Tuesday, 31 January 2012

BLEAK HOUSE

Been reading a spot of Dickens this month (along with the entire rest of the country/world) and it kinda shows stylistically in these two short posts: satire and sentiment.

By the way is anyone else irritated by the supreme lack of focus on Dickens as radical critic in all this birthday fuss? Seems symptomatic of the rather counter-revolutionary start to 2012.


10 comments:

David W. Kasper said...

As a liberal, Dickens is wide open to appropriation by the right. Like a lot of 'national treasures' he can be used radically, or to celebrate the status quo. Would be interested to see more foreign interpretations of him (NOT U.S.).

Found myself defending Dickens over the holidays - with someone far more liberal than I. They hated him for ultimately celebrating deference and providence. I saw him as more critical and ambiguous than that.

Alex Niven said...

He's a pretty singular kind of liberal though, isn't he? Radical in his critique in a way that doesn't have many liberal humanist parallels, certainly not George Eliot or Henry James or Thackeray.

I suppose the Beeb and Guardian being what they are, the defanging is par for the course, I just thought there might be at least a tentative attempt to compare Victorian inequalities with the present situation via Dickens. That Armando Iannucci thing was a pile of shite.

Zone Styx Travelcard said...

See also Cobbett and Hazlitt. All restless, boiling over with superabundant energy, available to left readings for their excoriating denunciations of entrenched Power, but also to the right for the irreducible element of social deference, conservative reflex. Think in all three it hinges on the valence of the popular - ambiguous flicker you find in folk politics/ popular traditions between radically liberating and mob-oppressive.

Alex Niven said...

Hmm, I'd say the hinge is more between liberal and soft left. Dunno if Dickens is ever "mob-oppressive", more open to bourgeois vacuousness.

Zone Styx Travelcard said...

sure, badly phrased. just trying to get at the radical potential of being for the people vs Old Corruption, vs a certain atavistic conservatism that can creep in at edges of that

David W. Kasper said...

Well his social climber characters and various deus ex machina put him squarely in the liberal camp. It's proto-socal democracy if anything. I reckon he'd find communism horrifying if he was born 50-100 years later.

He's had influence on British socialist writers, but not sure if it's been all that healthy - sentimentality, faith in 'decent people' winning out, kindly businessmen/bureaucrats vs. nasty ones etc.

Alex Niven said...

Yeah I guess maybe this relates to the above post and comments; specifically, the fact that cultural and social liberalism, which is founded in "toleration" and "moderate reformism", will inevitably be more right-wing in a society where the centre has shifted miles to the right. Hence, no radical or left liberalism today to balance out the Tory-ish Dickens-as-national-treasure brigade. Ultimately all of these labels are obviously anachronistic though. See also Ruskin, a weird Tory-socialist conflation.

I'm a humanist of sorts, so I don't believe sentimentality and faith in decency is always pernicious. And the deus ex machina stuff is more formulaic plot irrelevancy than political philosophy, I think. No one really pays attention to the final 50-100 pages of a Dickens novel when the invisible hand "resolves" everything do they?

David W. Kasper said...

I think the 'deus' is a big part of his appeal, just like it was with neoliberalism's promises (albeit for a relatively small sub-generation).

I'm not against sentimentality per se, but if it just becomes a pose or style foregrounded over context (manipulative emotional triggers), then it can be dangerous. 'Obamamania' being a recent example.

Alex Niven said...

Yeah what the hell happened to Obamania?

Anonymous said...

Berlusconi killed it.