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Lord Jim: Conrads Fable of Judgment

Paul Kintzele University of Pennsylvania

n his brief 1917 Authors Note to Lord Jim, Conrad recalled, with mild bewilderment, the anecdote of a friend returning from a trip to Italy, where he encountered a woman who had expressed a strong dislike for Conrads novel: You know, she said, it is all so morbid.1 Conrads response to this blunt criticism is curious; rather than question what morbid means in this context, he instead questions whether the woman was Italian, or even European, because, as he states, no Latin temperament would have perceived anything morbid in the acute consciousness of lost honour. He concludes, referring to his title character, I can safely assure my readers that he is not the product of coldly perverted thinking (Lord Jim, p. 44). The disclaimer parallels a similar attempt at palliation in the Authors Note to The Secret Agent, in which Conrad states that, in writing the novel, I have not intended to commit a gratuitous outrage on the feelings of mankind.2 The rst-time reader, upon encountering such odd assurances, might wonder whether their author knows or simply hopes that they are true. In any event, Conrad always proved himself to be a far better artist than literary critic, and his reassuring words, written years after the fact, offer an interesting glimpse into his motivations, but do not do justice to the psychological and moral complexities of his work work that can explore lost honour without entirely concealing from view the morbid, the perverse, the outrageous. Contemporary critical theory, especially French philosophy and psychoanalysis since the rise of Existentialism, has shown a similar but not nearly as repressed interest in the morbid, the perverse, and the outrageous; however, reassurances and disclaimers are to be found here as well. Jacques Derrida has founded his career on non-foundationalism, but, especially since the late 1980s, he has repeatedly emphasized the ethical and political dimensions of his work; for example, in a forum gathered to discuss the place of Deconstruction in legal theory, he stated, Nothing seems to me less outdated than the classical emancipatory ideal.3 Jacques Lacan, as is

1. Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, eds. Cedric Watts and Robert Hampson (Penguin, 1986), p. 44. Further references to Lord Jim will be made parenthetically in the text. 2. Joseph Conrad, Authors Note to The Secret Agent, ed. Martin Seymour-Smith (Penguin, 1984), p. 43. 3. Jacques Derrida, Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, eds. Drucilla Cornell, Michel Rosenfeld, and David Gray Carlson, trans. Mary Quaintance (Routledge, 1992), p. 28. Paul Kintzele, Lord Jim: Conrads Fable of Judgment, Journal of Modern Literature (XXV, 2 (Winter 20012002), pp. 6979. Indiana University Press, 2002.


Journal of Modern Literature

well known, devoted an entire seminar to the Ethics of Psychoanalysis, and in a later seminar on the Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, he formulated an ethics of the drive that bears no small resemblance to Kants formal ethics.4 Conrads own negative capability, his capacity for creating characters and scenes that draw fundamental ethical categories (justice, right, duty, good) into question at one level while holding fast to them at another, afliates him with those critical philosophies that ourished later in the century that his provocative ction inaugurated. At the same time, Conrads ction maintains connections both implicit and explicit with philosophers and authors who preceded him, gures as various as Hegel, Novalis, and Carlyle. Lord Jim, an especially potent novel that showcases Conrads critical and exploratory method, can yield new insights when examined from the perspective of later writers and in the context of earlier ones. **** Near the end of his oral narration, which takes up the large middle section of Lord Jim, Marlow pauses briey over the question of justice, which he treats in his usual ironic-pessimistic manner: Truth shall prevail dont you know. Magna est veritas et . . . Yes, when it gets a chance. There is a law, no doubt and likewise a law regulates your luck in the throwing of dice. It is not Justice the servant of men, but accident, hazard, Fortune . . . (Lord Jim, p. 279). Although this passage reects on, and laments the absence of, what could be called divine justice, Lord Jim is also a novel that interrogates the question of justice as it is enacted in human affairs, and examines the particular judgments that necessarily comprise it. Like Conrads other major novels, Lord Jim continually pushes the reader to choose, to make a judgment, while at the same time it undermines the very conditions whereby a judgment would be possible. Although one of the obvious effects of such a narrative strategy is a kind of suspension or readerly impalement (so that the image that concludes the novel, that of Steins buttery collection, is a reection of the readers position pinned to the text, yet petried, paralyzed), Conrads examination of justice bears a critical potential as well: in one of the well-known twists in the narrative, Marlows prefatory letter to the privileged reader, Conrad satirizes the use of the term justice when it merely operates as the rhetorical cover for a system of domination. In ventriloquizing his readers viewpoint, Marlow writes:
You contended that that kind of thing [that is, colonial endeavor] was only endurable and enduring when based on a rm conviction in the truth of ideas racially our own, in whose name are established the order, the morality of an ethical progress. We want its strength at our backs, you had said. We want a belief in its necessity and its justice, to make a worthy and conscious sacrice of our lives. . . . (Lord Jim, p. 293)

