The astounding gaps in knowledge in our educators are proof that falsehoods invade the historical record like a global pandemic that has been spreading via community transmission for hundreds of years without pause. The order of the day may well be a fictional novel embodying the zeitgeist that was the horror of imperialism in the heart of the Congo in Central Africa so look no further than Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899). I was planning on posting a review on Dark Emu (2014) by Bruce Pascoe (still to come), but I have just read a confessional social media post of a ‘British History teacher’ on a group page for Library Professionals, admitting that she did not know who King Leopold was until just a few days ago. I was shocked, and then I wasn’t. In 1988 in VCE (Year 12) Art History I was taught that the European painters who accompanied the colonialists on tall ships and painted the Australian landscape were not that great (even though they hang in our national galleries) as they overlaid what they saw with their European sensibilities of what a landscape should look like. (Oh how very liberal of our teachers to critique the colonist collaborators). Of course they were capable of painting what they saw! To admit that though is to admit that indigenous people cleared areas of vegetation, and that the landscape vistas that these white artists were privileged beyond words to witness were, wait for it, clearly managed and maintained and done so for reasons beyond their comprehension. (Thank you Bruce Pascoe). Not just an omission in education, but at some point in the past, lies! All lies!
Conrad’s writing is other worldly, intense and short, a mere eighty pages, a novella. Every turn of phrase is worth savouring so if you find it hard work consider doing what I did and retreat to the audio book. Once released from that work, (and the anxiety of several hundred pages of scholarly text that made up the volume and weight in my hands) I was able to properly comprehend Conrad’s phantasmagoric story and appreciate his depiction of the madness of Mr Kurtz, and his journey to get to him (metaphorically and physically), through the eyes of his protagonist, Charles Marlow. Many of you may be more familiar with the film adaption Apocalypse Now (1979) directed by Francis Ford Coppola, (which also garnered critical acclaim) in which the mise en scene is reimagined in Cambodia, and Marlon Brando’s utterance of ‘horror, oh the horror’. The content is horrendous albeit fascinating, and the writing incomparable. If you’re particularly self motivated to self educate this may be the book for you – if not google King Leopold.