Book #30: Heart of Darkness

I read Heart of Darkness at a weird point in time.

The Sandy Hook school shooting happened, and for some reason it through me into a really dark place. Every mass shooting I hear about makes me sad, but, for better or for worse, after a day or two, the sadness fades and life resumes as normal.

That didn’t happen this time.

I was sitting at a cafe in Bratislava, taking refuge from a cold rain, when I realized that now we live in a world where someone has walked into a school and gunned down 20 schoolkids at Christmastime. If someone can kill innocent kids in cold blood, what else are people capable of?

It felt like there was no good in the world. No response to this shooting is going to be enough. We always say that we’re going to change, that we’re going to have stricter gun control laws, that we’re going to talk about mental health treatment in America, that we’re going to be better, whatever. But nothing ever changes. Not really.

And then the Random Number Gods told me to read Heart of Darkness.

Comments about imperialism and racism aside, Heart of Darkness was an interesting read, given the place I was in mentally.

It seems to me that Marlow’s world went insane when he was in Africa. Kurtz rejected European ideals and norms since coming to Africa. But in the absence of the social structures and society he is used to, he is forced to look inside himself. This is what drives him mad.

Upon realizing this, Marlow reflects on the emptiness and darkness that is at the heart of all humans. With society and order stripped away, when people have nothing but themselves to turn to, they will go crazy.

In light of the school shooting and my existential crisis, this had quite the effect on me. Evil is meaningless. Evil is absurd. Like Marlow, I had “nothing to say” about the violence I “see” in my world. While Kurtz’s madness at least left him with eloquence, Marlow – and, I suppose, me – realizes that he will have nothing to say, or, rather, that his feelings or thoughts will be too ambiguous for words.

I have nothing to say about Sandy Hook or how much people suck. I have thoughts, sure, but I can’t express them in ways that do any good. When normalcy and the way we see and interact in the world are stripped away, and we have to turn to ourselves, insanity reigns. For Marlow, the world began to be insane the moment he started his journey in Africa. What does that mean, then, for Kurtz’s insanity? If the whole of Africa seems insane, can any one person be insane?

In a world where the insane act of killing schoolkids is possible, is any one thing or person actually that insane? How can anybody talk about what happened or figure out a way to exist in this new, dark world?

I don’t know, but Heart of Darkness certainly gave me a lot to think about.

(It also, somehow, slightly helped my existential crisis)

Rating: ****
Up Next: Cloud Atlas

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