Out of Puff

Sam Thompson

  • The Butt by Will Self
    Bloomsbury, 355 pp, £14.99, April 2008, ISBN 978 0 7475 9175 7

A civilised man travels into the wilderness, and is bewildered. You might call this the Heart of Darkness narrative paradigm. Mr Kurtz is fearsomely civilised, ‘an emissary of pity, and science, and progress’ – he is even equipped with ‘moral ideas of some sort’ – but this only deepens his bewilderment. As Marlow sees it, ‘the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion … his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad.’ This idea of the wilderness as a sinister place likely to release the darkness lurking in the civilised heart is still a thoroughly disconcerting one. There’s no way to dismiss the wilderness. It demands that you imagine yourself in relation to something which by definition you know nothing about.

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