From a graduate level perspective, how can Foucault's genealogy concept be applied to Conrad's Heart of Darkness in detail?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Foucault's concept of genealogy can be applied to Conrad's Heart of Darkness in a couple of ways.  The concept of Foucault's genealogy is linked to the idea that transcendent notions of truth cannot be readily accepted:

"...for the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects, and so on, without having to make reference to a subject which is either transcendental in relation to the field of events or runs in its empty sameness throughout the course of history."

Foucault affirms that the concept of genealogy is directly linked to being devoid of having "to make reference" to totalizing notions of the good.  There is a willingness to question a meta-narrative that seeks to answer everything and provide one singular path to the truth.  It is in this idea that one can see how genealogy links to Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

The presence of being separated from "having to make reference to a subject that is transcendental" or is rooted in "sameness" defines Conrad's work.  The frame story of a narrator within a narrator is one example how genealogy can be applied to Heart of Darkness.  There is no totality in terms of who is providing insight to the reader.  We have a narration taking place within a narration.  In this stylistic element, there is a preclusion of totality.  Conrad's content in Heart of Darkness can also echo the lack of transcendence which is intrinsic to Foucault's genealogy.  Kurtz is far from a transcendent character. While the belief is that he could be seen as a "civilizing force," it is clear that he is far from it.  When Kurtz says "the horror" as his final words, he does not achieve any sense of transcendence.  Totality is precluded with the reality that one is unable to fully make a clear statement as to what Kurtz is. Europeans and those in the position of power would see him in one light, while indigenous people would see him as another force.  Marlow is also representative of this lack of totality.  He is far from the "exceptional and gifted creature" that his Aunt depicts him as.  Rather, he is a product of the temporal world, capable of living a life of contingency and irony. The technique of the novel as well as the characterizations of Marlow and Kurtz can relate to Foucault's concept of genealogy.

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Heart of Darkness

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