Eldorado May 11, 2004

Matthew Yglesias finds himself lately thinking about the following bit of dialogue from Apocalypse Now:

Kurtz: "What did they tell you?"
Willard: "They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound."
Kurtz: "Are my methods unsound?"
Willard: "I don't see any method, at all, sir."

The passage that echoes for me is from the original, Conrad's Heart of Darkness:

This devoted band called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, and I believe they were sworn to secrecy. Their talk, however, was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world.

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3 responses to “Eldorado”

  1. Cool — I started rereading this book yesterday afternoon after seeing it mentioned in Brad DeLong’s comments section.

  2. From Dicken’s Martin “Chuzzlewit”, something that remnds me of Conrad.
    From chapters where young Martin and his ‘Sam Gamgee’ Mark Tapley go to the US to seek their fortune, and fall in with some real estate scammers, among them characters like General Elijah Pogrom:
    “..but he kept his opinion to himself for the present being anxious to hear, and inform himself by, the conversation of the great gentlemen, who now lounged about the stove as if a great weight had been taken off their minds by the withdrawal of the other sex; and who made plentiful use of the spittoons and their toothpicks.
    It was rather barren of interest, to say the truth; and the greater port of it may be summed up in one word-Dollars. All their cares, hope, joys, affections, virtues, and associations, seemed to be melted down into dollars. Whatever the chance contributions that fell into the slow cauldron of their talk, they made the gruel thick and slab with dollars. Men were weighed by their dollars, measures gauged by their dollars; life was auctioneered, put up, and knocked down for its dollars. the next respectable thing to dollars was any venture having their attainment for its end. the more of that worthless ballast Honor and fair-dealing, which any man cast overboard form the ship of his Good Name and Good Intent, the more ample storage-room he had for dollars. Make commerce one huge lie and mighty theft; deface the banner of the nation for a idle rag; pollute it star by star; and cut out stripe by stripe as for the arm of a degraded soldier. Do anything for dollars! What is a flag to Them?
    One who rides at all hazards of limb and life in the chase of a fox will prefer to ride recklessly at most times. So it was with these gentlemen. He was the greatest patriot in their eyes, who brawled the loudest, and cared the least for decency. He was their champion, in the brutal fury of his own pursuit could cast no stigma upon them for the hot knavery of theirs. Thus, Martin learned in the five minutes straggling talk about the stove, that to carry pistols in to legislative assemblies, and swords in sticks, and other such peaceful toys, to seize opponents by the throat as dogs or rats might do; to bluster, bully, and overbear by personal assailment, were glowing deeds.”
    Sounds like the local Republican party.
    Of course, Dickens had a chip on his shoulder re: the US and its failure to ratify copyright treaties, costing him hundreds of thousands; and where he had the poor taste to complain in public was roundly abused in print by the Americans.

  3. Conrad may be the first important American novelist of the 21st century. :-)
    If Heart of Darkness is a fictional account of Iraq, be sure to check out The Secret Agent–Conrad’s account of al-Queda terror cells and our attempts to dismantle them.