Into the Heart of a Title

Heart of Darkness is by far one of the most suggestive title ever. Darkness is a universal archetype that we naturally associate to death, mystery, evil or a menace, but despite the dangers that we word dark excites, it ultimately attracts us like a magnet. Conrad in this novel takes us to a voyage into the heart of mysterious areas like Africa, the colonizing mission and the self.

Marlow had always been fascinated by Africa, the “dark continent” since he was a child, when he was used to fantasizing over the “blank spaces ” on the map. After returning from a six-year voyage through Asia, he comes across a map of Africa in a London shop window, an event that revives in him those old emotions. Hence, he takes the chance to make his wishes come true accepting the position of captain of a steam boat of the Belgian company which traded on the Congo River. It is metaphorically sunset, when Marlow starts to tell his story to his fellows.They are anchored at the mouth of the Thames, on the Nellie, waiting for the tide to go out.  Yet, as darkness begins to fall, the scene becomes “less brilliant but more profound”, the narrator of novel  warns us, implying that when the blinding effect of the light ceases to be, one could see the heart of things, their dark, secret side.

As the river Thames goes into London, the symbol of the heart of progress and civilization of that time, “the greatest town on earth” for Conrad, the river Congo takes Marlow to the heart of primitiveness. Yet, once there, he witnesses that the sparkling narration of the wonders of colonization hides a very embarrassing and less glorious truth. The dark side of white man’s mission there is made of wild exploitation of people and lands, ill-treatment of the natives and pointless activities. The imperial enterprise appears to his eyes in all its squalor and cruelty and European man’s settlements seem just like tiny islands, white viruses, amidst the vast darkness of the impassive, majestic jungle that surrounds them.

As Marlow penetrates the darkness of Africa, he explores the impenetrable mystery of human nature as well.  He eventually meets Kurtz an ivory dealer, the man he had been sent for,  who is reputed to be the best agent of the Company, but it seems that the wilderness has captured his soul. It is rumored he lives among the natives, shares their rites and is venerated like a god.  Even if he had always been an idealistic man of great abilities, once freed from the conventions of  European society, Kurtz, the white man, reverts to his true self, savage, instinctive, just like that Yahoo, Swift had so brilliantly anticipated. The degree of awareness of that discovery is synthesized by the last two words Kurtz pronounces before dying: “The horror! The horror!”

Yet, any secret should remain so. Nobody likes to be seen for what he really is, that’s why we always wear a mask or more to disguise our “Yahoo” nature. Even a lie may work on this purpose. So, when Marlow returns to Belgium and calls on Kurtz’s fiancée, he doesn’t feel like telling her the truth on what he really was or did in Africa. For what, after all. That’s why, when she wants to know her beloved’s last words before dying, Marlow decides to throw some light over the darkness and answers with a sweet lie: it was her name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Helpless, the Intelligent, the Bandit and the Stupid.

I’ve always been of the opinion that since very first human beings have made their presence known on this planet, they have always shown a very high opinion of themselves. Religion has given its contribution, of course, stating that we were the elected who had been made with the semblance of our creator and the only one endowed with that super power called reason which allows us, sons of the Enlightenment, to make the future we imagine come true. We believe ourselves to be as a sort of demigods. However, if it were so, is this the kind of future we had imagined? There must be a fault in this divine scheme, or more than one as my dear friend Jonathan Swift had cleverly pointed out in his Gulliver Travels, otherwise, our present wouldn’t be so full of contradictions and oddities. I cannot clearly make out where we are going or if the demigods we have elected have in mind to take us to a place different from the one called “disaster”. I am convinced there must be circuit breaker somewhere.

So while I was thus immersed in what the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi called “cosmic pessimism”, my attention was drawn by an essay written by Professor Carlo Cipolla : “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” and magically everything became clear. Professor Cipolla aimed at discussing the following facts:

1. the stupid damage the whole society;
2. the stupid in power do more harm than others;
3. the stupid democrats use the elections to keep the percentage of stupid people in power  high;
4. stupid people are more dangerous than bandits because reasonable people can understand the logic of bandits;
5. Reasonable people are vulnerable to stupid because:
* generally they are surprised by their attack;
* *they fail to organize a rational defense because the attack has no rational structure.

