Writing the Self: Europe as Autobiography for Joseph Conrad
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no-image, Writing the Self: Europe as Autobiography for Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad's A Personal Record serves as a document of identity construction at a time when the modern-day idea of 'Europe' and 'The West' were being shaped. Culture.pl presents an academic paper by Asako Nakai which explores the parallels between writing about a self at a time when the idea of writing as a European was undergoing a transformation.
Europe as Autobiography: A Personal Record
Asako Nakai, Hitotsubashi University, Japan
What the title of this paper suggests – that 'Europe' could be a metaphor of autobiography – may meet with an immediate rebuttal. The revaluation of autobiography since the 1980s owes a lot to the rediscovery of 'women's autobiography' and 'ethnic autobiography'.1 Slave narratives and working-class autobiographies in the eighteenth and nineteenth century have also begun to offer us alternative autobiographical traditions. Needless to say, 'being autobiographical' has always been considered a characteristic of postcolonial literature (think about Jamaica Kincaid and Maryse Condé, not to mention Jean Rhys and V.S. Naipaul). This is also why postcolonial fictions, unfortunately, tend to be valued as ethnographic information rather than works of art.
And yet, for all those 'minority autobiographies' flourishing in the Euro-American literary market, 'Europe as autobiography', or alternatively, 'the West as autobiography', is a trope that appears persistently in autobiography criticism since the latter half of the last century. This paper starts by re-examining critical and theoretical discourse on autobiography, and tries to show how the idea of autobiography has been constituted vis-à-vis the ideas of 'Europe' or 'the West'. It is in this context that I propose to reread Joseph Conrad's A Personal Record both as an emergent autobiographical theory that pioneered late twentieth-century theories, and as a case of autobiography in which our own ideas of Europe and the West were being constructed.
'Europe' and 'the West' are concepts just as ambiguous as 'autobiography'. Although these two terms are sometimes used synonymously, it is obvious that they are not exactly the same. They are similar in the sense that they do not only refer to certain geographical areas but also refer to certain cultures and ethnicities. To a great extent, 'Europe' and 'the West' are both ideological constructs. In The Invention of the West Christopher GoGwilt makes a brilliant argument on the conflict, alliance and interaction between 'Europe' and 'the West'.
He contends that today's idea of the West (i.e., the West as Western Europe and North America) was 'invented' at the turn of the century through political contexts of the time: firstly, the East/West division on the imperialist world map that had already powerfully been established, and secondly, the division between Eastern and Western Europe that was becoming increasingly significant. A Personal Record was written precisely when the politico-geographical idea of Europe was transformed into today's ideology of the West. In this sense, Conrad's autobiographical writing – an attempt to reconstruct his 'European' and 'Western' self – can be considered to dwell in the same historical sphere as our own discourse on autobiography and Europe.
Theories of autobiography
According to James Olney, the earliest theory on autobiography was formulated by Georges Gusdorf in the 50s (Autobiography 1980). Gusdorf regards autobiography not as a simple record of events but as a product of the awareness of the singularity of one's own life, to which the author tries to give meaning. Most importantly, autobiography does not exist anywhere and anytime, but is limited to a certain time and space. He argues that autobiography is 'a solidly established literary genre, its history traceable in a series of masterpieces from the Confessions of St. Augustine to Gide's Si le grain ne meurt, with Rousseau's Confessions, Goethe's Dichtung und Wahrheit, Chateaubriand's Mémoires d'outre tombe, and Newman's Apologia in between' (Gusdorf 28).
Underlying this clearly-defined canon is Gusdorf's conviction that autobiography is 'not to be found outside of our cultural area', 'a concern peculiar to Western man', or 'a concern that has been of good use in his systematic conquest of the universe'; when non-Europeans write autobiographies, they will have been 'annexed by a sort of intellectual colonising to a mentality that was not their own' (29). His repeated use of colonialist metaphors suggests that autobiography is driven by the desire to integrate and control the other into the system of the self – a desire that is also a violent reaction against the recognition of the other within that universe of the self.
