Thursday, July 28, 2005

Heart of Darkness

My friend Kirk recently spoke to me about a book he's been reading, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I hadn't picked up that book since high-school and, quite frankly, wasn't ready for it back then. I remember being mezmerized by its language, but didn't put into it what I needed in order to extract any profound lesson. I've kept a copy of it on my shelf for years, so I reread it yesterday, and enjoyed it very much this time.

The main character, Marlow journeys into the jungle along the African Congo to meet an infamous ivory hunter named Kurtz who is stationed in a remote trading post. This journey becomes a metaphor for his own exploration into the heart of his soul. Along the way he becomes infatuated with meeting Kurtz. This man is magnetic, a poet, a leader, a revolutionary of the mind! Yet this man has been seduced by ideals heavier and darker than himself. He succumbed to the isolation of the jungle, to ultimate greed, to power, to self agrandizement. In his journey Marlow is tempted by those same things, and staring within himself was threatened to be overcome by those same evils. He saw in Kurtz what he could have become. He saw in Kurtz the common struggle of humanity distilled in its purest form. The dark side. This book seemed to say that every soul casts a dark shadow. It romanticizes the idea (to an extent) that becoming aquainted with that shadow will result in a degree of enlightenment. At the very least you understand the breadth of the human condition a little bit more.

The book leads you to believe, however, that there is a basic evil to human nature. I may be interpreting it wrong, but it almost seemed like it was saying human nature, in and of itself, is mainly dark. "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam...(Mosiah 3:19)." But that comes with a qualification. J.R. Holland stated "These references to 'natural' evil emphatically do not mean that men and women are 'inherently' evil. There is a crucial difference....It is as if men and women are given, as part of their next step in development along the path to godhood, raw physical and spiritual ingredients--'natural' resources if you will. Those resources are not to run rampant but are to be harnessed and focused so that their potential (as is sometimes done with a 'natural' river or a 'natural' waterfall) can be channeled and thereby made even more productive and beneficial."

So we aren't inherently dark, but can become so if we let the natural portion of our souls fully govern us. This is what did Kurtz in, and why he acts as a mirror into the human phsyche: Watch yourselves so as to not look "The Horror!" in the face! Perhaps one of the most affecting quotes for me was not by Conrad himself, but was a note on the margins of the last page in the handwriting of Nicki Kampenhaut, my sister-in-law. It says "Those who give themselves over to materialism have no wings for spiritual exploration, and they too lose the tide."

Here's to not losing the tide.

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