Une étude systématique des ténèbres présentes en chacun d'entre nous

Par QueST

"Heart of Darkness" est certainement le plus célèbre des livres de Joseph Conrad. Cette histoire, particulièrement sombre et introspective, a inspiré le célèbre film "Apocalypse Now" de Francis Ford Coppola dans lequel la trame générale de l'histoire et les noms des protagonistes sont les mêmes, même si le contexte historique et le lieu géographique sont différents. Ce livre a également inspiré la chanson "Edge of Darkness" d'Iron Maiden (album "The X Factor"). Le livre est en fait un récit du capitaine Marlow à ses compagnons le soir sur le bateau. Il y raconte sa plus sombre expérience : elle a eu lieu lors d'une expédition au Congo. Là, il a rencontré un dénommé Kurtz, un être immonde et cruel, trafiquant d'ivoire. Cette rencontre va bouleverser la vie de Marlow, qui va faire une descente au coeur des ténèbres, aussi bien physiques qu'intellectuelles, à la recherche de la vérité et de ses propres valeurs.

Ce livre est une oeuvre exceptionnelle à mon sens, d'une force peu commune. Ce voyage au coeur des ténèbres ne peut laisser insensible et marque réellement le lecteur, à l'image du film "Apocalypse Now". Le récit est sombre à l'extrême, oppressant... On en vient presque à étouffer...

Une très grande oeuvre, à lire absolument, et en anglais bien entendu. Attention toutefois, ce livre m'a paru un peu plus difficile à lire que "Lord of the Flies": je pense que cela vient plus du type de texte (c'est en fait un récit, donc l'action est bien moi présente, c'est plus de la description de sentiments et de sensations, une descente psychique au coeur des ténèbres, une descente vers l'enfer en quelque sorte) que de l'auteur (William Golding est Prix Nobel de littérature tout de même ;-).

Quelques petits extraits pour vous donner envie de lire cette ténébreuse histoire:

"The Nellie, a cuising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide. The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway."

"Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the serenity became less brilliant but more profound. The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day, after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth. We looked at the venerable stream not in the vivid flush of a short day that comes and departs for ever, but in the august light of abiding memories."

Pour ceux qui veulent aller plus loin, lisez ce qui suit:

Symbolism has long been a tool of the storyteller, finding its origins in the folklore of our earliest civilizations. In more recent years, however, symbolism has taken on a new role, forming the skeleton upon which the storyteller builds the tales of his or her's thoughts and adventures. Knowing the power of this element, Joseph Conrad uses symbols to help the reader explore dark interiors of men. The symbols become a vehicle that carry the audience from stop to stop, the ride becoming an evaluation of the darkness contained inside the hearts of mankind. Through the use of Dark Africa as an overpowering symbol, Conrad's Heart of Darkness tells a story that evaluates man's tendencies to revert to savagery when not protected by layers of civilization.

Civilizations have been created by man through the setting up of codes and laws that encourage men to conform to higher standards. It is these ideals and laws that afford man a better standard of living. Men living under these codes change to become what society expects, not who they really are. Yet the codes cause men to be deceived, to never know themselves and their origins. Hence, civilization becomes a buffer, protecting man from himself and his darker tendencies.

But civilization must be learned. Marlow's first line, "And this also, has been one of the dark places of the earth," implies that London itself, the pinnacle of structured life, only became enlightened and sophisticated after the Romans forced light on the native savages. Later, the ladies guarding the door of the office of the Continental Trading Company represent the guardians that keep men from returning to his savage past. Yet these old ladies of "unconcerned wisdom," wearing white but knitting black, do not understand the issue and are ignorant to society's blinding, regulating effect. The nature of civilization and its shielding of the men's capacity to become brutal is unknown to them.

Marlow furthers understanding of the role of civilization in relation on to the primitive ways and compares it to "some sordid farce acted in front of a sinister black cloth." The sinister black cloth he is the dark underlying tendencies of man. Although laws may appear to civilize men, the natural, latent, primeval tendencies are always very real, like a black cloth lurking in the background.

Conrad's setting of a "night journey" into the Congo becomes an appropriate metaphor. This "Heart of Darkness" that Marlow penetrates of the heart of darkness contained in every man. The insights gained by Marlow into the condition of the human heart are the same insights gained by a careful, thoughtful reader. As Marlow makes his way to Kurtz's camp and his knowledge of this savage land is deepened, so is our understanding of the inherent darkness within every man. The discovery is this: in our deepest nature, all men are savage.

The name Kurtz, which is German for short, has symbolic meaning. The physical shortness in Kurtz implies a shortness of character and spirit. His shortfalls are made apparent as Marlow learned more about him, "Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts." Our enlightenment into the corruption of men's souls eventually becomes complete when Marlow meets Kurtz and finds out what Kurtz has really become, one with the land, devolved to a primitive state.

Marlow and Kurtz could be considered as two conditions of human existence, Kurtz representing what Man could become if left to his own intrinsic devices outside protective society. Marlow, then, representing a pure untainted civilized soul who has not been drawn to savagery by a dark, alienated jungle.

According to Conrad, the will to give into the uncivilized man does not just reside Kurtz alone. Every man has inside himself a heart of darkness. This heart is drowned in a bath of light shed by the advent of civilization. No man is an island, and no man can live on an island without becoming a brutal savage. Inside his heart lies the raw evil of untamed life styles.

Pour en finir avec "Heart of Darkness", voici la chanson de Maiden inspirée du chef d'oeuvre de Conrad:

The Edge of Darkness (Harris/Bayley/Gers)

I've looked into the heart of darkness
Where the blood-red journey ends
When you've faced the heart of darkness
Even your soul begins to bend

For a week I have been wating
Still I am only in Saigon
The walls move in a little closer
I feel the jungle call me on

Every minute I get weaker
While in the jungle they grow strong
What I wanted was a mission
And for my sins they gave me one

They brought it up just like room service
'Cause everyone gets what they want
And when that mission was all over
I'd never want another one

I know, captain,
That you've done this work before
We've got a problem
You can help us all I'm sure
The colonel's gone rogue
And his methods are unsound
You'll take a PBR up river track him down

There's a conflict in every human heart
And the temptation is to take it all to far
In this war things get so confused
But there are some things
Which cannot be excused

He's acting like a God - an insane lunatic
Your mission - exterminate
With extreme prejudice
The route is dangerous
And your progress may be slow
Here is the file and it's all you need to know

Here I am the knife in my hand
And now I understand why the genius must die

Now I stand alone in the darkness
With his blood upon my hands
Where sat the warrior the poet
Now lie the fragments of a man

I've looked into the heart of darkness
Where the blood-red journey ends
When you've faced the heart of darkness
Even your soul begins to bend

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