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"Thinking Through Ideology" Chapter

Dear Maddy,

I think this is a sophisticated, beautifully written dissertation chapter. Since being required to read Heart of Darkness multiple times in high school and college, I have refused to look at it again. But after reading your essay I am interested in returning to it! You do such a great job of explaining other critics’ interpretive logic and pointing out the strengths and flaws in it. For example, on page 5, your presentation of Firchow’s argument and the logical failures in it is exceptionally clear and convincing. Your explanations throughout the essay are consistently well-argued.

I was struck by how much this feels like a ‘real’ dissertation chapter—it seems to fit into a larger, interconnected project about ideology, and supports a particular aspect of your overall statement. On page 8 you mention your dissertation ‘which has an explicit political purpose’—at this point in reading your work, I’m not quite sure what this purpose is. Perhaps it would be clear in the context of the dissertation as a whole, but if I were reading this essay in a journal or an anthology, this would be confusing for me. (I think it would actually sound stronger to imagine the dissertation as a draft for a book and therefore not refer to it as a ‘dissertation.’) If you plan to prepare this to send to a journal, you might want to think about sketching out more about your argument about ideology for your readers.

In terms of the main argument in this essay, I was somewhat confused about how exactly you were entering into this debate about Conrad. There were points where I felt there were excellent assertions of your thesis, particularly on pages 9, 10, and 11, but, for me, these were clouded by the engagement with the academic work on Conrad. Until page 9 or so, the essay felt at times to me like a survey of Conrad scholarship—although I really admire your ability to engage in depth with other critics, I kept wondering, How does your position on the text move out of current scholarship and lead us into a ‘new’ conversation about Conrad? I think you do an excellent job of showing that H of D is a ‘crucial text to contend with for postcolonial studies’ (p.1) and that understanding comes about with ‘positions that untie race and imperialism’ (p.3). But I’m curious to find out more about the particular stakes of your ‘contention’ and your ‘position.’ Again, there are places here where I do see a clear overall argument at work, I would just love to see more of this, especially at the beginning of the essay. The question of how much ‘outside’ critical work to include and how to incorporate it is something I’m thinking about a lot right now (as you know from reading my essay), and so I’d be interested to hear more about your perspective on this issue.

The end of the essay felt a bit abrupt to me, as did the move to discussing workers around page 18—perhaps this could be a place to do some additional expansion and elaboration. I am so impressed with your work in this chapter, and am truly intrigued to learn more about your ideas and to read more of your diss. Thank you for sharing this!

Becky

Comments

Your chapter is so impressive for its complexity at both global (the ideas
at the back of it, so to speak) and local (sentence) levels. I think it is
very close to being submittable to a journal for publication, as well as to
becoming a complete chapter.

To really help, I think I will need to reread this chapter a number of times and focus closely on parts of it at a time, so I hope we will get to discuss it, whether this version or a later draft, as a group. For now, I'm thinking it needs a fuller introduction and conclusion in which you offer, what Conrad and all of the critics and theorists you discuss fail to achieve, an articulation of "the project of ideological analysis." In thinking about how you might do this, I'm stuck on issues of language, which arise in all of your secondary sources, from Achebe to Spivak, and particularly the division of language from politics. Are Conrad and all of these critics/theorists ultimately victims of the New Critical trap into which Firchow obviously falls-- even, ironically, Spivak? Why does language either go beyond and remain untouched by politics or fall short of examining political (economic, historical, geographical) specificities? When you speak of "ideas that comprise" ideology, do you mean something other than language? How? It seems a productive connection might be made between Conrad's attention to Kurtz's "voice" and Spivak's interest in the subaltern's "speech." Can you make more explicit how Spivak is "speaking" to Conrad (or, rather, to Marlow and/or Kurtz)? (Would that be too cheesy?) And, finally, to conclude the chapter, might you return to Achebe, White, and Firchow? I'm thinking ultimately there's a common problem, related to language, among their criticisms of Conrad that needs your final articulation.