Representations of epistemological certainty and ontological ambiguity in selected earlier works by Joseph Conrad
This dissertation focuses on how Joseph Conrad represents epistemological (un)certainty and ontological motifs in the Marlow texts ‘Youth, a Narrative’ (2007), Heart of Darkness (2007), Lord Jim (2007) and Chance (2008). Conflicting notions are advanced by critics as to why Chance seems to deviate from the other Marlow texts in terms of quality even though these texts were conceived at the same time. This dissertation hopes to explore why Chance appears different by investigating the following question: To what extent and how do Chance’s epistemological and ontological motifs differ from the other Marlow texts? In answering this question, it is necessary to analyse how epistemology and ontology manifest in the given texts. Therefore, using a stylometric approach, I compare Conrad’s Marlow texts to each other and to the non-Marlow novels to demonstrate that Chance’s epistemic word use differs from that of the other texts. Focusing on three verb lemmas, KNOW, UNDERSTAND, THINK, and the noun TRUTH, it becomes possible to concentrate on certain epistemological differences in the Marlow texts such as the level of (un)certainty. Thereafter, qualitative interpretations of the Marlow texts illuminate the stylometric differences and explain why certain epistemic words recur as representations of (un)certainty in the Marlow texts. It would appear as though Conrad’s representation of Marlow in Chance is different to the other Marlow texts in terms of certain epistemological motifs. This seems surprising when one takes into account the fact that all the Marlow texts were conceived during the same period. This might point to what critics call ‘a decline in Conrad’s writing’ or at the very least a change in epistemological motifs in Conrad’s Marlow texts. Furthermore, these epistemological concerns can be linked to certain ontological motifs that appear in the Marlow texts. These ontological motifs are then heuristically explored by comparing the Marlow texts in relation to how a being (character) experiences its world and why Chance seems different in this regard. By implementing Paul Ricœur’s theory of Mimesis (prefiguration, configuration and refiguration) heuristically, I show how each Marlow text conveys these concepts through certain metaphors. I especially emphasize Marlow as a being-in-the-world and how he gains knowledge and portrays it to other characters and listeners.
- Humanities