Olney's Metaphors of Self is often considered a pioneering autobiography criticism written in English. Olney shares certain views in common with Gusdorf, still assuming that autobiography is an artistic representation of life as a unified, meaningful entity. However, he does not regard autobiography as a definite genre but as a set of 'metaphors' of the self.
Also, he defines autobiography as a happy union between scientific and poetic discourse on the self: 'one discovers biologists in harmony with poets, and natural scientists with theologians; the scientific West even meets the spiritual East on this point' (Metaphors 21). This image of 'spiritual East' is clearly linked with his idea of poetic discourse and thence, 'metaphors', which mediate each individual's unique experience and bring to mutual understanding.
Olney develops the vital part of his argument through his reading of Jung's autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Through Jung, autobiography is redefined as the cooperative work between the conscious mind and the unconscious; thus Jung's own autobiography is 'the conjunctive metaphor between felt experience and projected theory' (92-93) where the subject-object distinction is blurred out. Since 'there is no way to alter the complete identity of subject and object', Jung's autobiography insists, simply, 'I am I' (93). Olney's next concern is how this totalised and unique experience of 'I' can be communicated to others.
Metaphors and myths are considered to be inherited from 'our ancestors' and thence become the basis for communication. Encouraged by Jung's interest in mandala and other non-Judeo-Christian symbols, Olney argues that this community of 'we', based on the common heritage of metaphors may not exclusively be that of the 'Europeans'. Using the Orientalist metaphor again, autobiography can be explained as the locus where the 'Western' science decodes the mystery of 'Eastern' symbols.2
And yet, Olney's fusionist view, expressed characteristically in his 'West meets East' metaphor, remains separate from the poststructuralist idea that emphasises the split, rather than the unity, of the self. Poststructuralism questions the idea of autobiography as a self-sufficient institution of self-reference; autobiography cannot be a perfect representation of the totalised self – the discrepancy between the subject 'I' and the object 'I' is simply unbridgeable.
Roland Barthes's autobiography, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes is often considered an exemplary poststructuralist autobiography, and it is indeed an implementation of this splitting of the self. The well-known epigraph, 'it must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel' puts in question the conventional identification between the narrator, the protagonist, and the author – the identification which Philippe Lejeune, another pioneering theorist of autobiography, has formulated as the necessary condition for a text to be autobiography.
Barthes also defies the usual expectation of autobiography being chronological by arranging fragmentary texts alphabetically; the seemingly arbitrary sequence of events is reminiscent of the fragmented and multiplied image of the self. This poststructuralist image of the self is deployed by postcolonial theory in order to challenge the idea of the unified subject by emphasising ambivalence, mimicry, and hybridity in the formation of the colonial and postcolonial subject.
Conrad and autobiography
Through these observations on criticisms and theories I have rediscovered Conrad's autobiography as a case that presents its own radical theory on autobiography. It marks the age when the currently-circulating idea of the West was being constructed, and it reveals how cultural territory, such as Europe and the West, becomes a recurrent and convincing metaphor of the autobiographical self.
Conrad's autobiography in the conventional sense of the term is A Personal Record, the text initially serialised from December 1908 to June 1909 for the English Review under the title of Some Reminiscences. Before this Conrad had already written autobiographical essays published in various periodicals, which came out in book form as The Mirror of the Sea (1906). Compared with The Mirror of the Sea, A Personal Record was clearly planned to be a literary enterprise.3
Conrad wrote in a letter to Fisher Unwin that it is 'not of a gossipy character' but 'will have its importance both in the life and the work of an author who... has his place in English literature' (CL4 441). Also, A Personal Record is a manifest autobiography which both conforms to and challenges the pre-established norms of autobiography. Nearly half a century before Gusdorf, it declares Rousseau as the symbolic figure of the tradition of autobiography, who is at the same time the archenemy that should be defeated.
Autobiography has not been a neglected field in Conradian scholarship, although the majority of scholars and critics have been using Conrad's autobiography mainly as a (rather unreliable) source for biographical information and do not consider it for its own merit. One of the few, and probably the most important, exceptions is Edward Said's monograph, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. Said's major achievements in the book include the fact that he considers prefaces, personal letters, and autobiographical fictions, alongside manifestly autobiographical writings, as important material for his study.
