Form is Meaning

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Xinxin Zhao

Form is Meaning. An Iconic Reading of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

ISBN 978-3-86821-866-4, 180 S., 20 Abb., kt., € 25,00 (2020)

(Anglistik - Amerikanistik - Anglophonie, Bd. 26)

As one of the most studied literary works, Heart of Darkness is regarded as Joseph Conrad’s greatest, albeit his most controversial, literary masterpiece. In a mysterious way, this work seems to elicit contradictory interpretations. How can the same work be a critique of colonialism, imperialism, racism and an example of all of those as well? This study endeavours to find out how incompatible meanings can reside in one work. Detailed textual analysis, carried out at every level of literary language, uncovers the coexistence of and interaction between a cluster of opposing processes: moving towards the ultimate enlightenment and moving away from it, a surface truth claiming and disclaiming some inner truth, and some inner truth resulting in and from surface truth. Heart of Darkness is an ambiguous story and a story about ambiguity: its ambiguous structure manifests the thematic ambiguity; and the thematic ambiguity maps onto the structural ambiguity. The author’s approach focuses on the way language is used, but this does not mean that the effect of Conrad’s novel, which goes beyond language itself, is disregarded. It is shown that the opposite cultural-political meanings are not so much the purpose as the by-product of the ambiguous structural construction of Heart of Darkness. In other words, the form does not simply serve the meaning, but more importantly generates meanings.

Buchvorschau / Inhaltsverzeichnis (pdf)


"'Heart of Darkness is an ambiguous story and a story about ambiguity', Form is Meaning’s jacket blurb claims; or in author Xinxin Zhao’s words, 'a mystery solving story without solving mysteries'. Not only does this remarkable study explore those mysteries central to Heart of Darkness, in doing so it evinces the medieval meaning of 'mystery' as mastery of a craft; for this study is indeed masterly. Xinxin Zhao’s philology applied to Heart of Darkness should prove both instructive and intriguing for Conradian literary theorists open to the challenge of reconciling Deconstructionism and its Structuralist precursor with linguistic science."

G. W. Stephen Brodsky, Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch 63 (2022)