If you happened to look at the Currently Reading, Listening, & Watching page recently you may have noticed that I have been trying to read three separate pieces together. With a little more time on my hands, I decided to tackle some diversity in literature all at once. Reading from different genres and different levels can be a simple, yet important step in keeping things balanced. I often don’t get the time to properly devote effort and reflection to reading. So, with time available I thought I could handle a few things at once. However, I was proven to be over zealous. Ostensibly, I became consumed by one of them as I pursued understanding, rather than just entertainment, and I had to let the other two languish. Conrad, again, this time with Nostromo, required all my reading attention up until a few days ago.

The last time I posted about literature I was extolling the virtues of finely written works intended for school age children. It now seems sensible to comment on a piece at the far opposite end of the scale. I am captured by DiCamillo’s works for children because of the metaphors, the beautiful language, and they make me smile while reflecting. My recent reading of Conrad’s writing does the same, only differently. His beautiful language also hurts my brain, the metaphors are layered so thickly I feel like I have to physically move them, and the smiles – occurring at greater intervals – are sinister in their reflections at times. In all honestly I could laugh at myself that I find both DiCamillo and Conrad, who write for completely different audiences, with completely different themes, and at completely different points in history, so similar in their captivation of my thoughts. After completing one of their stories I am excited about the next one. Admittedly with Conrad, this excitement is also fueled by the break I will be taking from reading his writing. I am hoping that my appreciation for both these authors and their genres is revealing a balanced approach to one of the healthiest hobbies a human can pursue: reading.

If you have not had the pleasure (or the torture) of reading Nostromo and have managed to live through some shorter pieces of Conrad’s than I would highly recommend you give it a try. The first quarter of the book is a struggle in finding the direction and theme of it all. One is aware that it is there, and is trying to convince oneself that Conrad knows what he is doing, not just rambling. Once the novel hits its stride, the early struggle is made more than worth it. After all, Conrad is asking, practically berating, the reader to be skeptical. Skepticism and unease are obvious, and hidden, all at the same time, throughout the South American country he has created. If the reader were not skeptical at points than a serious misunderstanding would be taking place.

The reader should also keep in mind, optimism is not necessarily the foundation for Conrad’s captivating writing. I have always enjoyed the tragedies, and Conrad does not disappoint in this vein. While DiCamillo portrays, love and hope as the keys to balancing life, Conrad makes quite plain that fear and greed are the great balancers of individuals and the collective. Conrad certainly recognizes the existence, and the struggle for love and hope. But his varied and thematic metaphors tie this to struggle to the fuels of greed and fear. Nearly everything appears to be a metaphor, or a reverse metaphor for that matter, in Conrad’s writing. Bearing in mind, this could be my over exertion to understand writing I do not engage with nearly enough. (Or chalk it up to lack of intelligence – your call).

Conrad has woven a masterpiece in creativity, in tragedy, and reveals that individual lives are the plainest and deepest metaphors for humanities struggles. The Capataz, Nostromo, is a man of the people – he is the people. Conrad’s imaginary Sulaco is filled with people, including Nostromo, that are only too true in their design.

Any other pieces of literature that hurt your brain, but that you would highly recommend?


4 thoughts on “Nostromo

  1. I suppose that I should comment here, being kind of my job and all with matters literary…

    What I love about Conrad is the fact that his characters never will never come right out and show their entire selves: In Heart of Darkness, Marlow begins the story of one of his “inconclusive experiences” with, “I don’t want to bother you much with what happened to me personally…” and then goes on to relate an entire tale told very much from his perspective. I think Conrad “pokes you” more or less, showing you the narrative, but keeping you at a good natured distance so that you can ponder and ruminate on the process and the product rather than just turning pages.

    I’m fascinated with Umberto Eco’s “The Library of Babel” — it doesn’t necessary hurt, but sends my brain off in many directions at once, and reading Walter Benjamin’s “Unpacking My Library” made me nod my head in agreement with one’s personal relationship with books. To be really theoretical: Discourse, Consciousness, and Time was a great book that I kind of understood when I was reading it, but it requires some serious lateral thinking about communication.

    So, since it’s nearing the end of summer and I’ve put away the books that have the author’s name in a larger font than the title and usually in metallic gold (trashy novels anyone?) can I recommend something that will hurt your brain? In what category? What genre? What period?
    Care for something in the American West? Go for Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
    How about some poetry? Try Wordsworth’s “The Prelude”
    Just plain old messed up? Norman Mailer’s Why are we in Vietnam?

    Lastly, Margaret Atwood. Here’s the thing, she’s a good writer. No, a very very good writer. Do I truly enjoy anything that I’ve read of her writing — not in the least. But at least she’s an author that one cannot feel ambivalent about. Here again, the idea of process and product is at least a reason to give Atwood another try. She’s doesn’t “write easy”. Imagine trying to get first year undergraduates to grapple with Atwood when the most controversial book they might have read in high school is To Kill a Mockingbird.

    If you do intend to battle with Atwood again keep something else on the go – something straight forward and rewarding – I can think of lots of those too, but this comment is getting lengthy and there are more books for me to read!

  2. Nostromo was a bit much for me…Got about 3-4 chapters in. I love Conrad generally. Heart of Darkness obviously, but also another book hauntingly relevant to our times — The Secret Agent. The last is probably one of the best modern novels. Period.

  3. Thanks for everyone’s comments and reviews here – some good thoughts. I won’t be picking up an Atwood anytime soon 🙂 there’s just too much other stuff I’ve got to get around to, including some poetry.

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