In doing so, he deviates from the structuralist theory of autobiography (i.e., autobiography as a definite genre) and violates the methodology of new criticism in which autobiographical writings are used as auxiliary measures in order to construe the complex meaning of a specific work (which is, primarily, considered an autonomous entity). This also reveals how the problematic of the textual 'outside' motivated Said's reading of Conrad at the very beginning of his academic career.
Yet, despite Said, this paper proposes to read A Personal Record strategically as a text that aims to be a 'work of art' with a well-organised plot – with beginning, middle, and ending each of which is connected with the others by the sense of causality. Or rather, this is the way how the text wishes to be read – autobiography as Gusdorf, Olney, and Lejeune define it is a genre of literature in which inconclusive human life should be reorganised into a story with the definite beginning and the concrete ending. However, the ultimate purpose of this paper is to show how the attempt to read autobiography as an artistic whole must inevitably fail; as Said has suggested, the textual boundary of an autobiography is by definition obscure, 'life' being always inconclusive, 'events' never perfectly linked with each other as causes and effects.
A Personal Record has often been considered a difficult and puzzling text; its seemingly inconsequential loquacity and chronological confusion defies our usual expectation that an autobiography should record one's life just as it happens. In 'A Familiar Preface' Conrad himself writes that critics charged him 'with discursiveness, with disregard of chronological order (which is in itself a crime) with unconventionality of form (which is an impropriety)' (PR xx).
The preface itself gives a prosaic explanation of the reason for such unusual narrative practices, but Chapter V, which in the English Review appears as the first chapter of the second volume, gives another version of explanation. He virtually nominates Rousseau as his archenemy, who brought 'the extreme thoroughness' to 'the work of justifying his own existence' (95). Concerning himself, Conrad declares: 'I was by no means anxious to justify my existence' and it is 'sufficient for me to say ... J'ai vécu' (94). With the text's typically mock-serious tone, he openly dismisses the idea of an essentially author-like existence as the origin of his literary career: 'the coming into existence of the first book is quite an inexplicable event' and 'I cannot even point to boredom as a rational stimulus for taking up a pen'; 'The pen at any rate was there, and there is nothing wonderful in that' (90).
Later in the same chapter he recounts the story of 'the general's daughter' who intrudes into his study and interrupts his writing of Nostromo by her awkward comments on his work: 'She had robbed me of at least twenty lives, each infinitely more poignant and real than her own' (102). This insertion of a seemingly irrelevant episode (along with Conrad's highly misogynist comments) is just as intrusive as the general's daughter herself; however, he uses this episode in order to explain his methodology: 'this horrible but... perfectly true reminiscence tells you more than a whole volume of confessions à la Jean Jacques Rousseau would do' (99-100).
Conrad's criticism of Rousseau may to some extent remind us of Paul de Man's reading of the episode of 'a stolen ribbon' in the first volume of Confessions. De Man argues that Rousseau's confessions are urged not so much by his sincere and spontaneous feeling (i.e., the inner need to confess) as by the need 'to excuse' and justifying himself (s'excuser). Whereas the ribbon stands for the only cognitive evidence of the crime, Rousseau multiplies confessions verbally and performatively; in the end he confesses the origin of the crime, namely, his desire for Marion, which indeed functions as an excuse for his crime.
Moreover, Rousseau's confession is ultimately a device that facilitates the exposure of his crime – confessions for confessions' sake – and what Rousseau really wants is 'neither the ribbon nor Marion, but the public scene of exposure which he actually gets' (de Man 1979: 285). Reading via de Man, we may consider that Conrad's manifest anti-confession, which is also a recurrent motif in Under Western Eyes (the novel he was working on simultaneously with the autobiography) is a deconstructive gesture through which he attempts to demystify the 'origin' of the self.4 If the pursuit of the uncontaminated 'original' self constitutes the central theme of Rousseau's Confessions, Conrad's autobiography is not unaware that the origin is performatively created through the act of confession.5
Instead of recounting events of his life chronologically, Conrad's autobiography has its own logic with which the seemingly incoherent episodes are ordered. It starts with talking about one episode, and the episode includes a topic, or even just a word, which reminds him of another event of life (often chronologically backwardly), which in its turn becomes a hint of a third event.
