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Joseph Conrad: Faithful to a Moral Code
Thread poster: Jacek Krankowski
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
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Mar 23, 2003

On what is probably going to be a joyous \"Chicago\" night, I happened to watch a completely different old movie: \"The Shadow Line\" based on a novel by Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), an autobiographic story filmed in 1976 by Andrzej Wajda. Both Conrad and Wajda explored in their works complex moral issues which were as topical at the beginning of the 20th century as towards its end.



What is perhaps interesting about Joseph Conrad for this community is that this Polish-born British writer did not begin to learn English until he was twenty-one when he signed on to an English ship to become a British subject eight years later. (He was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in the Polish Ukraine.)



Boleslaw Sulik who wrote the screenplay for \"The Shadow Line\" described Polish concern with history as \"obsessive.\" The fact that Poland was deprived of its status of a two-nation commonwealth after WWII created what Sulik described as an \"upset country,\" living in its history more than in the present (Frank Bren, World Cinema, 1: Poland). Yet, \"The Shadow Line\" focuses entirely on the individual. As one of the Polish actors (Daniel Olbrychski) will say later: \"No real English captain would have considered the problem: silence at sea – I am responsible until the end of my life, before the God, before myself (in a very metaphysical sense) for saving the ship.\"



\"A muffled, almost private film, not spectacular and devoid of any of the philosophical or political considerations which usually characterize Wajda’s works, and yet, the work of a master which can be compared to His Royal Highness by Thomas Mann and the position which that novel occupies in the writer’s work overall. In The Shadow Line Wajda overturns popular ideas that a film about a sea voyage should tell about adventures, sensational events or even catastrophes; he also debunks popular concepts about the genesis and solidification of human virtues; being a man does not mean that one must give spectacular proof of courage or undergo dangerous experiences; it means that one can cope with unexpected situations, has patience, is able to listen to himself and feel empathy for others. It is a film about infinite peace.\" (Ingeborg Pietzsch, Film und Fernsehen, 5 May, 1978, in: Wajda Films, Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warsaw 1996)



Three years later, in 1979, Francis Ford Coppola made his \"Apocalypse Now,\" inspired by another Conrad\'s story: Heart of Darkness. Coppola\'s setting was in Vietnam, so for ideological reasons \"Apocalypse Now\" was not shown in Poland until 1981--just in time for the martial law to be imposed to clamp down on the Solidarity movement.



In reality, Conrad\'s Heart of Darkness was one of the first literary texts to provide a critical view of European imperial activities. \"By the 1890s, most of the world\'s \"dark places\" had been placed at least nominally under European control, and the major European powers were stretched thin, trying to administer and protect massive, far-flung empires. Cracks were beginning to appear in the system: riots, wars, and the wholesale abandonment of commercial enterprises all threatened the white men living in the distant corners of empires. Things were clearly falling apart. Heart of Darkness suggests that this is the natural result when men are allowed to operate outside a social system of checks and balances: power, especially power over other human beings, inevitably corrupts. At the same time, this begs the question of whether it is possible to call an individual insane or wrong when he is part of a system that is so thoroughly corrupted and corrupting. Heart of Darkness, thus, at its most abstract level, is a narrative about the difficulty of understanding the world beyond the self, about the ability of one man to judge another.\" http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/heart/context.html



Also Werner Herzog’s \"Aguirre, the Wrath of God\" has been compared to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This time a fanatical officer wants to establish \"new civilization\" in the Andean jungle. \"The film, shot in splendidly evocative color ... is a brilliant study of idealism turned to barbarism through zealotry, and the Nazi past clearly stands behind it. But so too does the European conquest of Africa in the late nineteenth century, the American experience in Vietnam, and all other historical tragedies in which high-minded aspirations have ended in a welter of murder, madness, and despair.\" (David A. Cook, A History of Narrative Film)



So much for the world of books and films on this Oscars night. The question remains: How do you become such an inspiring and widely read writer in a FOREIGN language?



[ This Message was edited by: jacek on 2003-03-24 06:32]


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bergazy  Identity Verified
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There is another one Mar 24, 2003

After Nietzsche and Guillame Apollinaire, Conrad is the greatest figure of Polish intelectual outside Poland.



