Monday, June 20, 2022

"We need to read Dickens, now more than ever"

At Snakes and Ladders Alan Jacobs quotes from and links to his essay at The Hedgehog Review, "You Are Not a Server, Nor are you finalizable.":
.... The more authoritarian a social regime is, the more insistently it will simplify the possible responses—always converging on thumbs up or thumbs down—and demand the correct one. I don’t think we live in a totalitarian, or even an authoritarian regime—not even close—but in any given culture there are always authoritarian subcultures, and we have more of those than we used to, because our social media empower such attitudes and practices and demands. And to accept those attitudes and practices and demands is to undergo a diminution of personhood. ....

.... No one can say the last and complete word about any of us. It is the ambition of all authoritarian regimes, social or political, to utter that final and definitive word about whoever comes within its orbit; it is, for Bakhtin, an ethical imperative to refuse that final word, whether uttered about myself or my neighbor. ....

But quite often inequities of power make it impossible to refuse directly and explicitly—and this is where, for Bakhtin, laughter comes in, and especially the laughter that arises in parody and satire. .... And that’s why I think that in our current moment there’s no writer more important than Charles Dickens. ....

To begin to cite examples is a dangerous thing. Once embarked on that journey, how would one end it? How could one mention the circumlocutions of Mr. Tite Barnacle without also mentioning the unctuousness of Uriah Heep, the commitment to Fact of Mr. Gradgrind, the endless compassion of Little Dorrit? Lo, I have already commenced. They are all infinitely memorable because they are all infinitely excessive; they are, as it were, nothing but surplus. They always remind us of the possibility of living at an outsize scale, of being simply more than anyone could expect, more than any reasonable person would ask for. If they seem mere caricatures, that may say something more about our crimped and confined moment than about them. They are a constant encouragement to expand rather than contract one’s options.

And that is why we need to read Dickens, now more than ever.

I will leave off my citations—but only after one final one. I think of Bleak House and I think of Sir Leicester Dedlock. .... (read on)
Alan Jacobs, "You Are Not a Server Nor are you finalizable," The Hedghog Review, April 26, 2022.

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