Also, as is often pointed out, the first four chapters (that consists of the 'first volume' in the Review version) are loosely connected with one theme, namely, the composition of Conrad's debut novel, Almayer's Folly. It looks as if Conrad tries to find out from where his first literary work has begun, and for that purpose traces back all the places he and the manuscript of the novel have been to; as the opening sentence of Chapter I declares, 'Books may be written in all sorts of places' (PR 3).
Most importantly, this unusual narrative sequence of A Personal Record is an integral part of Conrad's strategy of anti-confession. Through its retrospective gesture, Conrad's autobiography deliberately inverts the chronological order of the cause and its effect, claiming that the effect indeed precedes the cause, the fact being suppressed in the linear narrative of Rousseau's chronologically-arranged confessions.
In other words, Conrad is not searching for the Romantic origin of the self, but rather, for what in Said's terminology may be called 'beginnings' of his writerly ego: 'the designation of a beginning generally involves also the designation of a consequent intention' and thence, the beginning is 'the first step in the intentional production of meaning' (Beginnings 5).
Through the authorial intention, however, beginnings are discovered, or rather 'created', infinitely in number; the beginning of his first novel (or his literary career) could be the day when he commences his last voyage as a sailor, or when he receives the first criticism on the novel, or when he declares his will to go to 'the blank space' on the world map, or when he writes the first word of it, or when he reads a work of English literature for the first time – or perhaps it is the day when, in Borneo, he meets someone called Almayer, who has a mysterious desire to have a pony shipped there. Thus the 'first volume' of the autobiography can be read as an allegory of authorship and the authorial intention that produces multiple beginnings, each of which defies the notion of the singular, pre-existent – in Said's word, 'passive' – origin (Beginnings 6).
What looks like a crucial anecdote takes place, according to Conrad's report, in 1868: as a nine-year-old, he puts his finger on 'the blank space then representing the unsolved mystery' (PR 13) of the African continent. This famous episode appears to be a particularly privileged scene, and could be termed the 'primal scene' according to Freudian theory, partly because similar scenes recur in Conrad's other texts as if he were obsessively coming back to the scene.
In Heart of Darkness, the blank space has already ceased to exist: 'It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery – a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness' (HD 52). In other words, the blank space has already become 'dark' and a part of the all-devouring Europe (or the West). And yet, when the scene is replayed about a decade later in the autobiography, only the 'blankness' of the space is emphasised: 'there being the region of Stanley Falls which in '68 was the blankest of blank spaces on the earth's figured surface' (PR 13). The primal scene might be discovered there, or rather, it should be intentionally pointed to; however, the author's finger points to a blank, or the very absence of the named origin.
Autobiography and cultural territories
It should also be noted that in A Personal Record, as in Heart of Darkness, different cultural or national territories are locatable in a kind of chronological order; the spatial difference is often represented as the temporal difference. Poland and England are the two, most important cultural-national territories that appear in A Personal Record, although the boundaries of these territories are equally blurred and ambiguous (Poland is overlapped by the Ukraine and Russia, and England is often synonymous with Britain and the British Empire). Poland represents the past, whereas England indicates the future; between the two lies the vast and seemingly all-inclusive territory of Europe, where both Poland and England are on the margins.
Concerning Poland, Conrad himself tries to dig up not only his personal memories but also memories of the other people and generations – 'Every generation has its memories' (PR 56) as he puts it – as if to reconstruct a trans-historical narrative of the nation through these collective memories. Certainly Poland is a privileged place to which Conrad attaches a great significance; the letter K of the signature J.C.K., affixed to 'A Familiar Preface' to the 1911 version of A Personal Record, can be considered evidence of his suppressed identification with the nation and his patriotic father, Apollo Korzeniowski (GoGwilt 111).
