The Silver of the Mine

private-silver-ingots-wide-1600x652Many years ago, maybe twenty, I had a dream which, in the way of such things, I wrote down and augmented and published, twice, once online and once in print (Waimarino County). It was about Joseph Conrad. People had told me that Nostromo was his greatest book and so I acquired somewhere a copy – a Penguin Classic – and set myself to read it. I couldn’t do it. I remember that paperback volume, browning and fading and disintegrating, lying abandoned on the shelf behind the back seat of another failed project, the white 1965 XP Falcon I bought in the 1990s and tried to restore and never did. I still reckon that car (it was stolen, not from me, but from my Polish neighbour, Stefan, to whom I sold it) is in a garage round the corner from here. Not yet restored, but almost. If I had the key I swear I’d drive it away. Anyway. Few weeks ago I found a copy of Nostromo (hardback, Everyman, big print, long intro, author’s preface) in the Ashfield library. I just finished reading it. About an hour ago. Still reeling. The Silver of the Mine. The Isabels. The Lighthouse. They are what the three sections are called. I’m not going to try to anatomise the read here, it’s all too fresh. But it is a book about money. Something Conrad saw, sailing all around the world as a young man (he started at 17), first in the French merchant marine, later in the English, gave him a preternatural insight into the mechanisms of mercantalism, to coin a phrase. The titular character is based upon a Corsican Joseph sailed with out of Marseilles: Dominique Cervoni. ‘In his eyes lurked a look of perfectly remorseless irony, as though he had been provided with an extremely experienced soul; and the slightest distension of his nostrils would give to his bronzed face a look of extraordinary boldness. This was the only play of feature of which he seemed capable, being a Southerner of a concentrated, deliberate type.’ But what Conrad imagines in Nostromo is the intricate processes which lead to the corruption and death of this incorruptible. It is so distressing that you almost wish to resign from your own life as a consequence: if this man’s ethic fails him, what chance do the rest of us have? Even though, or especially, it is based upon the good opinion others have of him. The strangest thing for me was the realisation that the plot of Nostromo, which turns upon the digging up and then the reburying of a large amount of a precious metal (silver not gold), is mirrored in the one, in all innocence and under very different circumstances, Leon Narbey and I came up with for our film Illustrious Energy. It’s enough to take you back to the Periodic Table, and to the eternal wondering as to what these elements really are and what they really mean.

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