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Showing posts from August 17, 2003
Bollettino John Gray wrote an essay on Conrad in New Statesman recently. Gray, who is a conservative who has realized that the logic of his position allies him with the forces of the left's anti-globalist wing, is a philosopher for whose writings on John Stuart Mill I have a lot of respect. However, as a literary critic, there are problems with old Gray. He is properly appreciative of Secret Agent -- with which view I wholeheartedly concur -- but his explanation for why Conrad's approach to power -- a form of therapeutic nihilism -- is suddenly looking more sophisticated than that of 20th century writers doesn't seem quite right. "Conrad is our contemporary because, almost alone among 19th-and 20th-century novelists, he writes of the realities in which we live." Almost alone? I don't think so. In fact, I don't think this could be so -- since the way we live now is built on the way we lived then, just like a coral reef is built on succeeding generation
Peter Avdeev, the peasant soldier in Tolstoy�s novella, Hadji Murad, is shot in a small clash with a bunch of Chechens. He is taken to an infirmary, a doctor probes his wound for the bullet and fails to extract it (although he does, insanely, plaster the wound), and Avdeev lies there with an astonished look on his face, so that he doesn�t recognize his comrades when they come to visit him. Then he does. Then the commander comes in, Avdeev asks for a candle, has trouble gripping it with his stiffening fingers, and dies. As the finishing touch on this little miniature of the casual cruelty of irregular war, Tolstoy writes that the death was announced like this: "23rd Nov. -- Two companies of the Kurin regiment advanced from the fort on a wood-felling expedition. At mid-day a considerable number of mountaineers suddenly attacked the wood- fellers. The sharpshooters began to retreat, but the 2nd Company charged with the bayonet and overthrew the mountaineers. In this affair two pr