Nevertheless, the Polish episodes in A Personal Record, especially the stories of the legendary patriot 'Nicholas B', Conrad's grand-uncle, reveal the difficulties to define what Poland really is. Nicholas, lieutenant for the French (or 'European') Army during the Napoleonic Wars, suffering from an extreme hunger, has eaten a dog in the Lithuanian forest – notably, it was this last bit of the story, rather than his heroism, that have had the strongest impact on Conrad as an imaginative child. The 'Polish myth' as Avron Fleishman has put it, or the myth of Conrad's homeland which is 'Poland, or more precisely Ukraine' (PR 19), is most effectively disclosed by the last episode about Nicholas B (Fleishman 4-5). On the occasion of the insurrection of 1863, the indifferent or hostile Ukrainians loot his house in his absence. These episodes add further complication and difficulty to Conrad's negotiation with Poland, which turns out to be an ambiguous, heterogeneous, and decentred concept.
Conrad's Poland is also intertwined with the idea of Europe, although the reference to Europe and things European in the main text of A Personal Record is less burdened with the emotional attachment and patriotic sentiment which is so manifest in the 'Author's Note' written in 1919 for the collected edition. In the main text, the adjective 'European' appears, for example, in the description of the uninspiring appearance of a hotel in the Valley of the Reuss which Conrad visited with his tutor in 1873: the hotel 'resembled the house which surmounts the unseaworthy-looking hulls of the toy Noah's Arks, the universal possession of European childhood' (PR 38; emphasis added); Europe's celebrated cultural heritage is here diminished into the toy of Noah's Arks.
In the 'Author's Note', however, Europe clearly embodies positive values. Conrad emphasises there the strong cultural tie between Poland and (Western) Europe: 'Nothing is more foreign than what in the literary world is called Sclavonism, to the Polish temperament' whereas 'the whole Polish mentality, Western in complexion, had received its training from Italy and France and, historically, had always remained, even in religious matters, in sympathy with the most liberal currents of European thought' (PR vi-vii).
This unconditional affirmation of Poland's Western-ness and European-ness (the two terms are used almost synonymously here) is also a gesture by which Conrad tries to exclude 'Sclavonism', or Russia, from the territory of Europe. He famously declares in 'An Autocracy and War' that Russia is 'a yawning chasm open between East and West' (NNL 100). Again in this 'Author's Note', Russia is nominated as the other that should be excluded from Europe. Still, it is impossible to categorise Russia as 'East' and, indeed, the 'yawning chasm' returns inside Europe through the very gesture of exclusion. Also in Under Western Eyes, Conrad struggles to draw a clear boundary between West and non-West, even though the novel inadvertently reveals that Russia is an outside within the West itself.
England as ending
Whereas A Personal Record has multiple beginnings, it may seem to have a definite ending at least. Chapter VII, the last instalment of Reminiscences supplied for the Review's June 1909 issue, closes with the memories of the first English ship he touched, of the first English speech addressed to him, and the most impressive sight of the Red Ensign: 'The Red Ensign – the symbolic, protecting warm bit of bunting flung wide upon the seas, and destined for so many years to be the only roof over my head' (PR 138). The Ensign appears as a dramatic and decisive closure upon the otherwise inconclusive story of one's life.
However, the autobiography was not planned to end as it is. The serialisation for the English Review was interrupted due to Conrad's illness, and afterwards he stopped contributing to the Review because of his disagreements with Ford (see JCC 349). He was thinking of extending the autobiography for a future publication (CL4 308); as a matter of fact, he did not write any more of it apart from two prefaces. In a letter to Ford (dated 31 July 1909), Conrad tries to justify the ending, insisting that it fits his overall design of the text (then called Some Reminiscences): 'It expresses perfectly my purpose of treating the literary life and the sea-life on parallel lines with a running reference to my early years'; moreover, 'It begins practically with the first words of appreciation of my writing I ever heard and ends with the first words ever addressed to me personally in the English tongue' (CL4 263).
