225/1030 : Levinas, the “Other” and conversation

Oh, hi there. I think this is the longest gap in my writing that I’ve had since starting this project back in the fall. Part of this gap was due to an externally enforced one in the form of the semester break, but that’s not really an excuse. Still, I wasn’t idle! I spent three of those weeks preparing a concise presentation of my project, whittling my ideas down from 15 pages of goals and theories (already whittled down from six months of thinking and writing) to 4 pages.

My contribution today is about Levinas’ Totality and Infinity (1961), specifically “The Same and Other” and more specifically “A. Metaphysics and Transcendence.”

Great titles. As if I’m not already swimming in the clouds around my ivory tower. But it’s an interesting chapter and after all, as I bragged Friday in my colloquium, I can connect anything to my project. That is, everything connects, so of course Levinas connects to my project.

Actually though, something Judith Butler recently wrote using Levinas really does connect, and I’ll save that for a future post.

In the meantime, Levinas. Hmmm. Where do I begin?

Maybe I’ll start with the different terms he uses that I had to look up myself. He provides definitions, but I haven’t been convinced:

metaphysics- “to die for the invisible” (35). Obviously this definition is related to the idea of metaphysics meaning “beyond the physical.” Everything physical can be seen, so something metaphysical will be invisible. The fact that we need to die for that which is invisible connects to the idea that we cannot be in relation to metaphysics, so I guess this definition does make sense, even if it needs to be broken down, first.

ontology- according to the google dictionary, ontology is both “the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being” and “a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them.” The first definition is simpler. It has to do with “being” and the sense of existence beyond the physical bodies that hold the thoughts, emotions, senses difficult to explain in physical terms (even if neurologists and cognitive scientists are working pretty hard to figure this stuff out). While I’m sure the first definition is the one Levinas focuses on, he does seem to include the second one in his considerations, especially in considering the “breach of totality” (35). For example, the ontology of identity as Levinas describes it (and I ascribe to as well) is that “the I is not a being that always remains the same, but it is a being whose existing consists in identifying itself, in recovering its identity throughout all that happens to it” (36).  “I” establishes a point of relation to the rest of existence, even to the other. Yet, while Levinas seems to discuss the other in relation to “I,” he does not consider the other beyond the human, or the physical, and this is what confused me throughout the reading. Ontology here has to do with the being of living, breathing humans and little else, as far as I can tell.

desire- the sensation of lacking something and that something being out of reach. We are only satisfying that desire when we reach the thing which satisfies what is lacked. I understand the striving for satisfaction as a kind of trieb or telos. 

metaphysical desire- “desire beyond everything that can simply complete it” and “toward the absolutely other” (34). It is a “desire without satisfaction which, precisely, understands [extend] the remoteness, the alterity, and the exteriority of the other” (34). The way I understood this was as a desire for something like God, which, along with Levinas’ evocation of transcendence brought the Romantics to mind. However, according to the discussion in my colloquium, God is not really part of this question and instead we are striving towards a sort of abstract structure with this metaphysical desire. On the other hand, if that structure is some kind of love, as was also proposed in the colloquium, then Levinas really is just an evolution of the Romantics. Or am I blinded by Levinas’ use of the word “transcendence?” Apparently, he did redefine it.

transcendence- “back” in my MA years, I learned what transcendence could mean for the Romantics through Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde, where love could take the physical and spiritual beings and help them reach a level of being wo/man could not experience before. This level of being would be in tune with nature and through that, the ultimate being. Based on that understanding, Levinas does not seem so different. For the Romantics, language and working through its structuralism was one way of reaching transcendence as well… still not so different from Levinas. However, I guess what makes him special is that he claims that this transcendence does not lead to a unity or universality, which the Romantics did believe in. Instead, “the metaphysician and the other cannot be totalized” (35). That is, the same cannot “establish its identity by simple opposition to the other” (38).  

Transcendence designates a relation with a reality infinitely distant from my own reality, yet without this distance, destroying this relation and without this relation destroying this distance, as would happen with relations within the same; this relation does not become an implantation in the other and a confusion with him, does not affect the very identity of the same, its ipseity, does not silence the apology, does not become apostay and ecstasy. (41-2).

Granted, I had to look up ipseity (selfhood; individual identity, individuality.) and apostay (the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle) myself. What I get from this definition is that transcendence allows for a totality of being that acknowledges the alterity of  the other without denying itself.

Um, so I guess this is where my interpretation of how this is an argument either for or against (couldn’t decide) cultural relativism comes in.

the other- in being distracted for so long by the definition of other as including non-humans, it took a while for me to return to the other as it also is used in the postcolonial sense, the other human who we cannot accept as ourselves.

