From the Heart of Texas into the Heart of Darkness
The recently chartered Joseph Conrad Foundation (JCF) of Rusk, Texas was invited to participate in the centenary conference celebrating the publication of the Polish-born English novelist Joseph Conrad's most often and most closely studied work, Heart of Darkness. The meeting, convened by the Universities of Cape Town and Potchefstroom on the southernmost tip of the African continent, took place 24 March to 2 April, 1998 in a country which had strong ties to the novelist's early life as a British seaman who made port there on his voyages to Australia and India and spent 64 days in Port Elizabeth while his ship was in drydock. That country also has significance for the founder and president of the JCF, Edmund A. Bojarski, who spent four years as a U. S. Foreign Service Officer at the American embassy in Pretoria.
The occasion and its exotic site have fired the imaginations of Conrad afficionados and a year before the event there were RSVP's from Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, India, Israel, Italy, Korea, Macau, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United States. Among the 84 colleges and universities represented were such world renowned institutions of higher learning as Bologna, Bryn Mawr, California (four campuses), Dartmouth, Exeter, Fordham, Gothenburg, Harvard (three papers) Indiana, Michigan State, Moscow, Oxford (thre papers) and Vanderbilt. Also represented were the Centre for Scholarly Editions of Canberra, Australia and the Joseph Conrad Society of France. The only other participant from Texas was Southern Methodist University.
The conferees heard papers on a broad variety of topics from Conrad in the eyes of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe to a discussion of the "inner station" in Heart of Darkness and the position of the women of Zaire. There were also discussions and filmings of various Conrad novels. The conference was not all work for the attendees in that the two convening institutions had planned a plethora of experiences for the participants ranging from formal chancellors' banquets at each of the two universities and a mayoral banquet in the city of Potchefstroom to a day at a game reserve where the visitors were urged to take precautions against the monkeys and baboons. There was also a bush braai (short for braaifleisch, an Afrikaans language word for cookout), a wine and cheese reception, an African theme luncheon, a dinner at the University of Cape Town Faculty Club, a full day's tour of the Cape Winelands, tours of the town of Paarl and the picturesque village of Franschoek, a visit to the famous Boschendal estate for a wine tasting and a tour of the town of Stellenbosch, founded during the days of the Dutch East India Company of the latter half of the 17th century. The final event was a Cape Malay banquet at the elegant 300 year old Spier estate, which has its own Texas State Railroad style trains from the nearby city of Stellenbosch, open-air amphitheatre which features international stars with classical and jazz concerts, three gourmet restaurants serving authentic Cape dishes and the splendid "Die Opstal" banquet hall where the final meeting of the conference took place.