Thus Conrad suggests that for him becoming a writer amounts to becoming a writer of the English language; the autobiography of a writer which constitutes the 'first volume' of the Reminiscences, is deliberately linked to that of an 'English' sailor, the 'second volume'. The forced and forceful ending allows us to read the entire text as the celebration of England and its language.
The English language, as well as England, is a recurrent and obviously important topic in Conrad's autobiography. Special (if slightly ironical) emphasis is put on his first contact with the language, spoken by the two British engineers he meets in Switzerland during the 1873 tour: 'I could listen my fill to the sounds of the English language as far as it is used at a breakfast-table by men who do not believe in wasting many words on the mere amenities of life' although one of the engineers speaks 'with a strong Scotch accent' (PR 39).
Zdzisław Najder argues that although outwardly he maintained that the idea of writing an autobiography came from Ford, Conrad had a strong motivation to write an account of his life. Najder suggests that Conrad wanted to counter-attack Robert Lynd's review published in the Daily News in August 1908. Lynd criticised his 'choice' to write in English instead of Polish, insisting that a writer 'who ceases to see the world coloured by his own language – for language gives colour to thoughts and things in a way that few people understand – is apt to lose the concentration and intensity of vision without which the greatest literature cannot be made' (JCC 341). Indeed, Chapter VI, the second chapter of the Review version's 'second volume', opens with an allusion to Robert Lynd as 'that robust man' who 'leaves not a shred of my substance untrodden' (PR 107).
Throughout the autobiography Conrad somehow attempts to prove that English is the language of his destiny. Ironically, in order to refute Lynd's linguistic nationalism, Conrad resorts to similar mythologising of the English language. At the end of the second examination for the British Merchant Service, recounted in the latter half of Chapter VI, he declares to the examiner: 'I had thought to myself that if I was to be a seaman then I would be a British seaman and no other' (119).
This is followed by a lengthy recollection of his initiation into the sea, where he declares: 'what I told the last of my examiners was perfectly true. Already the determined resolve, that 'if a seaman, then an English seaman', was formulated in my head though, of course, in the Polish language' – this is because 'I did not know six words of English' (122). In the 'Author's Note' Conrad goes as far as to insist: 'my faculty to write in English is as natural as any other aptitude with which I might have been born' (v), trying to discard the legendary story, spread by Hugh Clifford, that as for his literary medium he made a deliberate choice between French and English.6
The nationalist sentiment for England and its language may also be considered the last resort from the danger of total disintegration of his self into 'all sorts of places'. Books maybe written in all sorts of places, but from now on he must write his own books in England; England thus becomes the metaphor of his unified 'European' and 'Western' self. England as ending can be seen as the moment of a wish-fulfilment.
Most importantly, however, the entire text of A Personal Record defies all the expectations of this happy ending; the text tells us that England as ending is still a temporary arrangement and is not the definitive meaning of Conrad's life. Things English are not all as awe-inspiring as the Ensign; another emblematic figure of England, appearing in the middle of the text, is the 'unforgettable Englishman' he meets in Switzerland in 1873, who is 'clad in a knickerbocker suit' and 'wore short socks under his laced boots' (40). Despite his inadequate appearance this English man is thought to be 'the ambassador of my future' (41).
Also, there is a sequence of episodes, which concerns Conrad's first encounter with English literature, in which the 'future' England indeed meets the past Poland. Those episodes appear in Chapter IV. He tries to recollect what he was reading on the evening before he began to write Almayer's Folly, and thinks it might have been one of Anthony Trollope's novels. Trollope is 'one of the English novelists whose works I read for the first time in English' (PR 71).
Yet this is by far not his first contact with English literature since he had also read the works of 'men of European reputation' in translation before he could read them in English. He then claims that his first introduction to English literature was Nicholas Nickleby, which amazed him by the novel's near-perfect translatability into Polish, that 'how well Mrs. Nickleby could chatter disconnectedly in Polish and the sinister Ralph rage in that language'.
