"""EXTERMINATE ALL THE BRUTES"": A Modern Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness" by Sven Lindqvist

"""EXTERMINATE ALL THE BRUTES"": A Modern Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness"

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An impressionistic history of European colonialism, in which the author argues that Enlightenment ideals of social evolution and human perfectibility, carried to their logical extreme, resulted in genocide. Taking his title from Joseph Conrad's haunted fable of colonialism, Swedish scholar Lindqvist extends Hannah Arendt's argument that the practice of imperialism demands an ideology of racism, itself a product of Enlightenment scientific theory. Much of his short, essayistic book describes the factual circumstances that informed Conrad's fiction, and in this alone it is a fine contribution to literary history. He turns up contemporary newspaper accounts of a Belgian captain who decorated his flower beds with the heads of African natives; of British massacres of wounded Mahdist soldiers after the battle of Omdurman, in which ""within the space of five hours, the strongest and best-armed savage army yet arrayed against a modern European power had been destroyed and dispersed, with hardly any difficulty""; of German concentration camps in the Namibian desert in which thousands of natives died. Such horrors, Lindqvist writes, were not isolated outbursts of savagery but the outcome of a doctrine that placed Europe at the top of the evolutionary ladder and regarded non-Europeans as a separate species bound for extinction. Lindqvist argues that such thinking leads to Auschwitz, ""the modern industrial application of a policy of extermination on which European world domination had long since rested."" Peppering the narrative are notes from Lindqvist's travels into the Sahara that occasionally slide into self-indulgence. But these do not detract from the power of his argument or his view that all around us Heart of Darkness is being endlessly restaged. Admirers of Edward Said's Orientalism will find Lindqvist's book an eminently worthy companion.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1996
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: New Press