Heart of Darkness

David Clemens

Teaching Introduction to Literature, I see a curious new phenomenon:  more and more students complain, bitterly, about how dark the readings are.  I’m not sure what this new critical term means; I employ a canonical set of works including Hawthorne, Melville, Conrad, Kafka, Sophocles, and newer works by Phillip Larkin, Tobias Wolff, and J.G. Ballard.  If such authors do anything, they force us to face existential questions.  Once, students went to college to experience just this sort of perennial questioning.  Today, questioning is a nonstarter having been replaced by what Phillip Rieff called “the triumph of the therapeutic” and, as he predicted, by students preoccupied only with themselves and with attaining a “durable sense of well-being.”  This ends any interest in reading about what Victor Davis Hanson calls “the tragic limitations of human existence and how to meet them and endure them with dignity.” When Larkin observes that

At death you break up:  the bits that were you Start speeding away from each other for ever With no one to see

it does not sit well with the Facebook and Twitter crowd, many of whom are now convinced that advancements in regenerative medicine will indefinitely postpone their senescence.  With death no longer inevitable, they find that a literature based on the tragedy of mortality is both archaic and irrelevant.  In insulated, technological isolation, with electronic “friends” and avatars, Comedy Central and Family Guy, they are more concerned with distraction and are irritated that plot and character create inevitabilities and moral consequences.  That’s just so...dark.

  • Share

Most Commented

May 1, 2017

1.

Binghamton University Responds to NAS’s Report

SUNY Binghamton offers critiques and corrections to Outsourced to China. ...

March 23, 2011

2.

Looking for Answers? Ask a Scholar!

NAS is partnering with Intellectual Takeout to answer questions that call for scholarly judgment and can't be answered by Wikipedia. ...

September 5, 2014

3.

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

"[PTSS] provides an evidence-proof explanation that lifts away moral responsibility from those engaged in self-destructive, anti-social, and criminal behavior."...

Most Read

May 15, 2015

1.

Where Did We Get the Idea That Only White People Can Be Racist?

A look at the double standard that has arisen regarding racism, illustrated recently by the reaction to a black professor's biased comments on Twitter....

June 15, 2020

2.

See Clearly, Decide Wisely, Act Justly

An Open Letter to the Converse College Community in response to its administrative decisions relating to diversity and inclusion on campus. ...

June 12, 2020

3.

Defending Against the Jacobins

As college presidents shirk academic reform in favor of more activist programs, the question remains: Will boards of trustees walk with higher ed. leadership over the edge of the cliff?...