Thursday, July 03, 2008

"The grim shadow of self-knowledge"

{Photo by rocketlass.}

Apropos of the PJ Harvey song I wrote about a few days ago, here's Joseph Conrad's good friend Marlow on self-deception, from Lord Jim (1900)
I didn't know how much of it he believed himself. I didn't know what he was playing up to--if he was playing up to anything at all--and I suspect he did not know either; for it is my belief that no man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape from the grim shadow of self-knowledge.
As I've been reading Lord Jim this week, I've also been reading MacDonald Harris's Mortal Leap (1964), a book that, coincidentally, opens with a young man being swept away to a life sea by his reading of Conrad, and which shares some thematic elements with Lord Jim; this passage from the book's opening chapter can serve as a sort of fervid companion to Marlow's cool appraisal:
[U]nder the scars, behind the wrinkle in the forehead, there were other ghosts, deeper and more elusive. Here was the mark where I murdered and fornicated, betrayed my friends and was betrayed by them; here I slept in strange rooms, the whore's cubicle, the prison cell, the psychiatric ward. Is there anybody who would like to have written on his forehead a record of the places where he has slept? We are all innocent, in the end, and all guilty. We move blindly toward our sins, and the things we do and the things we suffer for don't have much to do with each other. In the end there's no justice: the universe is not an auditing firm. Would we like it better if it were? If we had to pay for everything, down to the last cruelty, the last fornication, the last harmless lie? Let's leave the dark places where they are.

1 comment:

  1. This post reminds me of my favorite aphorism, from Oscar Wilde:

    "Only the shallow know themselves."