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Radical Indeterminism and Paradoxes in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

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Title: Radical Indeterminism and Paradoxes in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Author(s): Wang, Chen
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern Languages
Discipline: English Philology
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2018
Paradox has always been a central topic in the study of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899). In scholarship on Heart of Darkness attention has, for example, been paid to the paradox between the imperialism in Heart of Darkness and Conrad’s deconstruction of imperialism. Some have discussed the impact of Conrad’s life on its paradoxical narrative, while others have pointed to Conrad’s own attitude to the paradoxical discourse of his novella. In 2009, Ludwig Schnauder interpreted Conrad’s paradoxes in Heart of Darkness in terms of the problem of free will and determinism, and laid out three possible philosophical approaches to Conrad’s fiction, namely hard determinism, near-determinism, and radical indeterminism. My own thesis develops Schnauder’s thoughts on Conrad’s radical indeterminism, which is a philosophy which denies free will and order, and considers human powerlessness, randomness and loss of morality to dominate in the world. This thesis is composed of three parts: the introduction, the main argument and the conclusion. Chapter one provides a review of the literature, definitions of radical indeterminism and presents the research methodology. Chapter two discusses how different aspects of radical indeterminism are represented by both Marlow and Kurtz. Chapter Three discusses the paradoxes of imperialism and morality in Conrad’s novella and then interprets the paradoxes in terms of their connection with radical indeterminism. Chapter four concludes the discussions in chapters two and three. My thesis argues that radical indeterminism is central to an understanding of Marlow’s analysis of imperialism and morality. The paradoxes which are raised in his narrative can be seen as the human attempt to establish cause and effect (or morality) countered by a sense of chaos and disorder that seems to be everywhere. Ultimately, Conrad explores the notion of paradox by revealing that the gap between our cognitive world view and the evidence of our senses is fundamental to the notion of radical indeterminism — there is no connection between cause and effect and humans are subject to chaotic forces.
Keyword(s): Joseph Conrad Marlow Heart of Darkness Paradox Radical Indeterminism Imperialism Morality

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