Thursday, November 14, 2013
Heart of Darkness and Leadership
I've been rereading this masterpiece by one Joseph Conrad and as one is want to do while reading exceptional literature have reflected on it. Heart of Darkness is extremely influential in all forms of media, the dichotomous representation of the Congo vs the Thames, the deterioration as one nears the farthest reaches away from civilization, and the awe inspiring presence of an exceptional man in an exceptional place. Kurtz, or perhaps simply the descriptions provided by Marlowe discussing Kurtz, is one of the greatest characters in literature. Unlike say Iago from Shakespeare's Othello, Kurtz is much more well founded let's say, a man of rarity but not impossibility. Iago has total, even supernatural control of men's fates in Othello, but Kurtz is limited and even waylaid by misfortune despite his incredible capabilities.
It is impossible to say who Conrad was describing in this, a person he knew, himself, or some one he believed was pertinent to society? There are many great leaders throughout history and they all have that sort of insatiable charisma that Kurtz had, the ability to inspire even senseless devotion even in a situation where society is no longer extant in any modern sense. Hitler, Napoleon, Alexander (who also died of illness), each of these men and more are reflected in Kurtz.
While self deification is a questionable practice there can be no doubt that one finds Kurtz to be the loftiest of individuals. He doesn't have any grand possessions, he simply has the capacity to inspire people through his personality and his fearlessness; if one wishes to become an exceptional leader one need only follow the example of Kurtz. Perhaps you will not be so unfortunate as to catch debilitating sicknesses along the way.
A most interesting facet of Kurtz is that he does not possess anything save for power, and modern representations of "great" men in American society certainly have wealth but they do not have real, impressive power. Indeed, Wealth is something that people covet, they lust for, they yearn after. Power is something that people fear, they stray from, they quiver in the face of. Power is elusive in American society because everything is a nonsensical mesh of mysteriousness, who can say what organization wields actual power and what solitary figure controls those machinations. There is no such figure, there is no potential for such a figure, no need for a great leader at any point save when society begins to break down at which point one might arise for a brief period. Even in other countries this is a frequent occurrence. So what then do great men do when there is no viable use for their existence? Only to wait and hope I think, to wait and hope.
Aside: I found this article to be interesting, though the point is an obvious and unnecessary one the writer still conveys the necessary deference to Conrad prior to disparaging him.