However, immediately after this remark he admits he is wrong, and reveals that the very first work of English literature he read was actually the manuscript of The Two Gentlemen of Verona translated by his father. According to the information given by Conrad himself, the incident happens during the family's exile in Russia, less than a year after his mother's death, when he is eight years old and is living 'on the outskirts of the Town of T - ' (PR 71). One afternoon he is caught by his father while sitting at his writing-table and reading the manuscript; however, his father does not reprimand him but tells him simply to read the page aloud. Through this incident he earns 'the right to some latitude in my relations with his writing-table' (72).
The episode, albeit evasively, reveals the irony that Conrad's introduction to English literature might possibly trace back to its Polish translation, and finally to his father Apollo, whose writing-table could signify another beginning of Conrad's own literary career. In this last episode, Conrad significantly rediscovers Polish literature symbolised by his father's writing-table through his acquaintance with English literature; the ending is now self-declaredly pointing to the beginning. We may consider that for Conrad, Europe, or the West, amounts to the vastly open, and yet infinitely closed space created by this temporal circularity between past and future, the space called 'all sorts of places' that may contain Russia, the African continent, and Asia, where it is still possible that books are written.
As we have been observing so far, Conrad's autobiographical writing utilises the trope of 'Europe as autobiography' or 'the West as autobiography' as late twentieth-century theories of autobiography do. However, 'Europe' in A Personal Record, unlike in Gusdorf's and Olney's theories, does not necessarily connote unity and autonomy. Rather, the autobiography explores ambivalence and self-contradiction within the trope itself – the ambivalence repressed but inherently present in Gusdorf's 'colonialist' metaphor, and only partially revealed in Olney's fusionist argument.
It is true that the (western) European identity may to some extent serve to unify his multiple self-images by defining and excluding what is not Europe (e.g., Russia). And yet, none of those metaphors of the self – 'Europe', 'West', 'Poland', or 'England' – can finally constitute a singular, linear narrative, or a narrative with a singular beginning and a definite ending. Instead they overlap, conflict, and intersect with each other; the most convincing image of Conrad is evoked only through such plural and inconclusive narratives, the image described by Said as follows: 'an overwhelmingly untidy existence as a French-speaking, self-exiled, extremely articulate Pole, who had been a sailor and was now, for reasons not quite clear to him, a writer of so-called adventure stories' (JCFA 4).
Conrad in Europe
józef teodor konrad korzeniowski
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- 1James Olney's 1988 anthology of autobiography criticism includes sections entitled 'Ethnic and Minority Autobiography' and 'Women's Autobiography' that introduce pioneering studies of these fields.
- 2Also importantly, intersubjective and intercultural communication became an issue in Olney's argument partly because his interest in autobiography began with his contact with modern African literatures. Shortly after Metaphors of Self he published a pioneering book on African literature, Tell Me Africa, which includes a chapter devoted to 'African autobiography'.
- 3The Mirror of the Sea is more casually written, its narrative aiming to be a collective autobiography, or a story of the 'we' community of the sailors who all unite with their worship for the goddess of the ship – in this sense The Mirror of the Sea is supplementary to the 'I' story of A Personal Record.
- 4 In a letter to J.B. Pinker (13 September 1911) Conrad commented that A Personal Record would supplement Under Western Eyes: 'I wished to explain ... how I came to write such a novel as Under Western Eyes ... so utterly unlike in subject and treatment from anything I had done before. That 'Personal Note' will make it intelligible to such people – my public – who care for and attach some importance to my work' (CL4 477).
- 5 Michel Foucault considers the concept of 'anti-confession' from a different angle. In the first volume of The History of Sexuality Foucault argues that rather than a spontaneous expression of the self, the act of confession originates in a social institution, the production of the truth based on the power relation between the confessor and the one who confesses. Foucault's argument may be more helpful for the analysis of the anti-confessional motifs in Under Western Eyes, where Razumov's repeated (and partially failed) confessions are more clearly linked with institutional practices.
- 6 Clifford wrote several reviews on Conrad. The essay Conrad refers to here is 'The Genius of Mr. Joseph Conrad', published in the North American Review (June 1904).