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"Rebarbarizing Civilization": Conrad's African Fiction and Spencerian Sociology

Brian W. Shaffer
PMLA
Vol. 108, No. 1 (Jan., 1993), pp. 45-58
DOI: 10.2307/462851
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462851
Page Count: 14
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"Rebarbarizing Civilization": Conrad's African Fiction and Spencerian Sociology
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Abstract

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and "An Outpost of Progress" appropriate and subvert Herbert Spencer's influential "typology of civilization." While these fictions invoke Spencer's crucial opposition of "militant" and "industrial" society, they ultimately undermine his progressivistic theory by expunging the difference between these oppositions. They accomplish this by showing that, in Europe's colonization of Africa, militancy and industrialism are mutually reinforcing tendencies rather than mutually exclusive ones and that Spencer's celebration of civilization and progress ultimately justifies imperialism and obscures the existence of a "military-industrial complex." In addition, Lord Jim provides interesting alternatives to and modified examples of Conrad's intersection with Spencerian ideas.

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