I sometimes wonder what it is that bugs me. What is it that drives me to do the work I do – because it does feel driven, something I am passionate about. Who or what am I reacting to? What windmills am I tilting at? What itch is it that I am scratching?
A heavy clue lies in the fact that my favourite book is Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness and my favourite bit in that book is when he portrays a company man, a bureaucrat, who runs the operation at the head of the river the narrator is about to travel along into the heart of darkness.
“I let him run on, this papier-mache Mephistopheles, and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt, maybe. He, don’t you see, had been planning to be assistant-manager by and by under the present man, and I could see that the coming of that Kurtz had upset them both not a little. He talked precipitately, and I did not try to stop him.
You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies—which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world—what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose.
I often think of that man, the papier-mâché Mephistopheles. I used to think of him a lot when I worked in a large bureaucratic organisation, I think of him often when being shown around client organisations. I once teetered on the brink of becoming like him out of a fear of being different and a desire to fit in. On a bad day I can still envy him.
Sometimes not wanting to be like him feels like running away. Trying too hard to be different, finding too much fault with the norm. When I first read the book as a teenager I wanted to be Kurtz. I wanted to scare myself and others by going deep inside – seeing and understanding things that others backed off from. But Kurtz, who the narrator eventually meets deep in the jungle, has been running away in his own way – indeed has gone mad running away.
My big fear for myself, and my sadness on behalf of others when it happens to them, is the risk of becoming that hollow shell. Being the company man who relies on the outward trappings of power – the title, the office, the salary – and who has lost his soul in the process. But like the narrator in the novel I want to protect myself and others from the heart of darkness, to avoid the chaos and terror of losing all grip of reality.
This might seem gloriously disconnected from the world of blogging but it is not … trust me. Social tools allow us to navigate along the river, to keep talking to each other as we leave the hollow men behind. To build a collective narrative as we go inwards and loosen the grip on a normality that is already crumbling behind us. With any luck it will also help us to stop short of losing our grip, falling apart and not finding our way back.
But who knows – we have a way to go yet …