Friday, 5 September 2008

Heart of Darkness, the Core and the Gap

From Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:
‘I left in a French steamer, and she called in every blamed port they have there, for, as far as I could see, the sole purpose of landing soldiers and customs officers.’
In the late 19th Century, Marlow, an English sailor looking for adventure, is a passenger on a steamer going down the west coast of Africa. He has signed up with the Company to captain a riverboat, but first comes this long journey as spectator.
‘The sun was fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. Here and there greyish-whitish specks showed up clustered inside the white surf, with a flag flying above them perhaps. Settlements some centuries old, and still no bigger than pinheads on the untouched expanse of their background. We pounded along, stoppped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost in it; landed more soldiers - to take care of the custom-house clerks, presumably. Some, I hear, got drowned in the surf; but whether they did or not, nobody seemed particularly to care. They were just flung out there, and on we went.’
I read Heart of Darkness for the first time on our recent trip to the wilds of the Isle of Mull, and with the insect bites, the grass and moss and other vegetation growing right down to the edge of the salt water, the tree trunks covered with moss and lichen and other life soaking up the moisture and growing like a green plague, the green and gold hills across the Sound of Mull in mist and sun, well, the whole effect was quite convincing at times: Africa in Scotland.

It was curious reading a book that was already so familiar before even opening it, from all the references made to it, from Apocalypse Now, and from Jan de Hartog’s novel of the Dutch East Indies, The Spiral Road. I want to write about his colonial tale in a later post, but first to a more recent echo I heard as I read the above passage - the strategic model proposed by Thomas PM Barnett of a world divided into the Core and the Gap.

TPM Barnett has been around awhile, has written successful books about his view of the world, and seems to have quite a following. (See for example the Information Dissemination post I linked to at the end of my last post before the Mull Expedition.) However I only came across his writing in the last month, and in circumstances not suited to winning me over.

The first I read of his was about how to react to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, a piece which placed much greater emphasis on maintaining Russia’s position in the Core part of his global strategic model, rather than giving much consideration to how to defend nations on Russia’s borders threatened by a gangster regime. My gut was opposed to the sentiment of the post, but there were strong arguments there, and it was rooted in that strategic model of his, with which I was wholly unfamiliar.
‘It was upward of thirty days before I saw the mouth of the big river. We anchored off the seat of the government. But my work would not begin till some two hundred miles farther on. So as soon as I could I made a start for a place thirty miles higher up.’ 
Continued in part two here.

Part three here. Part four here. Part five here.

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