So while Conrad on the one hand takes a rather skeptical approach to justice, one that might teeter on the brink of nihilism, at the same time he takes pains to satirize and critique the way in which the concept of justice is yoked violently into racial discourse. Also present in his statement is another frequently used word in Lord Jim: conviction a word that compactly signies a cluster of fundamental concerns in Conrads novel, centering around idealism, belief, and judgment. In a gesture typical of a novelist whose goal is to make you see,5 Conrad converts a character trait idealism into an external correlative by linking a pure whiteness to Jim, who is appar4. See Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (Norton, 1981), p. 242. 5. Joseph Conrad, Preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus (Penguin, 1988), p. xlix.

Kintzele: Lord Jim: Conrads Fable of Judgment


elled in immaculate white from shoes to hat (Lord Jim, p. 45) at the very beginning of the novel and who becomes a tiny white speck (Lord Jim, p. 291) at the conclusion of Marlows narrative. The whiteness associated with Jim alerts the reader to the racial whiteness that underpins the rhetoric of colonialism, but as it is also an extreme whiteness (immaculate), it becomes an index of Jims fear of the stains of failure or self-interest. Jim is a realization of Hegels notion of the beautiful soul, who values his purity, his romantic self-image, above all worldly entanglements and imperfections. About the beautiful soul, Hegel writes, It lives in dread of besmirching the splendour of its inner being by action and an existence; and, in order to preserve the purity of its heart, it ees from contact with the actual world, and persists in its self-willed impotence. . . .6 The only hope for the beautiful soul, as for Jim, is to negate the separation that it has falsely posited between itself and the world; the beautiful soul must realize its own complicity in the fallen world over which it laments. It is unclear, however, whether Jim manages to utter the equivalent of the contrite statement of recognition from which the beautiful soul recoils: I am so.7 Indeed, through his relentless pursuit of isolation, anonymity, and punishment, Jim appears to want more to regain his unsullied self-image than to establish a new form of contact with the world. The question of Jims complicity with the world and with others is most forcefully played out in the affair of the Patna. Just as in the episode of the drowning men in Chapter 1, when the moment of crisis comes, Jim is the victim of a fatal hesitation. Conrad implies that Jims aw is his imagination. If judgment is the faculty of mind that links together theory and practice, Jims imagination obstructs that link by excessive self-representation, by conjuring up either a soothing stasis or a paralyzing fear. As Marlow says of Jim in the midst of the seemingly hopeless turn of events on the Patna, His confounded imagination had evoked for him all the horrors of panic, the trampling rush, the pitiful screams . . . (Lord Jim, p. 108). After his terrible miscalculation, Jim decides that the only honorable course of action is to submit to the judgment of the court, even though all of his shipmates have ed. Again, at the end of the novel, after Jim has miscalculated regarding Gentleman Browns promise to make a peaceful departure, he submits to the judgment of Doramin, who without hesitation shoots him through the heart. The drama of Lord Jim, from Jims point of view, is one of misjudgment and atonement. Conrads novel is bracketed by two distinct choices that Jim makes. In the rst instance, Jim must decide whether he will go down with the Patna or whether he will jump with the rest of the crew. To Jim, he must jump, for the romantic prestige he longs for is worthwhile only if he is still alive to enjoy it. The mordant twist that Conrad adds to this drama of survival is that the ship does not sink; Jim is thus tormented by the retrospective fantasy that he could have survived and attained a heroic status. Moreover, the question of whether to jump from the Patna recalls the earlier scenario in the novel in which Jim fails to jump from a training ship into a cutter headed to the scene of an accident; however, in this situation, the path to heroism lies in not jumping. By creating a repetitive structure in the narrative, Conrad subtly suggests that Jim is trapped in a behavioral loop, one that he escapes only through his self-sacrice at the end of the novel. When Jim is presented with a nal choice ght for escape with Jewel and Tamb Itam, or face Doramins judgment he chooses to submit, but it is not clear whether this is nally the courageous, heroic act that he has been longing to accomplish, or whether it is simply another form of

6. G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford, 1977), p. 400. 7. Hegel, Phenomenology, p. 405.


Journal of Modern Literature

jumping. It seems that Jim would rather accept death than the incompleteness or imperfections of human existence. But if Jim is a judging character in the novel, he is also judged not only by the naval court and Doramin, but by the narrator, Marlow, who takes it upon himself to resolve the enigma of Jims character. Marlows interview with Stein in Chapter 20 is a crucial episode in this regard, one that presents a convergence of several key phrases and motifs. Despite his pointed refusal to read Freud or to familiarize himself with psychoanalytic concepts,8 Conrad was remarkably adept in creating the atmosphere of a consultation in this chapter, in which the thickly-accented Stein plays a role not unlike that of Freud; Marlow says that Stein was an eminently suitable person to receive my condences (Lord Jim, p. 192). Steins pursuit of entomology requires the meticulousness and mercilessness that are also essential in the Freudian analyst; his buttery display cases, rather like Freuds prominent display of ancient artifacts in his own consulting room, offer proof of his formidable analytical skills. Marlow broaches the subject of Jim by stating that he has a specimen (Lord Jim, p. 198) for Stein; this lightly ironic turn of phrase allows Marlow to frame the discussion as a mutual analysis of Jim, but what surrounds this question is the larger issue of Marlows own fascination with Jim, who, to use the psychoanalytic term that the situation calls for, has the status of a symptom he is the absent cause of Marlows anxious interpretive activity.9 The talk revolves around him, but Marlow and even Stein are hesitant to approach him directly: We avoided pronouncing Jims name as though we had tried to keep esh and blood out of our discussion, or he were nothing but an erring spirit, a suffering and nameless shade (Lord Jim, p. 201). At the same time, Marlows reluctance to explain Jim suggests the more fundamental meaning of symptom, the one elaborated by Lacan: the unavoidable by-product, or, more precisely, the secret support, of the symbolic order. Hence Marlows oscillating, owning-and-disowning attitude toward Jim: on the one hand, Jim is under a cloud, but on the other, he is one of us (Lord Jim, p. 351). This dialectic of externalization and appropriation that belongs to the symptom has a particular and general application in Lord Jim: in particular, Jim discloses through his escapism the element of Orientalist fantasy that operated in the colonial ideology of the West, but more generally he discloses the proposition later advanced by Lacan that reality exists only by means of some fantasmatic support. It is important to read Lord Jim at both of these levels: on the one hand, Jims selfdeluded romantic ideals are the delusions of the West writ large; on the other hand, Jim stands for a kind of ineradicable obscurity that is at the kernel of the subject. Marlow waxes grandiloquent as he considers the spectacle of Jim before the naval inquiry: it was, he claims, as if the obscure truth involved were momentous enough to affect mankinds conception of itself (Lord Jim, p. 112). In addition to the possible reference to Freud, Steins name also bears signicance in its literal German meaning, as Marlow sees in Stein the solid ground on which he can nally pass judgment on Jim. Just as Jim had earlier referred to Marlow as a brick (Lord Jim, p. 178), that is, a solid support in the midst of his turbulent affairs, now Marlow turns to Stein to offer advice as to what

8. See Zdzislaw Najder, Joseph Conrad: A Chronicle, trans. Halina Carroll-Najder (Rutgers University Press, 1983), p. 460. 9. For detailed discussions on the concept of the symptom, see Slavojiek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (Verso, 1989). iek writes, This, then, is a symptom: a particular, pathological, signifying formation, a binding of enjoyment, an inert stain resisting communication and interpretation, a stain which cannot be included in the circuit of discourse, of social bond network, but is at the same time a positive condition of it (p. 75).

Kintzele: Lord Jim: Conrads Fable of Judgment


he should do. The interview with Stein also contains perhaps the densest weave of associations around the metaphor of light, a metaphor to which Conrad returns repeatedly throughout the novel. The treatment of light in Lord Jim always emphasizes its proximity to darkness, and this emphasis on chiaroscuro nicely anticipates lm noir: as Marlow describes Steins study, Only one corner of the vast room, the corner in which stood his writing desk, was strongly lighted by a shaded reading lamp, and the rest of the spacious apartment melted into shapeless gloom like a cavern (Lord Jim, p. 192). On the one hand, such light seems to be a simple trope for rational knowledge, for enlightenment, a pool of conscious clarity in a sea of unconscious obscurity. But Steins revelations come to Marlow only once Stein steps out of the light, passing out of the bright circle of the lamp into the ring of fainter light into shapeless dusk at last. It had an odd effect as if these few steps had carried him out of this concrete and perplexed world (Lord Jim, p. 199). And it is only from this obscurity that Stein delivers his enigmatic solution to the problem of how to be, a solution that seems to dissipate once it is brought back into the light:
A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air as inexperienced people endeavour to do, he drowns nicht wahr? . . . No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up. So if you ask me how to be? His voice leaped up extraordinarily strong, as though away there in the dusk he had been inspired by some whisper of knowledge. I will tell you! For that too there is only one way. With a hasty swish-swish of his slippers he loomed up in the ring of faint light, and suddenly appeared in the bright circle of the lamp. His extended hand aimed at my breast like a pistol; his deep-set eyes seemed to pierce through me, but his twitching lips uttered no word, and the austere exaltation of a certitude seen in the dusk vanished from his face. . . . The light had destroyed the assurance which had inspired him in the distant shadows. He sat down and, with both elbows on the desk, rubbed his forehead. And yet it is true it is true. In the destructive element immerse. (Lord Jim, p. 200)

What is the nature of Steins counsel? What is the destructive element? Since we view nearly all of the events in Lord Jim through Marlows eyes, we remain in the circle of light with him while Stein shufes into the darkness from which he speaks. If we take the tropology of light as a representation of consciousness, then it would seem that, for a brief moment, Stein is able to speak from, or for, the unconscious. Steins ethical theory echoes Lacans reading of desire and drive: the one who, according to Steins metaphor, tries to climb out into the air is the desiring subject, one who always aims at something other, something beyond, or something concealed. To submit to the destructive element then, is to become the subject of the drive, to renounce the metonymy of desire, the chimerical hope for transcendence or fulllment, for a self-destructive consistency. And consistency is self-destructive because, in Kants terms, it is non-pathological, that is, entirely staked on an unalterable rule or maxim of conduct. A pathological act is an act of self-preservation it negotiates between means and ends, it exchanges one object for another, it ows with the symbolic. In contrast, the non-pathological act freezes the symbolic, as it were, by taking it literally; it takes only ends into account. If, according to Lacan, the status of the drive is


Journal of Modern Literature

ethical, it is an impossible ethic, as indeed Kants is often reproached for being. Steins injunction to follow the dream and so ewig usque ad nem (Lord Jim, p. 201) thus reveals the problem with Jims romantic dreams: he wants them to remain unrealized that is, to remain dreams. To follow them usque ad nem is thus to destroy their status as dreams and to destroy the self that is founded on them; if the status of the drive is ethical, it is also suicidal. The only survivors are those onlookers who give way and compromise the inexible commands of the drive and so live to tell the tale. At the Patna trial, the prevailing attitude of all those present (except, perhaps, for Jim) is that it is a farce; it is unnecessary, distasteful, unpleasant. The stern and egotistical Captain Brierly is especially agitated by the trial, and, in one of Conrads boldest narrative surprises, He committed suicide very soon after (Lord Jim, p. 86). Conrad links Brierlys suicide to Jims public humiliation through the tting irony of having Brierly commit suicide by repeating Jims gesture of jumping from a ship: although Marlow says of Brierly that he took the secret of the evidence with him in that leap into the sea (Lord Jim, p. 86), it seems fairly clear that Brierly pays the price for, and perhaps in some fashion wants to redeem, Jims ruined idealism. Marlow asserts that Brierlys suicide was the consequence of his unswerving egoism: Who can tell what attering view he had induced himself to take of his own suicide? (Lord Jim, p. 90). Just before his visit to Stein, Marlow recalls Brierlys advice regarding Jim: Let him creep twenty feet underground and stay there (Lord Jim, p. 191). Brierlys solution is to have Jim become, in effect, a permanent stowaway, concealed from view but at the same time protected and preserved; indeed, Jim had already assumed the role of a stowaway (Lord Jim, p. 190) during the trip in which Marlow took him to De Jongh; even at the beginning of the novel, Jim is conned to his cabin below deck after sustaining an injury. Even if Jim is one of us to Marlow and others, he is consistently placed in scenes of isolation, concealment, and connement; like Leggatt in The Secret Sharer, he is present by his particular absence. Lacan writes in a similar vein by claiming that desire is the non-representative representative and that the binary signier that heralds desire (the Vorstellungsreprsentanz) is unterdrckt, sunk underneath.10 Every instance of exposure, whether at the trial or in the frequent failures of Jims incognito, results in ight, in a nomadic movement that ends by depositing Jim on Patusan. Jim is the symptom of the other characters, and of the novel itself, not only because of the way he elicits attempts at decipherment and interpretation, but also through his resistance to, and movement away from, exposure. **** In addition to its examination of the symptoms and ethical qualms of its main characters, Conrads novel also expands into a similarly critical appraisal of law and justice. Derridas essay Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority is an inquiry into the structural excessiveness of the law on what the law is founded and how it is maintained, and the ways in which the law, by its very nature, forces the experience of aporia. The essay is a patient attempt to elucidate the ethical concerns of Deconstruction and thereby prevent the simplistic reduction of deconstructive reading to a type of sophistry or nihilism; ttingly, this ethical valence of Deconstruction is demonstrated through a reading of the law that situates Deconstruction in the crucial interval between the quasi-transcendental concept of justice, which is, according to Derrida, not decon-

10. Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts, pp. 21819.

Kintzele: Lord Jim: Conrads Fable of Judgment


structible11 and the worldly, systemic, calculative, distributive realization of justice, what Derrida calls the realm of droit law or right. In other words, Derrida approaches the question of the law through a two-tiered conceptual matrix: the Law and its laws. The whole question of the law is the question of the ways in which the plurality, particularity, and heteronomy of laws relate to, or receive legitimacy from, the generality or universality of Law itself. As Derrida writes, An address is always singular, idiomatic, and justice, as law (droit), seems always to suppose the generality of a rule, a norm or a universal imperative. How are we to reconcile the act of justice that must always concern singularity, individuals, irreplaceable groups and lives . . . with rule, norm, value or the imperative of justice which necessarily have a general form . . . ?12 In this rst part of a two-part essay, Derrida considers the split aspect of the law the idea of justice that founds, and yet always remains external to, a system of laws. If we think of the wellknown iconography of justice (a woman, blindfolded, with scales in one hand and a sword in the other), we might say that all of the conceptual turns in Derridas essay arise from an analysis of each of these elements: the sword (the necessary enforceability of the law), the scales (the distribution or calculation of droit), and the woman (who, to use Lacans terms, is extra-symbolic, beyond [the phallic] law), who is blindfolded (the aporias of rule and decision, as well as the inability to visually reconcile force [the sword] and calculation [the scales]). But the centerpiece of the rst part of Derridas essay is his analysis of the otherworldly aspect of justice. On the one hand, such justice can never be realized, made concrete, in a system of laws: Justice is an experience of the impossible.13 But at the same time, this irreducibly spectral justice demands our attempts to serve it: And so incalculable justice requires us to calculate.14 Lord Jim also develops what we in retrospect can call a deconstructive reading of justice. On the one hand, the novel abounds with examples of law gone awry, in which private cynicism corrodes the proper measure of the law. Marlow continually draws our attention to the performative gestures that legitimate the law, and in exposing them, he mocks their pretensions. Lord Jim, and Conrads work in general, performs a skeptical inquiry into the limits or even the lawfulness of the law. Frequently Conrad creates tension by pitting two laws against each other selfpreservation and duty, for example. In his pathbreaking study of Conrad, One of Us, Geoffrey Galt Harpham recognizes a similar motif in The Nigger of the Narcissus; he writes, obedience to one [law] may entail dereliction with regard to others. The impossibility of abiding by all lawful laws at once constitutes the unlawful aspect of the law.15 In Lord Jim, the place where this meta-judgment can take place is also a subject of discussion. Marlow asserts that there should be a kind of shadow court that would not be entangled in corruption and convention, a court that could truly judge Jim. Perhaps this court is Marlows narrative itself, as Marlow frequently attempts to pass judgment on his subject. But such judgment, Marlow regretfully notes, is also doomed to fail: droit can never become justice. During the Patna trial, Marlow refuses to take part in what he considers a dispute impossible of decision if one had to be fair to all the phantoms in possession (Lord Jim, p. 111). The novel itself, then, if not a means of producing nality, at least provides a space more capacious than the various tribunals which it

11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

Derrida, Force of Law, p. 14. Derrida, Force of Law, p. 17. Derrida, Force of Law, p. 16. Derrida, Force of Law, p. 28. Geoffrey Galt Harpham, One of Us: The Mastery of Joseph Conrad (University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 93.


Journal of Modern Literature

depicts; the justice it offers is of a purely negative sort, a critique of justice in the name of some larger but more elusive justice, one that can emerge only in the complexity of a narrative. Whether in legal or personal use, conviction implies a moment of validation: the subjective rising to lay claim to the objective. In a juridical context, conviction occurs when a judging faculty (a judge or jury) afrms the truth of a certain sequence of events (defendant A abandoned ship B); it is a bridge from the subjective to the objective. In the moral or personal sense of the term, conviction moves in the opposite direction: in the face of doubts, contrary evidence, scoffers, one with conviction clings to a certain belief; conviction is thus a bridge from the objective to the subjective, a leap that attempts to reconcile two heterogeneous domains. Conviction is, in the most fundamental sense, a performative: a sign, symbol, gesture, or code that is presumed to stand in an equivalent relation with actual objects a voucher for, and an intervention in, reality. But although legal conviction performs or produces truth, it can never purge itself of its subjective foundations, hence the possibility that a conviction can always be overturned. (Derrida characteristically argues that the condition of justice that it must be routed through the undecidable [which is why we will never have computers as judges, he notes] is also that which prevents justice from being fully realized.)16 And although moral conviction presumes to subjugate or subsume the objective by the sheer force of will, it can never purge itself of the subjective conditions of its judgment, or free itself from the possibility that the objective realm the external world of reality, experience, and hard-earned wisdom may one day falsify its assertions. Conviction is a claim to nality that can never be nal. Among the many insistently repeated verbal motifs in Lord Jim is this single word: conviction. At rst glance, we may see it as yet another instance of Conrads reliance on a workers (or, more specically, a maritime) ethos of simplicity, steadfastness, and duty. However, given the scenes of legal judgment and conviction that bracket the action in the novel, we may well take note of the multiple meanings of conviction, and, by extension, the anxious and ambivalent process that conviction performatively conceals; one might say with productive ambiguity that Lord Jim is a narrative of conviction. The epigraph to the novel thus acquires an additional, if somewhat furtive, semantic determination: It is certain my Conviction gains innitely, the moment another soul will believe in it (Lord Jim, p. 41). Although the title-page attributes the phrase to Novalis, the wording is actually from Thomas Carlyle, who cites the Novalis aphorism in Lecture II of his On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History in a passage that describes the gratitude which the prophet Mohammed felt when his revelation was afrmed by another soul for the rst time. The translation signicantly alters the meaning, most particularly by translating Novalis original word Meinung (opinion) as Conviction, which shifts the meaning of the sentence from the epistemological to the ethical. We may rst note that Carlyle uses this (altered) quote to suggest the point that to be a hero is to require the legitimation or validation of another: the hero needs an audience. Conviction, although seemingly a process by which an individual simply consults his or her reason, becomes conviction (it gains innitely, that is, it becomes, precisely, a conviction) only through the intervention of another soul that seconds its legitimacy. Taking Mohammed as one of his heroes, Carlyle muses on Mohammeds overwhelmed even terried reaction to his divine appointment, his vertigo of being chosen, of being singled out and

16. See Derrida, Force of Law, pp. 2324.

Kintzele: Lord Jim: Conrads Fable of Judgment


facing the difcult prospect of having to convince others of his singularity. Carlyle writes (citing Novalis, but not yet the passage which Conrad used):
It is the inspiration of the Almighty that giveth us understanding. To know; to get into the truth of anything, is ever a mystic act, of which the best Logics can but babble on the surface. Is not Belief the true god-announcing Miracle? says Novalis.17

The act of knowing (or knowing), the very experience of certainty, which one would think requires a rm (and knowable) Ground, is here likened to a mystic act as though certainty exists as such only when its Ground or foundation is effaced when it is uncertain, to be precise. This uncertain certainty, Carlyle would argue, is self-authorizing, self-grounding, a gift from some obscure or impenetrable origin; he writes, . . . who of us yet can know what to call it?18 But at the same time, such a revelation desperately desires conrmation: it is that which simultaneously requires, and does not at all require, consensus. Carlyle describes Mohammeds rejoicing when his message meets with approval from the good Kadijah (it is here that Conrad nds his epigraph):
One can fancy too the boundless gratitude of Mahomet; and how of all the kindnesses she had done him, this of believing the earnest struggling word he now spoke was the greatest. It is certain, says Novalis, my Conviction gains innitely, the moment another soul will believe in it. It is a boundless favor.19

Interestingly, the context from which Carlyle takes his quote (which he translates with instructive looseness) is not what one would expect: Novalis original aphorism deals not so much with the boundless favor of anothers afrmation, but with the absolute otherness that is the very condition of authority. Novalis entitles his epigram Philol[ogie] which makes Carlyles transposition of it into religious and heroic terms already quite curious. Novalis states that Meynung opinion gains considerably (sehr viel gewinnt ) when it is conrmed (berzeugt ist ) by another.20 But Novalis does not stop there; he goes on to consider the phenomenon of authority: how it works, how it arrogates power, or, more precisely, how it arrogates power in such a way that it is not perceived as arrogation. Authority or authorization, he says, requires not just that another conrms it, but also requires a rhetorical veil that obscures its origins, so that prying eyes may not lay bare its foundations (deren Ursache nicht gleich in die Augen fllt ). But, in a circular fashion, just as authority is established by a stroke of rhetoric, authority in turn sustains the performative force of rhetoric: as Novalis states, An authority makes an opinion mystical magical (eine Autoritaet macht eine Meynung mystich reitzend). Authority is mystical and creates the mystical it is mystied and mysties. Furthermore, Novalis recognizes that authority is established only through a certain violence, the rhetorical violence of those in control (Rhetorische Gewalt des

17. Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (University of California at Berkeley Press, 1993), p. 50. 18. Carlyle, On Heroes, p. 50. 19. Carlyle, On Heroes, p. 50. 20. Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenburg), Das Allgemeine Brouillon, frag. 153, p. 269. In Schriften, vol. 3, ed. Richard Samuel (Kohlhammer, 1960). Subsequent Novalis references are all from this fragment.