Having thus said the Professor formulates the following five laws:
1:Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation. I know, it sounds ungenerous, but it is a matter of fact that too often those who once we judged rational and intelligent turn out to be unashamedly stupid and think about it, how often have we been harassed in one of your activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments? It is impossible to fix their percentage, however, any number would be too small.
2:The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person. Education, race, status or gender( sorry, Mr Run😙) have nothing to do with it. In fact, you will see that the fraction of stupidity is exactly the same among blue-collar workers, white-collar employees, students, administrators, professors, men or women.
3: A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
4: Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
5 :A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

The corollary of the Law is that: A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit, a statement which leads to the core of Professor Cipolla’s theory. Individuals can actually be divided into four types four basic categories: the helpless, the intelligent, the bandit and the stupid.
The Helpless are those who with his action tends to cause harm to themselves, but also create advantage to someone else.
The Intelligent tend with their action to create an advantage for themselves, but also create an advantage for someone else.
The Bandit , of course, create advantage for themselves, but at the same time damage someone else.
The Stupid are those who cause harm to another person or group of people without at the same time realizing any advantage for themselves or even suffering a loss.

Professor Cipolla also states that intelligent people are generally conscious of being so, the bandits are also aware of their attitude and even the unfortunate people have a strong suspicion that not everything is going right. But stupid people do not know they are stupid, and this is one more reason that makes them extremely dangerous.
If it is so, I start to suspect something and I cannot avoid asking myself a painful question: am I stupid? Even if tests had proven my I Q, I know  these tests would not mean anything.I am often told  I am intelligent, but even this proves nothing. These people may perhaps want to hide me the truth, or, they might be trying to take advantage of my stupidity with a harmless flattery or they could be as stupid as me.
Then another question comes, am I aware of how stupid I am (or was)?  And I can proudly say, yes, I am.😑
And this proves that I’m not completely stupid.😏

A Beast in Disguise

gt1

“What a piece of work is a man”: the noblest of all God’s creatures, the very essence of grace and beauty, “infinite in faculties”, in action how like an angel“,” in apprehension how like a god” (Hamlet Act 2, scene 2) or…. is he only just an animal endowed with a little reason which he can’t even use properly? Swift wouldn’t have had the smallest doubt in choosing the second option.In the second book of Gulliver’s Travels, there is an episode that well explains his point of view.

gt5Swift’s hero is in front of the King of Brobdingnad (the giants) with the design of acquainting him about all the wonders of English civilization. The king seems to pay great attention to Gulliver’s boast upon the political, cultural, scientifical achievements of his country, but in the end he comments his speech using the following mordant words:“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth“.  It’s clear that Jonathan Swift didn’t share the optimism of an age that believed that modern man could reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith and advance knowledge through scientific method. Quite the contrary. To that “greatness” of the Enlightenment creed, he opposed his idea of the moral “smallness” of man.

gt3Throughout the novel Swift seems to be busy in analysing, dissecting, mortifying man with the only aim of demonstrating his viciousness, ineptitude and ignorance, making him thus meritorious of contempt rather than admiration. His characters are more body than mind and despite their use of reason, they cannot conceal their bestial traits. To convince us of that, he removes that veil of respectability and dignity that seems to characterize modern cultures and, without hiding a certain satisfaction, focuses his attention on those actions (defecating, urinating) or those parts of the body which, for good reasons of propriety, are usually considered taboo. Without that veil man is only a beast, a beast in disguise: a Yahoo.

gt4In Gulliver’s last adventure on the land of the wise horses, he meets the Yahoos, but he stubbornly doesn’t seem to recognize any human traits in them (but we do), even if he meticulously analyzes every single part of their body with scientific zeal, anus included. Gulliver/ Swift shows all his revulsion, lingering on long descriptions which have the aim of exaggerating and distorting, thus making the reader feel the same repugnance. At first he feels “discomposed” at the sight of the Yahoos’ “singular” and “deformed” features, but detail after detail there is a crescendo of unrestrained aversion that makes them become “beast“, “ugly monsters“, “cursed brood“. The act of defecating on Gulliver’s head is the ultimate proof of the degradation of the Yahoos/men, who don’t seem to feel the shame of their actions. But when after a while Gulliver bumps into the wise horses, they see only a Yahoo with clothes on: a beast in disguise.