Kurtz and the Silence of the Horror

Annex-Brando-Marlon-Apocalypse-Now_16-e1418881299292The echo of Kurtz’s final words resonates clearer and louder than ever. The horror. The horror. The last whispers of the charismatic and ruthless leader are the seal over the experience of the absurd violence ruling human existence. The horror is not the fear of a guilty consciousness, nor the cry of an agonizing body, but the final enlightenment of a man who lived beyond the customs of an ordinary society and made a king of himself in the midst of the jungle. What horror? Is it the colonization and transformation of the jungle into a profitable land? The slaughter of animals for the decoration of imperialist wealthy houses in the old continent? The annihilation of a “savage” culture in the name of civilization? Perhaps.

Perhaps these are just comfortable answers through which we attempt to cover up and hinder the “horror” here and now of a culture we believe today to belong to a remote past. Is the horror of the white colonizer nothing but the horror of hour capitalist society that needs to devour land, people, and resources to reproduce itself? Is it Kurtz’s horror, after all, another allegory on power and domination? Civilization and barbarism? Perhaps. Couldn’t perhaps be that in fact everything that Kurtz has seen and that we are told through the eyes of Marlowe is just something horrific, plain and simple?

Isn’t it more horrific to take those sibylline words and turn them into our comfortable and secure concepts, albeit these very concepts may bring along a corrosive and caustic critique of our time? Isn’t our time the triumph of the civilized mind over the horror, of the understanding and the moral retribution? Shouldn’t we stop trying to make the horror of the existence fit into the dictionary of ideology and of critical dualisms? The horror can not be symbol of anything else. It is the negation of any symbol, the ultimate sublime, the end of art, and the end of language. The horror can be told only through itself, in the monotonous cadence of a litany. The horror, the horror…

Without giving out too much for those who have never read Heart of Darkness, the frame of the narrative is that of a survivor, of a man who travelled through a jungle in search of man that nobody was able to understand; someone in between a myth and a legend. Kurtz is a ghost, an imaginary construction. After all, he was nothing but a regular employee who, at some point, in performing unscrupulously his duties, discovers that the very laws of civilization he is enforcing can suddenly turn into their opposite, into barbarism. The horror is in the uncertain boundaries of modern society; in the ambivalent nature of our values and moral construction. The horror is neither here or there, but it stems form the impossibility of pointing the finger to anything as the starting point of any abomination. The horror is everywhere and seems to have no origin. No disillusion is possible anymore. Like in the sublime experience, there is both a dynamic and mathematic monstrosity which does not only escapes the understanding, but any attempt of representation. Kurtz pronounces those words as the last seal of the death of language over the horror.

This death should prompt us to reflect more on the significance of silence and its privilege: the privilege of refusing to speak when there is nothing to say, without pretending to simply “not have the words for” but just recognize that bestowing meaning over any expression is in itself an horrific and violent gesture. Heart of Darkness warns us about the silence. Let’s not forget the frame of the narrative, where Marlowe appears as the Coleridge’s “Ismael.” The man is on a ship, the same kind of vessel he navigated through the jungle to reach Kurtz. He tells his story on this floating vehicle, as to signify the transience of his narrative. The frame concludes the story. Marlowe retreats in the dark after confessing lying to Kurtz’s widow upon his return. He tells her his final words were her name…. The horror remains unspoken. Better lying about it, hiding it, leaving it behind as something belonging to an uncivilized culture.

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