Friday, September 02, 2016

On a return to blogging, and Joseph Conrad

It's been a bad summer for blogging. I'd blame Jenkins, our new dog--named, naturally, after Nicholas Jenkins from A Dance to the Music of Time, an aspirational name that reflects our hopes that Jenkins the dog will carry at least some of Jenkins the character's generosity of spirit--but that's a cop-out. Yes, time with Jenkins has taken away from other activities. But many's the day I've sat on the porch with him and a book, and could as easily have had the laptop and been typing away to you all.

Rather, it's more that the ongoing decline in the frequency of my blogging has fed on itself so that in a crucial way I've lost the blogging sense: I find I'm no longer reading quite like the blogger I was--the connections I would have made (and that I see myself making when I come across old posts) aren't readily coming to me; the mental note-taking I habitually engaged in for nearly a decade has atrophied.

And I miss it. I miss thinking and reading that way. So this post marks an attempt at a new start. I'm going to start modestly: my goal for the rest of the year is to post once a week, even if some (or many) posts are brief. I won't promise to hold to it--I believe promises should be kept, and I know the vagaries of life could easily disrupt this plan--but I'll do my best to make it happen. Come the new year, we'll see where things are at. And with all this, certainly implicit but deserving to be made explicit, is an apology from me: if you've bothered to check in here with any regularity, only to be dismayed by the Havisham-esque cobwebs burying memories of glory, well, I'm sorry to have been so remiss.

As for the substance of today's post, I'll keep it simple. I've recently returned to Joseph Conrad after some years away, reading Chance, Youth, and The End of the Tether. It's been wonderful, reminding me of the clarity of expression and thought that drew me to Conrad in the first place. But what's perhaps struck me most was Conrad's own assessment of his work, offered in a preface to his memoir A Personal Record in 1912, and included in the mid-1990s Penguin Classic edition:
Those who read me know my conviction that the world, the temporal world, rests on a few very simple ideas; so simple that they must be as old as the hills. It rests notably, amongst others, on the idea of Fidelity. At a time when nothing which is not revolutionary in some way or other can expect to attract much attention, I have not been revolutionary in my writings. The revolutionary spirit is mighty convenient in this, that it frees one from all scruples as regards ideas. Its hard, absolute optimism is repulsive to my mind by the menace of fanaticism and intolerance it contains. No doubt one should smile at these things; but, imperfect Aesthete, I am no better Philosopher. All claim to special righteousness awakens in me that scorn and anger from which a philosophical mind should be free . . .
Fidelity. That really is what it's all about with Conrad. It's most obvious in Victory, which I remember nearly twenty-five years after reading it as all but a monument to the importance--and costs--of holding to one's ideals. But it's there in so many of the books, situation after situation where someone is ruined either by the impossibility of reconciling their ideals with the reality of a situation or someone is utterly, and ultimately, undone by a momentary, even reflexive, self-preserving deviation from those ideals. Writing at the end of an era and an empire that frequently honored those values more in the breach than in reality--and on the cusp of a war that would in many ways show them up to be breathtakingly destructive, where not hollow--Conrad kept his subject narrow but powerful, and firmly held before him.


  1. Anonymous11:17 PM

    Jenkins! A perfect name. What kind of dog?

    And yes please more blog entries.

  2. Welcome back.

    Fidelity is a significant issue in many of Conrad's works. _Lord Jim_ is just one example.