Today, I ask you to read this: Achebe: An Image of Africa
You know how they- the teachers placed in the classroom to help you learn something- don’t tell you until high school that Shakespeare may not be Shakespeare at all? Not someone born at Stratford-upon-Avon? And that you’ve been fan-girling over someone who may be someone else, or multiple people at once?
Well, why didn’t they teach me something useful (after all, if you believe in Barthes, the author doesn’t matter), like that the author of Heart of Darkness “depersonalizes a portion of the human race?” I’ve been idolizing Conrad as an exophonic writer for years by writing and rewriting essays trying to understand his black/white imagery, explorations of morality and the “duality of man.” But in reality, I was completely overlooking Conrad’s blatant racism. Does this mean that I have “bought” into the Western psychological need to “set up Africa as a foil to Europe? (for you: the argument for Achebe’s essay). Why has Joseph Conrad remained so esteemed in Anglophone literature and other authors, like Rudyard Kipling have not? Both produce articulate “acceptable” descriptions of the “other” that denies them their humanity. Though, actually, I think Kipling in Kim gives his Indian characters more humanity than Conrad gives to the Congolese… But I think the point is that literature, while pleasing, can teach us the wrong things sometimes.
I think ultimately, I am shocked that I had to wait until I was 23 to read this essay, and that I only stumbled on it by accident. No one ever told me to read it, and I wish someone had.
Perhaps you will too, after reading “An Image of Africa.”
Not that I am innocent of bigotry, so I’m sure there’s a few things I still have to learn. Just look at how I talk about Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko to see that I am still very bad at articulating how I feel in response to racism, and I am very wary about talking about it. I don’t know if we should, but at the same time, I gained something by being exposed to this essay, even if I’ve lost how I feel about Conrad now.