The metaphysical other is “other with an alterity that is not formal, is not the simple reverse of identity, and is not formed out of resistance to the same, but is prior to every initiative, to all imperialism of the same” (38-9).

So far, I could deal with Levinas’ ideas and they mostly make sense, especially in working through them term by term like this. Still, I got/get confused when he brings in ethics.

ethics- according to my friends on Wikipedia, ethics (especially from a philosophical sense) “involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.” It does have something to do with morality, and I get that, but it also has to do with systematic concepts, and culture/society is what systematizes these. Yet, throughout my reading of Levinas, I thought culture/society was supposed to stay out of it (I haven’t been able to work through that reading yet. Maybe I am wrong)? I think what mostly confuses me is that ethics is set by Levinas in opposition to freedom, and that this freedom “comes from an obedience to Being” (45). But then, when I remember that ethics has to also do with that which separates man from animal, in the classical sense, then the idea of ethics being that which can take us beyond the physical is that which Levinas would support.

freedom- “Freedom does not resemble the capricious spontaneity of free will; its ultimate meaning lies in this permanence in the same, which is reason” (43).  It is “to maintain oneself against the other, despite every relation with the other to ensure the autarchy of an I” (46).  This brings me back to transcendence, and therefore transcendence is this kind of freedom.

All  of this writing so far, was just to help me work through Levinas. Now that I have, there are some potential ways to bring Levinas into my discussion. First of all, there is some mention of media/medium, but it’s a bit removed from the contemporary discussion. However, he also raises the the significance of conversation as precisely gaining the kind of freedom he advocates, and this is how I do think I can incorporate Levinas into my project.

Conversation, from the very fact that it maintains the distance between me and the Other, the radical separation asserted in transcendence which prevents the reconstitution of totality, cannot renounce the egoism of its existence; but the very fact of being in conversation consists in recognizing in the Other a right over this egoism. (40)

The autonomy of two utterances in the same conversation, the same one thing, reminds me of Dostoevsky and therefore of Bahktin and dialogism. If you’ve been following my project and arguments, you’ll know Bakhtin’s theories of dialogism, polyphony, and heteroglossia play a large role in them. So, I could extend Levinas to help explain what is meant by his heteroglossia and the way in which an individual, subjective utterance can emerge. I could also use Levinas to support the idea of the how “thought consists in speaking” (40).

So, um, again, yeah. These are my takeaways from Levinas’ chapter on the Metaphysical and Transcendence.

I’ll return soon with a look at what Butler makes of this. Thankfully, she helps bring him more productively into the 21st Century.

Work Cited:

“ethics.” Wikipedia. Web. 28 April 2017.

Levinas, Emmanuel trans. Alphonso Lingis. Totality and Infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne                UP, 1969. Print.

“ontonolgy,” “ipseity,” and “apostay.” Google Search. Google. Web. 1 May 2017.

27-29/1030: Abstract or Concrete? an incomplete reflection on “The Dead” and the dead

Last week was the first week where I hit a major road-block in writing regularly, but part of my not writing is also because I’ve been giving myself a bit of slack, since classes and the semester officially start today.

While I could write about the first seminar introduction I visited today, I need to finish the post I started on Saturday. A lot ran through my head that day that I need to address in a few small moments, but first I start with a small discussion of James Joyce’s The Dubliners and its last story: “The Dead.”

My first introduction to James Joyce was in a writing tutorial, in the praise of a story which the director of the writing program, my one-on-one teacher, could not praise enough. She said I had to read at least this story if I didn’t read the whole book. I’ll admit that I only fairly skimmed the text that evening, always meaning to devote more time but never found any. But now, I felt as though I needed to read it.

It’s a layered story, and I honestly was waiting the whole time I read for a death. Also, for a while, I thought this would be a Christmas ghost story, like “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” or the Russian modernists. But I could also appreciate the third person focused narration of Gabriel and his sensitive observations of the evening- finely literate and politically involved. He gave quite a speech for the hostesses, but he is worried about it beforehand, and embarrassed about it afterwards. Of course he’s fictional- maybe a mirror of Joyce himself, as he imagines himself. I looked for “The Lass of Aughrim,” and decided I preferred some other Irish songs better. But this reading was not about the songs or the happy parts- or, perhaps not just the happy parts. And I can write about the music in “The Dead” at another time.

The reason I was drawn towards this text this weekend, was because of my own experience with the dead. I was asked to help clean out the apartment of a dead man whose next-of-kin had rejected the inheritance. The experience was unique and sad for me- being the first experience of its kind and for someone whom I didn’t know. I cannot imagine what it must be like when I have to do it for someone I know and love, but my time will come soon enough. I guess Joyce caught that impression well enough in words by the end of the story.

