Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2011
Exegetes of the moment
Like other late Victorian and early modernist classics, Lord Jim programs in its readers an attention to momentariness which belies its own subtle retreat from that temporal form. Written on the cusp of the twentieth century, Conrad’s novel exemplifies new directions in literary tropes of momentary experience. The subjective moment of the human – a formative unit in the tradition of sensibility, and in associationist and neurological models of sensation – fractures into instants, with consequences for the integrity of the subject, namely Jim, who cannot maintain a unity of intention through a series of nerve-racking instants.
And then there’s Marlow, whose moments of intersubjectivity are addressed to a sophisticated reader, a secular descendant of biblical interpreters, accustomed to textual strata of meaning. Temporal strata complement textual strata; the momentary figure operates like a depth-sounding device for temporized experience. Time and the text share a structure of revelation and concealment, homologies that are everywhere apparent in Conrad’s momentary figures, which create layered structures via the simultaneity of temporal event and textual sign. Marvin Mudrick wrote in 1958 that “after Heart of Darkness, the recorded moment – the word – was irrevocably symbolic.” Written word, moment, and symbol define a reality that is pliant to language, layered in meaning, and characterized by occasional vortexes of temporized words that plumb these depths.