Copolla/Millius adaptation of Conrad\'s masterpiece is a masterpiece too but I have to mention another one fantastic motion picture: Nicolas Roeg\'s Heart of Darkness



Heart Of Darkness (1994)

In turn-of-the-century Africa, sea captain Marlow (Tim Roth) pursues Kurtz (John Malkovich), the deranged head of a trading station who is worshipped as a god by the natives. The two face off in an explosive battle of wits in the dangerous jungles of the Congo; Nicolas Roeg directs this powerful adaptation of Joseph Conrad\'s classic novella, which also served as the inspiration for \"Apocalypse Now.\" 105 min.

Category: Action & Adventure Director: Nicolas Roeg

Cast: Isaach De Bankole, James Fox, John Malkovich, Imani Parks, Tim Roth, Patrick Ryecart, Alan Scarfe, Jan Triska, Peter Vaughan



Regards



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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
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Malkovich as Kurtz Mar 24, 2003

That must have been fantastic! Too bad I missed it and thank you for this information.



About Nietzsche, that only shows you how small the aristocratic Europe used to be. But Poles never claim credit for the fact that the German philosopher wrote in Ecce Homo: \"I am a pure-blooded Polish nobleman, in whom there is no drop of bad blood, least of all German,\" or (http://www.geocities.com/danielmacryan/nietzsche1.html): \"Germany is a great nation only because its people have so much Polish blood in their veins.... I am proud of my Polish descent. I remember that in former times a Polish noble, by his simple veto, could overturn the resolution of a popular assembly. There were giants in Poland in the time of my forefathers.\" Well, today, the idea of an individual veto in Parliament seems to be no longer appreciated.

[ This Message was edited by: jacek on 2003-03-24 15:23]


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darkeol
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great writers in foreign languages Mar 25, 2003

I\'d like to get the opportunity offered by this thread to mention a writer less worldwide known than Conrad, but in my opinion no less great and who also wrote in a language which wasn\'t his mothertongue : Italo Svevo, born Ettore Schmidt.

Perhaps not everybody knows that Italo Svevo\'s mothertongue was not Italian, but the dialect of his city, Trieste (which is pretty unlike Italian, having absorbed strong influences from Slavonic languages and German) and that he was educated in German schools. However he kept writing in Italian in all his long literary career (almost 40 years), trying to improve his knowledge of it by reading and asking for advice to Italian friends. While being appreciated by European literary circles, he was ignored by most of the contemporary Italian critics, who found his Italian \"unrefined and coarse\".

Nowadays Italo Svevo is considered one of the greatest Italian writers of XX century and the one who brought Italian literature to European range.



Speaking of writers who wrote in foreign languages, we can also remember Polish-born writer Isaac Singer who wrote his first works in his own mothertoungue, Yiddish, but ended writing in English after emigrating in US in 1935


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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
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Famous bilingual authors Mar 26, 2003

While to read Conrad in Polish we need to resort to translations, Vladimir Nabokov, who grew up speaking French, English, and Russian, is one of a handful of authors who have written successfully in two (or even three) languages.



\"One may also recall that Nabokov preferred writing in English in the last decades of his life. And it is hardly the writer\'s innate love of this language that is the reason.



As a matter of fact, Lolita, which brought the author world fame, was written not so much to achieve a wide readership among English-speaking people as to conquer the vast arena of mass culture. Here, Nabokov the snob succeeded. Having started writing in English, Nabokov trespassed beyond the narrow circle of the connoisseurs of Russian literature and became a cosmopolite in the best sense of the word, a writer outside geographical and linguistic borders.\"

http://english.russ.ru/culture/20011126.html


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bergazy  Identity Verified
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Few others Mar 26, 2003

Samuel Beckett, Emil Cioran and ultimately, Milan Kundera (in French ).

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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
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Thank you Bergazy for these examples Mar 27, 2003

Speaking and/or writing in more than one language seems to only deepen your insight. For Italo Svevo\'s Zeno (1923, you can feel the presence of Freud in the air), true progress is impossible (think of Cioran, Beckett); life is thesis and antithesis, resolutions and backsliding. Perpetually on the rebound, he enters the family business after vacillating between law and chemistry degrees, and then marries the unattractive Augusta to prove that he no longer pines for her beautiful sister, Ada. Svevo\'s elliptical sentences convincingly reflect Zeno\'s psychological contradictions. \"I was truly fond of Ada at that moment,\" Zeno thinks, \"and it is a very strange thing to feel fondness for a woman one once ardently desired, did not possess, and who now matters not at all.\"

http://www.powells.com/review/2002_01_22.html


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