Tag Archives: Joseph Conrad

Collocations in Modernist Prose

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 14.51.47I have recently begun to experiment with Natural Language Processing to determine how particular words in modernist texts are correlated. I’m still getting my head around Python and NLTK, but so far I’m finding it much more user-friendly than similar packages in R.

Long-term I hope to graph these collocations in high-vector space, so that I can graph them, but for the moment, I’m interested in noting the prevalence of the term ‘young man’, Self and Baume being the only authors that have female adjective-noun phrases, and the usage of titles which convey particular social hierarchies; Joyce, Woolf and Bowen’s collocations are almost exclusively composed of these, as is Stein’s, with the clarifier that Stein’s appear shorn of their ‘Mr.’, ‘Miss.’ or ‘Doctor’.

Here’s all the collocations in the modernist corpus:

young man; robert jordan; new york; gertrude stein; old man; could see; henry martin; every one; years ago; first time; long time; hugh monckton; great deal; come back; david hersland; good deal; every day; edward colman; came back; alfred hersland

Canonical modernist texts:

young man; robert jordan; gertrude stein; henry martin; new york; every one; old man; could see; years ago; long time; hugh monckton; first time; great deal; david hersland; come back; good deal; every day; edward colman; alfred hersland; mr. bettesworth

Contemporary texts, Enright, Self, Baume, McBride:

fat controller; phar lap; von sasser; first time; per cent; could see; old man; one another; even though; years ago; new york; front door; young man; either side; someone else; dave rudman; last night; living room; steering wheel; every time

Djuna Barnes

frau mann; nora said; english girl; someone else; long ago; leaned forward; london bridge; come upon; could never; god knows; doctor said; sweet sake; first time; five francs; terrible thing; francis joseph; hôtel récamier; orange blossoms; bowed slightly; would say

Eimear McBride

kentish town; someone else; first time; last night; jesus christ; something else; years ago; five minutes; every day; hail mary; take care; next week; arms around; never mind; every single; little girl; little boy; two years; soon enough; come back

Elizabeth Bowen

mrs kerr; lady waters; mrs heccomb; major brutt; mme fisher; lady naylor; miss fisher; good deal; said mrs; first time; lady elfrida; one another; young man; colonel duperrier; aunt violet; last night; ann lee; one thing; sir robert; sir richard

Ernest Hemingway

robert jordan; old man; could see; colonel said; gran maestro; catherine said; jordan said; richard gordon; long time; pilar said; thou art; pablo said; nick said; bill said; girl said; captain willie; young man; automatic rifle; mr. frazer; david said

F. Scott FitzGerald

new york; young man; years ago; first time; sally carrol; several times; fifth avenue; ten minutes; minutes later; richard caramel; thousand dollars; five minutes; young men; evening post; old man; next day; saturday evening; long time; last night; come back

Gertrude Stein

gertrude stein; every one; david hersland; alfred hersland; angry feeling; family living; independent dependent; jeff campbell; julia dehning; mrs. hersland; daily living; whole one; bottom nature; madeleine wyman; good deal; mary maxworthing; middle living; miss mathilda; mabel linker; every day

James Joyce

buck mulligan; said mr.; martin cunningham; aunt kate; says joe; mary jane; corny kelleher; ned lambert; mrs. kearney; stephen said; mr. henchy; ignatius gallaher; father conmee; nosey flynn; mr. kernan; myles crawford; cissy caffrey; ben dollard; mr. cunningham; miss douce

Marcel Proust

young man; faubourg saint-germain; long ago; caught sight; first time; every day; one day; great deal; des laumes; young men; could see; quite well; next day; one another; would never; nissim bernard; victor hugo; would say; louis xiv; long time

Samuel Beckett

said camier; said mercier; miss counihan; lord gall; miss carridge; mr. kelly; panting stops; said belacqua; mr. endon; said wylie; said neary; one day; otto olaf; dr. killiecrankie; come back; vast stretch; mrs gorman; push pull; something else; ground floor

Sara Baume

even though; tawny bay; living room; old man; passenger seat; bird walk; maggot nose; shut-up-and-locked room; stone fence; food bowl; lonely peephole; low chair; old woman; kennel keeper; rearview mirror; shih tzu; shore wall; safe space; every day; oneeye oneeye

Virginia Woolf

miss barrett; mrs. ramsay; mrs. hilbery; young man; st. john; could see; years ago; peter walsh; mrs. thornbury; miss allan; said mrs.; young men; mrs. swithin; human beings; wimpole street; mrs. flushing; mr. ramsay; mrs. manresa; sir william; door opened

Anne Enright

new york; per cent; eliza lynch; dear friend; years old; even though; first time; came back; years ago; long time; michael weiss; señor lópez; living room; every time; looked like; could see; one day; said constance; pat madigan; mrs hanratty

Will Self

fat controller; phar lap; von sasser; one another; old man; could see; first time; per cent; dave rudman; let alone; front door; young man; skip tracer; quantity theory; jane bowen; los angeles; young woman; either side; charing cross; long since

Flann O’Brien

father fahrt; good fairy; father cobble; said shanahan; mrs crotty; said furriskey; said lamont; mrs laverty; one thing; sergeant fottrell; said slug; old mathers; public house; far away; cardinal baldini; monsignor cahill; mrs furriskey; red swan; black box; said shorty

Ford Madox Ford

henry martin; hugh monckton; edward colman; privy seal; mr. bettesworth; mr. fleight; young man; mr. sorrell; sergius mihailovitch; young lovell; new york; jeanne becquerel; lady aldington; kerr howe; anne jeal; miss peabody; mr. pett; great deal; marie elizabeth; robert grimshaw

