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White Skin, White Masks: Joseph Conrad and the Masks of Imperial Manhood

Jesse Oak Taylor, "White Skin, White Masks: Joseph Conrad and the Masks of Imperial Manhood," Conradiana 44.2-3 (Winter 2012): 191-210.

“They were men enough to face the darkness.”Marlow’s description of the Romans he imagines making their way up a river through a barbaric, death- lled land at the end of the world (that is, the Thames) appears to crystallize the im- peratives of imperial manhood. The triangulation of masculinity, race, and em- pire evident throughout Conrad’s oeuvre remains a tangled and even inscrutable problem for critics despite the reams of criticism devoted to Conrad, and especially to Heart of Darkness. In this essay, I will attempt to shed light on the corporate bodies of empire by examining the fetishization of the white male face. As Michael Taussig puts it, the face is at once, “both mask and window to the soul." I will argue that the white man’s face be- comes the primary currency of the imperial endeavor, an active participant in both the violence of the imperial encounter and the obfuscating magic whereby the commodities of empire are imaginatively cleansed of the violence that enabled their extraction. 

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