Monday, November 9, 2009

Joseph Conrad

I am reading Joseph Conrad's story "Typhoon" (1919) and it strikes me forcibly (no pun intended) that Captain MacWhirr is a very accurate portrayal of an intelligent autistic mind. Conrad claims to have used his experience of a lifetime to create a character of "literal mind and ... dauntless temperament". He used this character as a harmoniser to put the "elemental fury in its proper place".

The key to the plot is not the typhoon but "...the financial difficulty of it, presenting also a human problem, [which] was solved by a mind much too simple to be perplexed by anything in the world except men's idle talk for which it was not adapted."

Characters surrounding the captain view him as a technically-able dullard, incapable of comprehending the little nuances and figures of speech within typical conversation. The character himself claims to not know what people talk about all day - surely they simply repeat everything time and time again.

When it occurs to him the barometer indicates a typhoon, his solution is to read a book on storms to extract advise. He rejects the advise on the basis it would put him two days behind schedule and hence not financially viable in spite of having a deck full of coolies. 2nd mate Jukes suggests the captain alters course - head into the swell - to make the coolies (and himself) more comfortable.

"I was thinking of our passengers, " he said, in the manner of a man clutching at a straw. 
"Passengers?" wondered the Captain, gravely. "What passengers?" 
"Why the Chinamen, sir," explained Jules , very sick of this conversation.
"The Chinamen! Why dn't you speak plainly? Couldn't tell what you means. Never heard a lot of coolies spoken of as passengers before. Passsengers indeed! What's come to you?"
Such a compartmental mind; if they are shipped in bulk - they must be cargo. It is so funny! I see this sort of thinking in my nephew and other literal minded people regularly and it pulls me up short, reminding me there are different world views I need to consider. Many teachers knock heads with such students and it is hard not to be offended by their perceptions. I just try to bear in mind that mine is not the only reality and sometimes their ownership of reality may be stronger than mine!

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