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Joseph Conrad, the Global and the Sea

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date21/04/2022
Host publicationGlobalization and Literary Studies
EditorsJoel Evans
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781108887915
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Publication series

NameCambridge Critical Concepts
PublisherCambridge University Press


This chapter considers how the powerfully controversial modernist novelist Joseph Conrad acquired his reputation as the first truly ‘global’ writer. A trilingual Polish expatriate, Conrad’s transnational identity was shaped by – and in turn helped shape our understandings of – a new sense of global interconnectedness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In texts such as Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim and Nostromo, his engagement with what we would now call globalization is bedevilled by paradox and ambivalence. His writing scorns European globetrotters even as it beholds the world via a privileged Western gaze. His innocent fascination with maps is haunted by a guilty awareness of their political and ideological functions. Under no illusions about the vicious impact of European imperialism on non-European cultures, he often represents those cultures as voiceless, one-dimensional and exotically unknowable. Finally, his idealization of the sea as a bracingly pure alternative to the sordid political world of terra firma is steadily undercut by his sense that maritime space has long since been colonized by capitalist modernity.