, 2006
"It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention." Leavis’s assessment of this sentence from Conrad must be one of the most insensitive and wrong-headed pieces of literary criticism since Lukacs got it wrong on Homer. Rather than Conrad ‘not knowing what he means’ the sentence opens up before one like a dark tunnel, a black hole in the text into which one is dragged by the phonic suggestiveness of the repeated syllables: in, in, inviting an unlimited contemplation which can never arrive at a satisfactory, fixed conceptualisation. Which is absolutely the point. Describing the menace in Africa directed at the European colonialist, the menace in the universe directed at human consciousness, it is arguably the greatest sentence in modern English prose.