Conrad the Observer

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

Let’s examine our thesis that artists when inspired during the creative process and working in the present moment are intuitive. That is to say that they will have insights into the nature of reality (P-A). In the context of two of Joseph Conrad’s stories we will be looking for P-A principles revealed in his characters and their story. The two stories are his novel Heart of Darkness and a short story Secret Sharer.

Marlow, the protagonist in Heart of Darkness has an emotional reaction that we can all identify with experiencing the illusion of being “trapped” in P-B. “He felt himself held ‘within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion.’”  It is Conrad, of course, who through his characters is searching for the answers to the meaning of life. It is Conrad’s worldview and Conrad as “the observer” that will dominate his version of P-B and his glimpses of P-A.

Conrad, the observer, begins his story Heart of Darkness intuitively sensing that P-B is an insidious trap, that is to say, it is virtually impossible to escape without extraordinary insights available only by turning within. Coincidentally, the human story for all of us begins in the darkness including the intellect, the ego, the false self, the shadow, the collective and personal unconscious and proceeds toward the light—the heart. We must enter the “heart of darkness” to find our way out of the darkness. For the Buddha that meant admitting that “life is suffering.” It is the same for Joseph Conrad.

Another of Conrad’s themes is: “materialistic minds cannot grasp or be interested in, adventures of the spirit.” Here is our P-A principle that the spiritual journey is one of the heart not the head, intuition not the intellect. Heart of Darkness is about European colonialism specifically the ivory trade in Africa and our next principle, the illusion of the other. “Marlow denounces colonization as ‘robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness.’ He sees the conquest of the earth as taking from those who ‘have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses.’” The darkness of racism depends on the existence of the other which Conrad questions. He also senses that Nature herself is made the other and that the illusion of materialism, which is at the heart of the security center of the false self, leads to self-destructive environmental degradation.

Speaking of the existence of the false self, Conrad sensed the truth of the illusion of dualism in P-B. One of Conrad’s themes in The Secret Sharer was that “every person has a dark self. Knowing and accepting one’s total duality brings control and self-assurance.” If Conrad believed that “control and self-assurance” came with “knowing and accepting one’s total duality” then he had some distance to go on his spiritual journey.

We tend to see those traits in others that we ourselves possess or in other words other people are like mirrors, especially for that which we do not like about ourselves or our shadows. That illusion can cause us to react against the other person, projecting our shadow onto them and then blaming them which is the source for much of the conflict in the world. There can also be an attraction to our projected dark side which happened in both of Conrad’s stories that we are considering. “The implication is that we should have pity on our ‘dark souls,’ forgive ourselves, and accept the duality within ourselves.” If we do that we are aborting our paradigm shift and choosing to remain on the sinking Titanic. The duality within us does not exist and is a part of the illusion of P-B. We don’t want to react to the non-existent “dark soul” but rather accept and “forgive ourselves.” We do not react at all and simply respond in the present moment as the observer, and we embrace our own perfection.

The over-arching theme of both stories is Conrad’s belief that accepting one’s dark self enables one to reach the “depths and heights of knowledge and experience.” Such an experience is not the end of self-realization but at most just the beginning. Conrad was a good observer, which is an essential skill for a storyteller, but lacking a profound context for his observations he could only momentarily glimpse the wonder of P-A.


References and notes are available for this essay. 
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *