Joseph Conrad was my first love, academically speaking. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the metaphors of visibility and opacity in Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness, but then I moved on to pursue a PhD on contemporary American fiction. When in 2013, I joined a team of researchers from the Universities of Córdoba and Granada to work on the representation of communities in Modernist fiction, I was happy to go back to Conrad scholarship. In the recent past, I have published articles and book chapters on Nostromo (here), The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (here) and Under Western Eyes (here).
The essay published in the 49.2 Issue of JNT focuses on Under Western Eyes, but draws on my decades-long love for Conrad’s work. I have always been fascinated by the role sacrifice plays in his plots, how most of them seem to lead to a dead-end for the main character, for whom it is impossible to be part of a community of any kind. The kind of sacrifice often featured in his novels performs the paradoxical task of incorporating the hero through his expulsion from community. Girard’s theories about scapegoating cultural practices were illuminating for my attempt to analyze the pattern of failed communal ascription and sacrifice in Conrad’s fiction.
Although my essay does not focus on biographical justification, I do think that the problem of community was the central concern in Conrad’s life and work. As I have spent most of my academic life studying communities in fiction, I find in his writing an inexhaustible wealth of reflection on the dangers of institutionalized communities, the longing for true identification, and sometimes, a glimpse of what Jean-Luc Nancy has called “inoperative community”: the kind established between individuals with nothing in common but their own vulnerability in the eyes of the other. Few writers have depicted that sort of transient connection better (and oftener) than Conrad.
Paula Martín-Salván is Associate Professor at the University of Córdoba (Spain). Her recent research focuses on the representation of communities in fiction, and it has been published in the co-edited volumes Community in Twentieth Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2013) and New Perspectives on Community and the Modernist Subject (Routledge, 2018).
Here’s some of my work on community in fiction:
Community in Twentieth Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2013): https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781137282835
The Language of Ethics and Community in Graham Greene’s Fiction (Palgrave, 2015): https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781137540102
New Perspectives on Community and the Modernist Subject (Routledge, 2018): https://www.routledge.com/New-Perspectives-on-Community-and-the-Modernist-Subject-Finite-Singular/Lopez-Martin-Salvan-Salas/p/book/9780815369622
See also my institutional profile at the University of Córdoba: http://www.uco.es/dptos/depfia/en/our-staff/academic-staff-english/154-paula-martin-salvan