 The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades.  (Gutenberg online edition of The Dubliners)

One by one, we are all becoming shades. But we know this, despite our daily endeavors to continue as if we would live forever. It’s the other truth Joyce captured that answered why I wanted to read this:

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

What bothered me about cleaning out this man’s home, was that his death was removed from love. I saw the reminders of his relationship with his children, with his girlfriend, and I pieced together these relationships. He had hot chocolate mix for kids, an Advent set with Christmas decorations, books from his French girlfriend signed “de moi, a toi.” Why weren’t these people who loved him doing this work? And why could I separate the objects from the man one moment, and then in the next despise my packing up a useful supply or item for my personal use? I was missing the feeling of loss that should accompany this kind of sorting- the loss is intertwined with love.

He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love.

To love someone more because one knows s/he will die one day I have experienced before, but what Joyce describes, the falling into nothingness by fading and withering versus going boldly “in the glory of some passion” is what I’m worried this man did, and that I was witness to this. I fear this fate for myself and yet I know that the vast majority of us will die of old age, faded and withered, than with some great passion.

All these feelings flowed through my head without words and I yearned for some way to express them. I looked for “The Dead.” Now, Joyce has given me words, but it made me wonder- does writing make our ideas more abstract, or more concrete? I wanted the script to read to verbalize my pain and fears, and in a way, they brought them closer to reality. However, at the same time, I’ve made them more abstract. By bringing these feelings into a system of signs, I’ve removed the primal feelings from their primacy. I suppose this is one distinction Walter Ong refers to, when he talks about verbal versus written language. Perhaps that is why music is so important to the story, because they connect the primal and the abstract- and Joyce would be very much aware of this. Maybe I should have avoided the words, but at the same time, they help me. I feel like I’ve worked through my feelings- that I’ve been productive in them by going through the logic of putting them into words.

Still, I can’t deny the magic of Joyce and his writing. There is no question that he proves the power of literature, and I feel grateful to have had the time to read the story properly this time in light of what I was going through.

The question of abstract versus concrete is something I want to return to, but in the meantime, I am content with these last words:

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

I can feel the snow as it falls.

Work Cited: Joyce, James. “The Dead.” The Dubliners. Project Gutenberg: Ebook, (2001). Online.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.

90 Years of Gatsby

It’s funny, but I think The Great Gatsby is one of the first real pieces of classical adult US literature that I’ve ever read. At least, it’s the one that left the greatest impression on me.
My classmates and I were asked to read it in the 9th grade, and I remember how confused I was by Gatsby’s antiheroism, Daisy’s adultery, Nick’s naivete and the hedonism the characters celebrated.
Ten years later, two movie versions complicating my memory of the books and visions of the characters, and 90 years after the first publication of Fitzgerald’s novel in 1925, I can’t say I have much more of value to say. I will say that the fragmentary nature of the novel and the symbolism of the lighthouse and the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckelberg make more sense to me, but I still feel left out from the world of the 1920s Fitzgerald painted a picture of. I guess this justifies a return to the novel. I encourage you to do the same.

“The Christmas Truce”- Robert Graves

One of the many courses I am attending this semester is an English literature course called Representation of War in British Film and Lit. Never mind the fact that we’re reading Heart of Darkness (as an example of colonial warfare?) and watching Apocalypse Now (definitely not British), but we started the course with The Battle of the Somme (1916) Siegfried Sassoon’s and Wilfred Owen’s writings. We followed up with representations of World War I in short fiction and read Katherine Mansfield’s “An Indiscreet Journey,” D.H. Lawrence’s “Tickets, Please” and Robert Graves “The Christmas Truce.”

If you haven’t seen this movie, you should. It’s an excellent movie that portrays the events of the 1914 Christmas Truce, but gives the viewer so much more.

Of the three short stories, the war front was only really described in Graves’ work, and it wasn’t done even in a straightforward manner. Mansfield’s story was labeled as “At the Front” by the Penguin collection of WWI short stories, and while the story mentally and emotionally carries one to the front, it was actually set in a French village away from the “real” fighting. I appreciated all three stories, especially Lawrence’s about a budding feminist movement, but I mostly wanted to dedicate a few thoughts to Graves’ story. As to be expected by literature (open to subjective presentation and interpretation) all three stories presented more than uncritical observations of war. The style of Graves’ text especially provided some food for thought.

