TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY FOUR

From Maya Jasanoff, At Sea with Joseph Conrad.

Toward the end of the trip, Marlow stops at a riverside hut. Inside, he discovers, of all things, a book. “It was an extraordinary find. Its title was, ‘An Inquiry into some Points of Seamanship,’ by a man Tower, Towson — some such name — Master in his Majesty’s Navy” and it “was sixty years old” — a relic from the golden age of sail. Marlow loses himself in its pages as if in “the shelter of an old and solid friendship.” It “made me forget the jungle,” and imparted “a delicious sensation of having come upon something unmistakably real.” The manual has no practical relevance for a Congo steamship, but it reminds Marlow of something more essential: the ethics of sail he fights to uphold in the savage world of steam.

….

Sailing in Conrad’s tracks has made me think afresh about progress and obsolescence. When I hear people say that everything’s changed (or should) in the digital age, I look at the ocean.