VMI Cadet Researches Link between Philosophy and Literature

Carson Knox ’22 explored the relationship between writing and philosophy in his senior thesis presentation: “Nostromo and Schopenhauer’s Sublime”.

LEXINGTON, Va., March 25, 2022—Where does an author get his inspiration to write a fictional novel? How does an author develop character traits and personalities? Are writers and the work they create influenced by philosophers?

Carson Knox ’22 explored the relationship between writing and philosophy in his senior thesis presentation: “Nostromo and Schopenhauer’s Sublime” during Honors Week at Virginia Military Institute, held March 21-31.

“Nostromo” is a novel written by Joseph Conrad, who is considered one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language. Knox considers Conrad one of his favorite authors and has enjoyed reading his books= “Heart of Darkness,” “Lord Jim,” and “The Secret Agent.” “Nostromo” is one of Conrad’s lesser-known works and was chosen specifically by Knox since little research has been done on the novel. Knox admitted that the novel is a hard book to get through and is not a lot of fun to read, but worthy of studying. Written in 1904, “Nostromo” is set in the imaginary South American country of Costaguana, threatened by a revolution. The main character, Nostromo, an honest Italian seaman, seeks to restore the country’s stolen silver treasure.

Knox looked at the influence on Conrad by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. According to Knox, Conrad was known to have read and was fond of Schopenhauer’s writings. Schopenhauer attributed suffering in life to what he called the “will,” which is striving, desire, urges, and the attachment to everything that exists. His definition of the sublime is the ability to escape the “will,” bringing on a state of serenity and higher knowledge. An example of such an escape would be meditating on the vastness of the universe and acknowledging oneself to be nothing.

Knox concluded that Schopenhauer’s philosophy helps the reader understand Conrad and the motivation of the characters he created in “Nostromo.” The work is an ethical statement, which Knox believes is Conrad’s purpose in writing the book. The characters perform unselfish acts for the benefit of others and the common good.

Knox is the son of Dave and Stacey Knox of Conroe, Texas, and the grandson of the late Richard Knox and Linda Knox of Plano, Texas and Clifford and Cynthia McFarland of Conroe, Texas. He is majoring in English, Rhetoric, and Humanistic Studies. After graduating in May, he will be teaching 9th and 10th grade English at Canterbury School in Fort Myers, Florida, for the 2022-2023 academic year. He plans on attending graduate school and earning his Ph.D. in English in the future.

Marianne Hause
Communications & Marketing


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