I already indicated that Graves story doesn’t work in a straightforward way (does literature ever?). Instead, it relies on a frame to open the reader to the events of the 1914 Christmas Truce during World War I. The frame, consisting of a young man being told “yarns that improved with the telling” in response to his doubts about human relations and the imminent “world war III, helps form the interpretation of the (arguably unreliable) narration. Stanley (the young man) believes in an idea of “mankind” and so his grandfather and his pal, both WWI veterans, each tell a story that complicates the idea, both reinforcing and challenging it.

I could go into a further analysis of the story itself, but right now I mostly want to comment on the story-telling itself. See, something that dawned on me during class discussion is that these stories the grandfather and Dodger told were shared in a sort of celebratory way. That they “improved with the telling” indicates to me that there was some revelry that went on in how the war was recounted and how the deeds were described.

Coming from the United States, one of the Allied Powers during both world wars, I am used to this idea of story-telling as a positive tradition. I think the same is true of England, However, I was attending this class in Germany and Germany obviously has a very different relationship with the wars. I asked my classmates whether their grandparents shared stories of the war with them, and their answers were “no.” Post-war captivity and hardship were talked about, but German WWI or WWII veterans generally have little audience for their stories (unless it’s a right-wing bar). There’s more than one explanation for this, but I don’t want to get into that here.

Basically, however, I was interested by the challenge of interpretation presented by this story based on a cultural difference in the writer, expected audience, and actual audience. At the same time, Graves question of “mankind,” I feel has a much different answer than both WWI, WWII and the time he wrote it in 1962.

Die Ratten- Gerhart Hauptmann

Oh geez. I am really bad at updating this blog. But I guess it’s because it’s the most challenging one since I try to post more than just observations, I have to try and put some analysis in these posts…

Sigh.

At any rate, I’m trying to take advantage of the UniFreiKarte while I can, so I went out on a weeknight and saw Gerhart Hauptmann’s Die Ratten. Again, this was in the Deutsches Schauspielhaus and again, this was a brilliant performance.

The obligatory picture of a rat taken off deathandtaz]xes.com

It was very different than Wassa Schelesnowa or any other play I’ve ever seen. It was just as much entertainment as it was a commentary on theater theory. I struggled to keep up with the events showing on stage while trying to understand what Hauptmann (and the director, Karin Henkel) was telling me about early twentieth century life, the naturalist literary movement, and the role of theater in our lives.

This literary commentary was perhaps given special significance because of the hasty stepping in of one of the roles. Due to an injury one of the actors (who played a double-role) experienced during rehearsals the morning of the performance, two roles were left unplayed, with little time to find a replacement. Yet, the Schauspielhaus managed to find a volunteer actor who had played one of the roles before, but had little experience with the other one. But the show went on, even though the actor played on book, that is, he had the script in his hand. The audience was asked by Frau Henkel to excuse this, and of course I think all of us were relieved to have the show go on. In fact, the young actor who stepped in was from the Thalia theater in Hamburg, and many theater-goers seemed to recognize him and cheered him on.

I initially thought it would annoy me that there was an actor on book, but when the play was in progress and I realized that there was play-within-a-play going on, and even scenes during which the character had the script on hand, I learned to go with it. The acting overall was superb, and they all worked really well together.

I could write a lot about this play, but I’m going to restrict myself to one observation and analysis: the use of Macbeth versus Schiller’s The Bride of Messina. In the third act of the 5 act tragedy (the play followed the traditional Aristotelian model in many ways, while breaking the rules in many others [working class protagonists and breaking of walls, for starters]), the director of the theater (in the play) is training a few pupils on how to act, and they are rehearsing The Bride of Messina. However, in the Henkel inzinierung, the actors in the first act refer to Macbeth and the reference is continued through Acts 3, 4 and 5. I was especially surprised by the use of English throughout the play and wonder why an English Elizabethan play was preferred over a German Weimar Classic one. My limited conclusion has to do with the subtle commentary on gender and power within gender. Much of the play has to do with the fatal “flaw” of the protagonist, her desire for a child. This desire is the Trieb that drives her actions, but her actions don’t really make sense in a traditionally Christian moral world and that may have to do with the fact that this moral world doesn’t really exist. I think Macbeth works in a similar way and perhaps that’s why it was chosen. It may also be more recognized by contemporary audiences. I personally only recently learned about Schiller’s Braut von Messina and it’s two quarreling brothers, and maybe the stuff happening in the play (an attempt to combine antique and modern drama) was not the angle Henkel wanted her audience to focus on.

