March 2014

Eating from the Tree of Knowledge? A Dilemma

To know or not to know–which one is the best option? Is “civilization” really better? What does the word “civilization” really even mean?

For me, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness addressed some thoughts that have been going through my head recently and put them into novella-form, especially in regards to the whole light-dark paradigm. We usually see light here as being “good”, illuminating the way forward, while dark represents a state of blindness and ignorance. But one can easily see how this book completely turns this on its head: this so-called “light” is often a way to reach unfathomable darkness.

Indeed, many writers that we have read in Arts One attempt to look at humanity’s origins as a way to base their arguments (e.g. Rousseau, Paine). For Rousseau, a return to nature seems to be best for humanity; all “progress” that we have made over the past  millenia of our history have led to greater and greater atrocities stemming from the fact that we have left this natural state. Yes, we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge and have been kicked out of the safe shelter of Mother Earth, left to our own devices to construct for ourselves synthetic jungles out of concrete.

They say that to be in darkness is to be blind; but couldn’t having too much of this so called “light” also be blinding as well? Overall, very interesting book, so I’ll have to look at it more in depth since I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I’m not quite sure what side of the ignorance = bliss vs. knowledge = enlightenment argument that Conrad falls on, if does in fact have an opinion either way.

All in all, I see remarkable similarities between this book and Daoism. In short, Daoism is much like, if you will, “Rousseau-ism”–i.e. a return to the state of nature is best for mankind. Marlowe, in talking about how the Company men at the station were all fightening to obtain higher status within the station, yet pointing out the sheer absurdity and pointlessness in doing so, is uncannily similar to Laozi’s rejection of status hoarding and hedonism. It makes you wonder if this civilization thing really is a good thing after all. In the words of the Daodejing:

The five colours blind men’s eyes. The five tones deafen men’s ears. The five flavours spoil men’s palates. Running and chasing make men’s hearts mad. Rare goods confuse men’s ways. Therefore the Man of Calling works for the body’s needs, not for the eye’s. He removes the other and takes this.

(note the use of the “other”…. already in use in Classical-Era China! Yeah yeah I know it hadn’t even been conceptualized yet)


In her book, Wollstonecraft asserts many progressive ideas about women, arguing that they are not merely dumb, emotional and sexual “pleasure-makers” but full-fledged persons who have the same God-given rights as men do. So in other words, there’s a lot of things I like about her. But then there’s a few things that I don’t.

But first, a throwback to a couple of weeks ago.

Fanon in Black Skins, White Mask discusses among other things how an oppressed group of people who, since they are denied value by being “themselves”, are forced to pursue this concept of the “other”. In particular, the black man is forced into two roles, and you can call it what you like–two others, two imagoes, or two “descriptions” (as Hacking would assert) and so on, which are: the savage Negro or the black-turned-white man, which can otherwise be referred to as the white-washed black man in contemporary colloquial speech.

Essentially, Fanon just wants black people, among other things, to be comfortable in being themselves, without the pressure of conforming to some ideal placed upon them by an externality (I know this is oversimplifying it immensely, but bare with me). In the same way, Wollstonecraft tries to break some imagoes of women in writing The Vindications of the Rights of Woman.

However, in breaking all of these stereotypes, she has created another one in their place, and this is what I think does not make her a full feminist. For Wollstonecraft, the ideal woman is the Mother (with a capital M). A better education means better Motherhood, and a better Motherhood entails better-educated children.

Yet in projecting this ideal of Motherhood, I feel that not only is she still in a way boxing women in, but she is contradicting her arguments as well. If women have equal rights as men, shouldn’t they also have the right to refuse to be a mother? Couldn’t society better profit from educated women in some other way, rather than relegating them to this motherly ideal? This is where I’m not quite sure how to feel about Wollstonecraft. I know she mentions that women shouldn’t be confined to the house (and maybe even dabble in politics and other male-dominated professions), but how can she, after all that she has argued for women, insist that the goal of all women are to be good mothers?