Form Harpham’s One of Us (1996)
Conrad’s oeuvre can be read as symptomatic of Modernism’ uneven development. Lumped together with Flaubert, James, and Joyce because of the defamiliarizing force of abstraction, we could also say that this is because (the English) language does in fact resist attempts to shape it into something perfectly referential…things take on associational force almost by accident rather that design. This is Conrad as the accidental modernist, that graduates into something more coherent with Nostromo in beyond, but then he is already explicit about referential relationships (however complicated) to politics and history.
Conrad’s work can be said to both disturb us and open us up to new horizons, argues Harpham. He does this 1) through the idea of the nation as a potentially unifying anecdote to trade, but nevertheless one that is porous and therefore laboriously constructed 2) through the idea of the sea that simultaneously symbolizes freedom and homelessness 3) through language itself, which becomes capacious grand at the same time that it fails to make a tight system of meaning, or even coherence of imagery.