At any rate, again the stage design was impressive. But really, really impressive was the acting. It included actors fluent in the spitting Berliner dialect that took a while to get used to and a lead actress willing to slap herself (hard) in the face over an over. It was shocking in authenticity and violence. I  am getting spoiled by being able to attend these plays for free! I don’t know how I’m going to feed my drama hunger (which has grown since I’m taking a course on Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and actually understand some of the literary work being done) once my FreiKarte expires…

The Hauptbahnhof by night. Maybe one of the reasons I like the Deutsche Schauspielhaus so much is because it's so easy to get to! Right across the street from Hamburg's main station.

The Hauptbahnhof by night. Maybe one of the reasons I like the Deutsche Schauspielhaus so much is because it’s so easy to get to! Right across the street from Hamburg’s main station.

“New English Literatures”

There’s a new trend in German academia to refer to English post-colonial literature as “New English Literatures” or “New Literatures in English.” This means that the course I recently signed up for at the Universitaet Hamburg is not necessarily about English lit. Neuerscheinungen, or newcomers, but rather about a more specific branch of Neuerscheinungen, and while many of the works published today are “post-colonial,” the term can be applied to much older works.

That last clause is debatable, and I’m going to have to spend some time defining the term first.

The quickest etymology of the word “post-colonial” is to take the prefix and recognize that it means “after.” Therefore, “post-colonial” means “after colonialism.” This means that “post-colonial literature” refers to literature that was written after colonialism, right? So, after colonization was…

Sure, this is an adequate conclusion if you want to simplify matters and say that colonialism is over and that it ended with the relinquishment of the British colonies just at the end of World War II. But what about the U.S. and Puerto Rico? What about the Soviet Union? Furthermore, as John McLeod points out in his book Beginning Postcolonialism, even when the colonizers release any economic or political power in the the country, many formerly colonized nations and their former colonizers continue to operate within colonial relationships that still exist. “Colonial ways of knowing still circulate and have agency in the present; unfortunately they have not magically disappeared…” (McLeod 32). Even when the colonizer is no longer physically present, structures still perpetuate.

One of my favorite structures to talk about is language (I’m a philologist and literature student), and I see the topic of language in “post-colonial” literature as important to think about when thinking about this kind of literature. Often, post-colonial literature is written in the language of the former colonizer. Much post-colonial literature is written in English. Initially, it seems that talking about oppression, for example, in the language of the former oppressor seems to perpetuate the extent of that oppression. However, one can also look at the use of the language as a medium to give the former colonizers access to the way the formerly colonized felt and feel. If these texts were written in Bengali, a Nigerian language, or Jamaican, they would reach a much smaller audience. Furthermore, language changes and the way it’s used by many of these authors is different. Often, the language is appropriated by the writers (one of the key strategies of post-colonial writing, along with assimilation and abrogation).  So while the structures, like language, still perpetuate, there are other factors at work.

Because of these observations, I think we can agree that “post-colonial” is a bit inadequate to describe the works we’re reading in this class, especially since many works in many different languages are post-colonial, but we’re only looking at English ones.

There I go again, though, talking about works that are post-colonial without saying what makes a work post-colonial…

Let’s start with who is entitled to being post-colonial. Is it the former colonized? Or can it include the former-colonizer? what about the fact that there’s tensions in national and individual political and cultural identity? what about the fact that post-colonialism addresses present day transformation from the past, and yet is still formed by the past? these works explore oppression, but also describe/enact counter-movements to this oppression.

McLeod summarizes that postcolonialism involves one of more of the following (on page 33):

  • Reading texts produced by writers from countries with a history of colonialism, primarily those texts concerned with the workings and legacy of colonialism in either the past of the present.
  • Reading texts produced by those that have migrated from countries with a history of colonialism, or those descended from migrant families, which deal in the main with diaspora experience and its consequences.
  • In light of the theories of colonial discourse, re-reading texts produced during colonialism; both those that directly address the experiences of Empire, and those that seem not to.

I spent my first official sitting in my “New English Literatures” class discussing with the professor and the others about the term and what it can apply to. A lot of discussing. What can be called “post-colonial” is perhaps even more complicated leaving class than entering it, but I came up with a working definition for the term that I will be revising throughout the course of my MA thesis writing. My MA thesis has to do with literature written by/about migrants/migration, and therefore I need to have a good definition to declare early on in my thesis:

Right now, I see post-colonial literature as literature written by “former” colonized or colonizers, who explore the boundaries left (or opened) by colonization and question the “established” “truths” of nation, language, identity, heritage and perspective.

Of course, my definition is still includes colonization, which is why I don’t see my literary focus as post-colonial literature, but rather cultural studies… stay tuned for a post on what that is all about.

An Image of Africa- Chinua Achebe

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.