Conrad and Nietzsche

  • Edward W. Said


Conrad and Nietzsche were disaffected and yet admiring students of Schopenhauer. Each was temperamentally in agreement with Schopenhauer’s pessimistic philosophy, although each — in similar ways — was critical of its principal arguments. Nietzsche did not believe that the Will was blind, nor did he think that it was simply a Will to live. Rather he saw the Will as inclining always to the acquisition of power; so too Conrad, for whom such men as Kurtz, Gould and Nostromo were nothing if not wilful and deliberately egoistic over-reachers. What troubled Nietzsche about Schopenhauer was the latter’s weakening before the amoral picture of the world he had drawn. Whereas Nietzsche acknowledged life’s uncompromising and inescapable disdain for either man or morality, he felt that his once-revered teacher had devised a cowardly retreat from life by preaching stoic withdrawal. Nietzsche’s repeated statements of this criticism are echoed by Conrad’s treatment of Heyst in Victory, whose code of philosophic disengagement from life is articulated only to be violated by Lena, Schomberg, Mr Jones, and the others. These, plus a lifelong interest in Wagner, are part of a common cultural patrimony shared by Nietzsche and Conrad.


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  1. 1.
    Edward Garnett, Letters from Joseph Conrad, 1895–1924 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1928), pp. 157–158.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books,1967), p. 327.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Edward W. Said, ‘Conrad: The Presentation of Narrative’, Novel, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter 1974), 116–32.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1976

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  • Edward W. Said

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