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Against the EventThe Everyday and Evolution of Modernist Narrative$
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Michael Sayeau

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199681259

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199681259.001.0001

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“His Occupation Would Be Gone”: Unemployment and Time in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

“His Occupation Would Be Gone”: Unemployment and Time in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Chapter:
(p.146) (p.147) 4 “His Occupation Would Be Gone”: Unemployment and Time in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Source:
Against the Event
Author(s):

Michael Sayeau

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199681259.003.0004

Conrad's Heart of Darkness forecasts unemployment and its effect upon the experience of time as a defining preoccupation of modernism. It was during the 1890s, in the wake of the first “Great Depression” and proto-Taylorist workplace technologies, that the concept of “unemployment” emerged. This context illuminates Heart of Darkness, from key themes and plot structures, to such elements as Marlow's joblessness at the opening of his tale, his obsession with “efficiency,” the threat of Kurtz as an avatar of the “gang of virtue,” the harrowing situation of African forced labor, and, more vastly, the aimlessness of empire. In all these sites, time is fissured into self-conscious idleness and mindless hyperactivity, the darkest, most intensified version of the everyday, just as Conrad's narrative alternates between a lyrical, irrational stream of consciousness and a hyper-impersonal reportage of actions and events. This chapter argues that Conrad stages stylistically the social and economic formations that come to define the twentieth century, producing a literature of unemployment, even an unemployed literature, that will serve as the essential forerunner of modernism's entanglements with the everyday.

Keywords:   joseph conrad, heart of darkness, unemployment, everyday, event, colonialism, congo, modernism, shipping

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