Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday Boz

God Bless Us, Every One

Hand-Lettered Calling Card Of Charles Dickens, Short-Hand Writer (1835)

Today, we celebrate someone like Steve Jobs for being an innovative businessman, for bringing an "imaginative" take to the age-old proposition of selling goods and services. It's important, now, for 'imagination' to be practical, to have a commercial application.

However, Once upon a time, human cultures celebrated the storytellers, people who were able to move us with nothing but a story, which we could read and play out (in Steven King's phrase) "in the skull cinema", the gigantic stage of our own imaginations.

Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870) was one of these Tellers of Tales, and while he was masterful at self-promotion and the commercialism of Victorian England's publishing world, what he had to offer started with a pen on paper and the telling of a tale for its own sake.

We live in a Dickensian world, these days, whether we recognize it or not; a world where the milk of humankindness is present but obscured, and one where a Darwinian interpretation of society rages in full force.

There are Pickwicks and Tiny Tims around us; and Jarndyce v. Jarndyce litigation keeping families at each others' throats; there are secrets from the past, and Miss Havershams wasting away in 'Grey Haven'-style houses -- and there are plentiful Ebenezer Scrooges, with lumps of coal in place of their hearts; far too many of them.

There are Pips, and Bill Sykes-types, in our world (and Sykes' poor dog, Bingo). There are Micawbers and Dan Peggotys and Little Emilys, going off to a new life across the sea. There are Sydney Carltons changing places with Darnay, so that his unrequited love, Lucie, can be happy.

There are Fagins, and 'Monks', Creagles and Steerforths and Bumbles, Pecksniffs and Chuzzlewits, who believe that cruelty and an ignoble grasping for whatever they can lay their hands on, that acts crabbed by meanness and spiked by fear are the proper responses to living, and the world.

There are the Merrys and Cherrys, too, with their spoiled and ridiculous Paris Hilton-expectations of what they are entitled to. There are the Little Nells and orphans. There are those who believe in work-houses and prisons, who seem to believe that many should die and decrease the surplus population. And there are those who do far better things than they have ever done, and remember with tenderness their connections to the people in their past, and to Others. Dickens chronicled them all.

Objects sold in the marketplace, no matter how clean and sleek they appear, and no matter how much they "change the way we listen to music / communicate / work", they don't reconnect us with portraits of our Common humanity.

They're pretty, and efficient; but they don't remind us that we are born and, at some point unknown to us, have to die -- and that the story of the journey between those two fixed and immutable points is the important thing. Whether we were kind, or daft, or ignoble or courageous; whether we turned out to be the heroes of our own lives, or if that station was held by someone else.

Dickens reminded us of that, and on his 200th birthday it's worth taking the time to remember. Happy Birthday, 'Boz'.

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