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Lecture 0A

Bring Me the Heads
of My Enemies

We start with two readings describing Bienville's founding of New Orleans and his conflict with local tribes.

Berry's history of New Orleans is almost poetic in its lyrical description of people and events. In contrast, Armstrong writes mostly iambic pentameter, alternating between blank verse and heroic couplet, all of it dreck. I recommend you go ahead and skim Armstrong; don't get bogged down! But dreck has its uses; it can give us an unreflective look at the underlying ideology.

LaSalle claiming Louisiana
La Salle Claiming Louisiana.

          Calumet Ceremony
Natchez Calumet Ceremony

Natchez Dance
Natchez Dance

Nouvelle Orleans original plan
Nouvelle Orléans original plan

All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz; and by and by I learned that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had intrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance. And he had written it, too. I've seen it. I've read it. It was eloquent, vibrating with eloquence, but too high-strung, I think. Seventeen pages of close writing he had found time for! But this must have been before his—let us say—nerves, went wrong, and caused him to preside at certain midnight dances ending with unspeakable rites, which—as far as I reluctantly gathered from what I heard at various times—were offered up to him—do you understand?—to Mr. Kurtz himself. But it was a beautiful piece of writing. The opening paragraph, however, in the light of later information, strikes me now as ominous. He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, 'must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might of a deity,' and so on, and so on. 'By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,' etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence—of words—of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: 'Exterminate all the brutes!' — Heart of Darkness

Discussion Topics

  1. So one of our authors wrote in heroic couplet comparing Bienville to Aeneas, and the other wrote a history in prose comparing Bienville to Kurtz. If you were writing about Bienville, what genre would you choose and who would you compare him to? Why? What aspect of his character would it bring out?
  2. How does the description of the Native Americans change between the two accounts? How do they stay the same?

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