Narrative Autophagy and the Ethics of Storytelling in “Heart of Darkness”

Chapter Title

Narrative Autophagy and the Ethics of Storytelling in “Heart of Darkness”

Book Title

Joseph Conrad and Ethics


Document Type

Book Chapter


Amar Acheraïou and Laëtitia Crémona


[Book Description]

Joseph Conrad’s ethical perspective is one of the deepest in twentieth-century fiction, yet its study has been overlooked in recent scholarship. Joseph Conrad and Ethics is one of very few books fully devoted to ethics in Conrad’s fiction. It offers a thorough, in-depth analysis of Conrad’s ethical reflection that challenges and extends current scholarly discussions.

The authors of this theoretically informed, accessible volume examine Conrad’s representation of ethics through the lens of Levinas, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, and Ricoeur, among others, and confront Conrad’s ethical perspective to these philosophers’ views. Through detailed studies of works like “Heart of Darkness,” The Secret Agent, Lord Jim and Under Western Eyes, they navigate the conflicted terrain of ethics and morality, highlighting the enmeshment of ethics and aesthetics, ethics and narrative, and ethics and ideology in Conrad’s fiction. The key issues they address include the ethics of storytelling and readership, ethical commitment and detachment, the ethics of uncertainty and uneasiness, and planetary ethics and ethical disillusionment.
Conrad is ambivalent about ethics and this interdisciplinary volume pivots around a fundamental Conradian ethical paradox: how to account for ethical responsibility in a world not meant for ethics in the first place and, as Conrad stated, whose “aim cannot be ethical at all.” It demonstrates that Conrad adopts a planetary ethics that embraces the human condition in its universality, while he also doubts the viability of ethics itself. Via his protagonists’ moral predicaments he expresses both the necessity of ethics in human relationships and the impossibility of individual ethical fulfillment.

The book is volume 30 of the series Conrad: Eastern and Western Perspectives, edited by Wiesław Krajka. It explores a major, understudied Conradian topic – Ethics, and adds an important thematic and theoretical dimension to this series. The chapters are written by experts from various universities worldwide, in keeping with the international, cosmopolitan spirit of Eastern and Western Perspectives. The authors’ wide-ranging, original perspectives on ethics open new venues in Conrad scholarship that will greatly benefit scholars and students of Conrad, modernism, and ethics.



Publication Date



Columbia University Press


Literary Studies, European Literature


Arts and Humanities

Narrative Autophagy and the Ethics of Storytelling in “Heart of Darkness”
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