Marlow the Parrhesiast

The article “Games of Truth” by Rob Horning that was posted on the blog by Dr. Fest really shed some light (no pun intended) on the “yarns of seamen” passage we interpreted for our third short paper.  Shortly into his article, Horning states that Foucault believes that a “beautiful existence” cannot be achieved by merely passively telling people what we’ve done or experienced.  Interestingly, the narrator of Heart of Darkness says forthright that the yarns of typical seamen have a “direct simplicity.”  We get the sense that there are no great mysteries in those typical yarns, and that they are intended solely to entertain and inform.  So, by Foucault’s definition, ordinary sailors are not leading “beautiful existences,” since they are putting nothing at stake in their accounts; they aren’t challenging anyone or anything.  Later on in the article, the concept of parrhesia, the “mode of plain-speaking truth as that individual perceives it,” is introduced.  I had never heard of it before, but taking the time to understand it really made Marlow’s character and his method of story-telling make more sense to me.  The very definition of a parrhesiast is someone who provokes anger in others, antagonizes an enemy, and shocks his audience—all of which I believe Marlow does in the novella—by going against all kinds of society’s widely accepted truths.  According to Foucault’s theory, by telling his story in the fashion that he does, Marlow puts many things at stake: his personal safety, his relationship with his audience, and his overall reputation by confronting a tyrant (Kurtz? Imperialism at large?) publicly.  He’s speaking truthfully without any veil to hide behind, which is an interesting parallel to his attempts to lift veils within the story he’s telling for his audience.  By doing so, Marlow attempts to cultivate his “true self” and subsequently live a “beautiful existence.”

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One Response to Marlow the Parrhesiast

  1. Very interesting post Patricia. I wonder what you’re thoughts on this will be after we discuss the ending of the novella.

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