Journal of Modern Literature

Behauptens). This mystied violence occupies a central position in Lord Jim, a novel bracketed by two tribunals which, as presented by Marlow, strike the reader as arbitrary and brutal. But Jim never seems to question those in authority, and in both cases, he submits himself to their judgment, in the rst instance losing his livelihood and in the second losing his life. Lord Jim takes up the theme of conviction on several different levels: the novel is, in large part, a narrative based on the question of conviction, not only in the sense of strongly held beliefs and their (failed) actualization, but also in the more formal sense of the term: the novel not only stages conviction in its two trials (the naval inquiry and Doramins execution of Jim at the end of the novel), but also attempts to (and fails to) reach conviction in the literary framework: Jim remains perpetually under a veil, always eluding Marlows narrative judgment, to such a point, I would argue, that the reader is forced to abandon ready-made notions of psychologistic inscrutability and thus turn to a consideration of the structural misring inherent in the very notions of judgment and conviction. The tension in the rst half of the novel is generated by Jims lofty convictions and his inability to convert them into action they remain stuck at the level of the concept. But Lord Jim is also a drama of conviction in the juridical sense of the term; it explores the (im)possibility of arriving at some essential disclosure (Lord Jim, p. 84). Conviction thus condenses the intertwined ethical and epistemological concerns of the novel and may suggest to us something of the negative modus operandi of Conrads ction: the post-Romantic literary form implicitly demands conviction (ultimately, a reconciliation between subject and world; a placation of social antagonisms), but all that Conrad can manage to do is convict in the sense of accusing, making ironic, cynically exposing, and so on. The rst-person possessive pronoun in the novels epigraph (It is certain my Conviction) is thus applicable not only to Mohammed, to Jim, to Marlow, and to a sympathetic reader of the novel, but also to Conrad himself, but paradoxically so, as his novel demands that the reader simultaneously convict the title character and convict conviction as inadequate to its own task. Indeed, the wry, often cynical narration of Marlow, which occupies the large middle section of the novel, often criticizes those who claim conviction; he says of the Patna inquiry at the beginning of the novel that in its very insistence on the facts of the case, it missed the fundamental why (Lord Jim, p. 84) of the affair. But at the same time, Marlow himself continually founders at the moment when a conviction is necessary. Conrad returned to this idea of conviction in his autobiography, A Personal Record, perhaps unconsciously indicating the ambivalence of his writerly ethos, the practice of negation that converts any afrmation (or Conviction) into a revelatory accusation (or conviction):
And what is a novel if not a conviction of our fellow-mens existence strong enough to take upon itself a form of imagined life clearer than reality and whose accumulated verisimilitude of selected episodes puts to shame the pride of documentary history? (qtd. in Lord Jim, p. 353)

The interest of this passage is not only to be located in the echoes of meaning surrounding the term conviction, but also in the clarity clearer than reality that Conrad claims for his work this, from a writer so well known for his adjectival insistence21 on opacity, mystery, inscrutability.

21. F.R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (New York University Press, 1964), p. 177.

Kintzele: Lord Jim: Conrads Fable of Judgment


Conrad could perhaps counter this observation by arguing that to focus on the opaque, the liminal, the paradoxical, is not to be opaque, liminal, paradoxical: his is a clear picture of the ambiguities of character and the difculties of ethical action. Marlow describes Jewels impossible demand to know the essence of Jim as similar to wanting the exact description of the form of a cloud (Lord Jim, p. 269). It is through just this sort of precise imprecision that Conrad extends those realistic and naturalistic modes of ction on which he founds his own work. In the same way, Conrad announces the theme of heroism though the epigraph culled from Carlyle only to show that his protagonist desperately tries to t his conduct into the heroic mould without denitive success. Heart of Darkness, written just before Lord Jim, goes to the heart of the colonial ideal, only to nd Kurtz whispering, The horror! The horror! Similarly, Lord Jim explores heroism but nds at its heart only the elusive character of Jim. The French lieutenant who boarded the drifting Patna echoes the despairing repetition from Heart of Darkness when he exclaims to Marlow, the honour the honour, monsieur! (Lord Jim, p. 152). The loss of honor is perhaps a nineteenth-century theme, but its treatment through the combination of acute psychological analysis with ethical and epistemological uncertainty marks this novel as a tting overture to the twentieth century.

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