Essay on Altered Reality in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Altered Reality in Heart of Darkness

The world of darkness that Marlow finds himself in is directly comparable to what Leary describes of the bardos (stages) that occur during a drug-induced trip or psychedelic experience. ‘The underlying problem of the Second Bardo is that any and every shape—human, divine, diabolical, heroic, evil, animal, thing—which the human brain conjures up or the past life recalls, can present itself to consciousness: shapes and forms and sounds whirling by endlessly’ (48). An example of such presentation is Marlow’s perception of the jungle as a palpable force that has the power of human gestures. It calls, beckons, lures, etc. Leary writes that accompanying the moment of ego-loss is the perception of
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The person will attempt to escape from these perceptions into restless external activity (talking, moving around, etc.) or into conceptual, analytic, mental activity (Leary, 57).

There is no absence of disturbing sounds in Heart of Darkness. Through the overwhelming silence of the forest Marlow hears the sounds of the colonizers and the sounds of the Africans. These sounds are almost always negative. There are the sounds of inane blasting and shelling from the colonizers, and when Marlow’s boat is approaching Kurtz’s station, the crew of Marlow’s boat senses the Africans in the bush, and the pilgrims finally pull out their guns and pierce the silence with an incredible noise. ‘“The bush began to howl. Our wood-cutters raised a warlike whoop; the report of a rifle just at my back deafened me...”’ (Conrad, 81). This is an invasion. Silence, in the reality of the jungle, is truthful, and the invasion of noise that the white man brings is a disturbance bringing confusion and fear to everyone involved. The noise shows that civilized man does not belong. The noise of technology is not understood by the Africans, and the noise that the Africans raise is incomprehensible to the white men. The Africans have voices, but Marlow refers to sounds their voices make as noise—yells, wails, hoops, howls, etc. He cannot understand the significance of these sounds and, because of their unfamiliarity, he judges them outside of
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