Adriana Cavarero, the prominent Italian philosopher, delivered the conference’s opening keynote lecture on Thursday, June 1. Her lecture, “Soundscapes of Darkness,” discussed the acoustic elements of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in relation to its horrorism, or extreme violence against defenseless people.
Cavarero attended to the presence of the voices, uproars, screams, and silences depicted in the story, as brought home to Europe by Marlow. In addressing these acoustic elements, Cavarero drew on the work of Hannah Arendt. Arendt, meditating on the horrors of the Holocaust, had herself reflected on the horrific colonialism as depicted in the novel.
According to Cavarero, Conrad’s text, in all of its explorations of horror, “vibrates and hangs on the reader’s doors of perception.”
As one example of such lingering acoustics, Cavarero focused on the connection between the speech of Kurtz and the noise of the natives. Cavarero argued that, within the racialized soundscape, Marlow can determine the emotional value of the natives’ utterances. Cavarero also analyzed the dissolution of the oratorical into the solo performance of Kurtz’s voice. She asserted that, if others follow Kurtz’s propensity for extermination, his voice ultimately “will be the only one left on stage.”
Cavarero, noting the reverberations of the text’s horrors throughout history, discussed the manipulative and violent Kurtz as a premonition of fascist leaders to come. She noted how Kurtz’s chilling call to “Exterminate the brutes” – not spoken but written by him – is inscribed as a memory for future European generations.
By the end of the novel, according to Cavarero, readers are left with the question of whether the horror will repeat in the heart of Europe.
“The sinister vibration,” said Cavarero, “does continue to growl on the ear of the reader after its last note has been strung.”