Category Archives: Ideas


Somewhat later – I have a scrap of paper here telling me to look at Torgovnick, p. 40, on carnival, and that the quotation is good. When I get to a location where the Torgovnick book is available (I am many miles from it now) I will look at that page and post it here or somewhere else relevant.

The scrap of paper also says: the question is what the rules of exchange are between the modern West, the postmodern West, and their versions of the primitive. What the rules of exchange are. We will all think about this.

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Posted by on June 23, 2008 in Ideas


Herzog, Torgovnick, The Couple in the Cage: comentarios de la clase

Aquí van algunas de las ideas de la clase. Ninguna es de una sola persona – he juntado en cada párrafo las ideas de varios. The next journal entry, on Conrad, is due Tuesday, February 26. You can write on any aspect of the novella you would like, or try out questions on HD from the Midterm Question Bank (that page is subject to constant refination and change until we actually do the midterm).

[1] Herzog estalla en una crisis cuando la jungla no le obedece. Marlow describe la selva en términos semejantes o peores a las que usa Herzog, pero no tiene la misma reacción (violenta) ante las experiencias malas en la jungla, y su opinión cambia. Intelectualmente Herzog es más consciente que Marlow – sabe que la cultura indígena tiene valor y que el (neo)colonialismo es malo – pero el que ve las cosas de una matera más compleja, ambigua (en vez de ambivalente), matizada, y deja que la selva trabaje en su conciencia, es Marlow.

[2] The natives, whom Herzog compares to lions, are not so untouched by Western culture as he would like to believe. . . . Furthermore, they have a (human) culture of their own. They are not just living by instinct – killing and eating – like lions.

[3] I think the fascination of the Westerner with the primitive is, in fact, a fascination with himself and his reaction to the primitive. Instead of endeavoring to see the similarities and universalities we share with them, Herzog dwells on the differences. He fails to see that his men are taking advantage of the prostitutes, not the savages. Any time Westerners invade “primitive” lands, it seems that we become far more savage than the savages would ever be. Being near the “primitive” brings out the savage in us. The most interesting thing about that is that this kind of savagery does not necessarily exist in primitive culture.

[4] It is apparent that the constant fascination with the primitive in Western culture requires evaluation not just of what Western culture consists of but also of how to differentiate it from the unknown lives of the “uncivilized savages.” . . . The Western desire to unwrap the secrets of the “primitive” is obvious, but it is less obvious why this is so important to us. The fact that we as Westerners try to place the primitive at the end of a spectrum (of the “human”) in relation to our society is itself quite daunting to “unwrap,” because much as we attempt to polarize there are similarities, blending, and other connections between “us” and “them.”

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Posted by on February 20, 2008 in Ideas, Plans


Midterm Question Bank

Midterm instructions: choose two of the following topics, but not both #2 and #3.

Write a cogent, well-argued 500 word essay on each of the questions you choose. Think before you write – review the texts and the notes, and perhaps mull it all over for a day or two so that you have a clear argument in mind when you begin to write.

Be sure you can back up what you say with concrete evidence from the texts, and feel free to narrow the questions down (they are intentionally broad, so that you can take up the aspects of them which best fit your specific interests).

Feel free to refer to other texts we have examined, but remember that this exam focuses most squarely on Conrad and Sarmiento.

1. Hypothesis: if we consider that both “modernity” and modern colonialism began in 1492 with the discovery of America – with industrialized slavery and the creation of transnational corporations following closely on its heels – we could then say that the “savagery” of the “primitive” world, brutalized by colonization, is one side of the coin, and the spiritual emptiness of the modern / civilized world, sterilized by industrialization, is the other. Refine this hypothesis and discuss it in relation to Conrad and Sarmiento.

2. To what extent does and/or does not Heart of Darkness endorse or reproduce the discourse of Kipling’s 1899 poem The White Man’s Burden? Explain, citing specific examples from the texts.

3. To what extent do you and/or do you not agree with Torgovnick’s reading of Heart of Darkness, and why? Be specific.

4. How are the jungle and the pampas represented in Conrad and Sarmiento? In what terms are they described? Are they always dark or desolate? What else are they? What emotions are attached to them? What do they appear to represent? How can we tell? How do the descriptions of the land and the people work in the broader context of each narrative? How do the ideas of the civilized and the primitive play off against each other and/or intertwine themselves with each other?


1. What is the importance of Kurtz’ amazing voice?

2. At what point in his narration does it become clear to Marlow that he is going “to the heart of darkness”? Is this significant? How?

3. Go to our resources page and read some of the material on “Orientalism.” Then consider: is HD participating in “Orientalist discourse?” How? [This is a good question to choose because we are going to talk about Orientalism in connection with BOTH Sarmiento and Carpentier.]

4. [Relate Carpentier’s novel and Torgovnick, chapters 3-6 and 8.]

5. Look up two different, and ideally contrasting scholarly articles comparing HD and Apocalypse Now. What questions seem to drive the comparisons? Do you agree with them? Why? As a start toward this, check out my post on one such article, and the study questions in it.

6. Are there differences between the experience and attitude of Marlow and of Herzog in Burden of Dreams and/or of Willard in Apocalypse Now? Explain. What do these differences reveal and/or conceal about tropes such as the primitive, the voyage upriver, and the construction of the Western self in relation to the primitive? [Note that all three characters are agents, not originators or directors of colonial enterprises: Herzog is an artist who intends to do good, Marlow is on a job, and Willard is on a military mission for someone else. What does their positions as intermediaries enable them to see or to reveal, and to evade and conceal, which another position would not? And on second thought, is it Les Blank, who observes Herzog, and not Herzog himself who, in BD, occupies the Marlow/Willard position?]

LAST. Feel free to think up other good questions, including questions on Tarzan and The Jungle Book, and post them in the comments section here!

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Posted by on February 17, 2008 in Ideas, Midterm, News, Plans