[A-List] Colonialism and Homosexuality
cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Thu Jun 21 06:01:55 MDT 2007
As late as the mid-20th
century, white gay men could have much more sexual freedom in the
Middle East, as well as other outposts of the empires, than at home.
CB: This history of association with white men from the imperial centers may
contribute to the current questions raised about it in some former colonial
nations today. What the white men considered "freedom" many "natives" may
have considered part of the colonialist rape of their people. Heterosexual
white men probably had more sexual freedom in many colonies than at home ,
Recall "Mr. Kurtz, he dead "
"Kurtz has also been interpreted as a symbol of deep-rooted 19th century
Kurtz (Heart of Darkness)
This article is about the character of Mr. Kurtz, from Joseph Conrad's Heart
of Darkness. For Colonel Kurtz in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, see that
Georges-Antoine Kurtz is a fictional character in Joseph Conrad's novella
Heart of Darkness.
1 In the Novel
5 Notes and references
 In the Novel
He is an ivory trader, sent by a shadowy Belgian company into the heart of
the Congo Free State. With the help of his superior technology, Kurtz has
turned himself into a charismatic demigod of all the tribes surrounding his
station, and gathered vast quantities of ivory in this way. As a result, his
name is known throughout the region. The general manager of the company's
Congo operation is jealous of Kurtz, and plots his downfall.
His mother was half-English, his father was half-French and thus "All Europe
contributed to the making of Kurtz." As the reader finds out at the end,
Kurtz is a multitalented man - painter, writer, promising politician
(ironically enough, a populist). He starts out, years before the novella
begins, as an imperialist in the best tradition of the white man's burden.
The reader is introduced to a painting of Kurtz's, depicting a blindfolded
woman bearing a torch against a nearly black background, and clearly
symbolic of his former views. Kurtz is also the author of a "pamphlet"
regarding the civilization of the natives. However, over the course of his
stay in Africa, he becomes corrupted. He takes his pamphlet and scribbles
in, at the very end, the words "Exterminate all the brutes!" He induces the
natives to worship him, setting up rituals and venerations worthy of a
tyrant. By the time Marlow, the narrator, sees Kurtz, he is ill with "jungle
fever" and almost dead. Marlow seizes Kurtz and endeavors to take him back
down the river in his steamboat. Kurtz dies on the boat with the last words,
"The horror! The horror!"
The characterization of Kurtz is highly symbolic, and symbolism is essential
to understanding this complex character. Darkness is archetypally symbolic
of the primeval, uncivilized, violent force of the human psyche. In Kurtz's
painting, it represents the impulses that benevolent imperialism seeks to
tame. Kurtz's repeated association with this darkness reveals that it has
reversed his plans and taken over him. When Marlow says that the wilderness
runs in Kurtz's veins, that is what he means. Kurtz is also repeatedly
associated with shadow, revealing that he represents Marlow's archetypal
shadow. There are many descriptions of Kurtz's half-dead state; he can
hardly walk, and is "no heavier than a child" in spite of his great stature.
Marlow himself acknowledges that he and those around him consistently think
of Kurtz predominantly in terms of voice.
The figure of Kurtz has been inviting for literary critics. Conrad himself
was aware of Sigmund Freud and the developing field of psychoanalytic
psychology. Naturally, critics have been eager to see Kurtz as the Jungian
"shadow" (the archetype of the savage that lurks in all civilized minds) or,
for Freudian critics, as a character who has sublimated his id and acts out
of primal violence while denying any control. However, Kurtz also belongs to
a series of Romantic heroes whose suppressed or sublimated desires lead them
to a fractured psyche. Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein, and Prometheus
in Prometheus Unbound, as well as the central figure of Edgar Allan Poe's
"William Wilson," all ended up displacing their evil into other creatures.
Besides these, the character of Kurtz does not resist a Nietzschean
interpretation, being a sort of "Overman" whose fractured persona resembles
a kind of Dionysian genius, fully aware of his desire for power and his and
utter solitude .Kurtz has also been interpreted as a symbol of deep-rooted
19th century homosexuality. Therefore, it is possible to see Kurtz as a
repository of the wickedness that a bourgeois society needs but cannot
acknowledge. Kurtz is the monster that the refined Marlow cannot face even
though he is fascinated by him.
Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now features a character named
"Kurtz", who resembles Conrad's character in important ways.
Georges Antoine Klein was the real-life individual upon whom Joseph Conrad
based the character Kurtz. Klein was an employee of the Brussels-based
trading company Societe Anonyme Belge pour le Commerce du Hault-Congo, and
died shortly after being picked up on the steamboat Conrad was piloting. He
is buried in Tchumbiri on the Congo.
In German, the word klein means "small" and kurz means "short".
Adam Hochschild in his novel King Leopold's Ghost believes that Leon Rom was
the inspiration for the Mr. Kurtz character, citing references as the heads
on the stakes outside of the station and other similarities between the two.
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