Jorge Luis Borges

ts’ui pên; buenos aires; pierre menard; eleventh volume; richard madden; nils runeberg; yiddische zeitung; stephen albert; hundred years; erik lönnrot; firing squad; henri bachelier; madame henri; orbis tertius; vincent moon; paint shop; seventeenth century; anglo-american cyclopaedia; fergus kilpatrick; years ago

Joseph Conrad

mrs. travers; mrs verloc; mrs. fyne; peter ivanovitch; doña rita; miss haldin; mrs. gould; assistant commissioner; charles gould; san tomé; chief inspector; years ago; captain whalley; could see; van wyk; old man; dr. monygham; gaspar ruiz; young man; mr. jones

D.H. Lawrence

young man; st. mawr; mr. may; mrs. witt; blue eyes; miss frost; could see; one another; mrs bolton; ‘all right; come back; said alvina; two men; of course; good deal; long time; mr. george; next day

William Faulkner

uncle buck; aleck sander; miss reba; years ago; dewey dell; mrs powers; could see; white man; four years; old man; ned said; division commander; general compson; miss habersham; new orleans; uncle buddy; let alone; one another; united states; old general

Roger Casement RTÉ Documentary

There was always a Roger Casement-shaped hole in my understanding of modern Irish history, I had never really grasped his significance, or knew why he was cited so often in the decade of centenaries when he wasn’t a signatory of the Proclamation, but this documentary helped me get up to speed, outlining the time he spent in the Congo, and how he may have served to influence Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness.

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/2016/0318/775719-roger-casements-apocalypse-now-africa-1916/

Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ and William Butler Yeats’ ‘Second Coming’

When I was reading Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, I was interested in figuring out what the relationship the title has to William Butler Yeats’ frequently quoted poem Second Coming. In case you are not a product of the Irish education system, the poem reads as follows:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

What is interesting about the first three words of the third line of this text being chosen to title this book is that Yeats is not a poet of ‘things.’ Yeats, I would say, is known for his absolute lack of interest in mere ‘things,’ a fact attested to by the result of his meeting with members of Fine Gael involved in establishing the Blueshirts, an Irish fascist movement. Diarmaid Ferriter describes the meeting between the politicians and the poet as concluding ‘in mutual bafflement.’ Yeats later wrote that the Blueshirts attributed their use of the colour blue to him, as he had always hated the colour green. Yeats writes that he cannot recall this being the case, but accepts their version of events in the main.

Even when Yeats talks about ‘things,’ he is talking about abstractions. ‘Things’ in this context probably means a monument of unaging intellect, a ‘thing’ more in line with the kind of ‘thing’ that Yeats is invested in. (If these monuments of unaging intellect which ‘all’ neglect, as he has written elsewhere, one wonders how much in the way of further disrepair these monuments have to fall into.) Are ‘things’ falling apart in Things Fall Apart?

Quite the opposite. The ‘things’ in Things Fall Apart retain their solidity. The gourds made of goatskin, the kola cubes and the objects which populate the domestic sphere of the novel remain steadfast in their function as ritual objects. What is constantly under threat of dissemblance in Things Fall Apart are identities, both individual and collective.

The first part of the novel depicts a Nigerian village in a pre-colonial state, a time in which religious observances are pagan. The villagers depend on oracles, high priests and a generally decentralised order of ecclesiastics. Achebe is writing against Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, which represented this part of the African continent as in opposition to a more enlightened West, a barbaric un-civilisation. Achebe goes into great detail about how complex and multi-faceted Nigerian society is at this time. In fact, to refer to ‘Nigerian society’ is itself misleading, we do not find out where the novel is set until a colonial administrator informs us in the last line. The daily lives of each villager are socially over-determined by a seemingly endless multiplicity of codes and signs. A writer such as Conrad may read this as indicative of this countries’ essential simplicity, but Achebe demonstrates that the inner lives of the villagers are far from neat and often exist in opposition to these minefields of societal expectation.

When Okonkwo is exiled from his village for accidentally slaying a young boy, the village bands together to carry out his banishment. They assume a collective identity in doing so and act collectively without malice. This is simply the thing that must be done. However, Okonkwo’s closest friend, Obierika, who participates in the purging of Okonkwo’s land, dwells on the contingencies of Okonkwo’s fate in solitude afterwards: “When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat down in his obi and mourned his friend’s calamity. Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offence he committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities.”

This is part of the reason why the ending is so distressing. Achebe writes in a mode that is intimate and at a remove. We understand these characters’ motivations, the richness of their inner lives, but, as in the quotation above, Obierika’s thought processes are obliquely rendered as ‘greater complexities,’ and there is frequent repetition of who a character is relative to another, as if the focaliser of the narrative action is uncertain whether the reader has been paying attention or not. As such, we know that Okonkwo is wilful, violent, sometimes cruel and intensely driven  and yet his final action before the seismic shift that the final chapter enacts is described: “He wiped his matchet on the sand and walked away.”

When we next see him, it is through the eyes of a faintly annoyed colonial administrator, estranged from everything in the novel that has come before. The man inwardly complains that the Nigerians are frequently superfluously expressive, itself a repudiation of the entire novel and its dependence on excess, the mode of communication integral to the nature of literature. He also considers writing his own book, one with the depressing beaureaucratic title of The Pacification of the Primative Tribes of the Lower Niger. In this book, the kind of book that the administrator plans to write, Okonkwo would not merit an entire chapter, perhaps merely ‘a reasonable paragraph,’ and this, rather than Things Fall Apart, is what will represent Okonkwo for posterity.