Essay on Psychoanalysis and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Psychoanalysis and The Heart of Darkness


In Lacanian psychoanalysis, telling stories is essential to the analysand's (re)cognition of trauma. Julia Kristeva refers to the analysand's narrative as an instance of "'borderline' [neurotic] discourse" which "gives the analyst the impression of something alogical, unstitched, and chaotic" (42). She then explores the pleasure (jouissance) that the analysand experiences in the course of Lacan's talking cure. For the analysand, the pleasure is in the telling: "[T]he analyst is struck by a certain maniacal eroticization of speech, as if the patient were clinging to it, gulping it down, sucking on it, delighting in all the aspects of an oral eroticization and a narcissistic safety belt
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In fact, this move to contextualize is Marlow's narrative modus operandi: "[T]o him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine" (4).

His desire to recreate the context from which meaning arises becomes even clearer when, in an anxiety-ridden moment, Marlow demands: "Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream--making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams" (23). Here, the description of the "dream-sensation" also clearly recalls Kristeva's characterization of the "alogical, unstitched, and chaotic" impression created by the analysand's "'borderline' discourse." Ultimately, Marlow realizes that his desire to recreate the scene of trauma can never be completely fulfilled. Marlow asserts:

You can't understand. How could you?--with solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbors ready to fall on you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums--how can you imagine what particular…