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Dickens, Pornography and the Lost Art of Letter-writing

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

I was listening to Dicken's Little Dorrit this morning up on the roof while I ate melon and performed yoga. I love the language of Dickens. Even the poor had oratorical flourish, grand eloquence. Dostoevsky was getting paid by the word. Dickens was publishing serially, another chapter or so each month. He had space to fill. Nothing is said in a short way. No one gets to the point, or does so in a hurry. The word play is delightful, more prevalent and at least as important as the action of the story. Here is a line (Book One Chapter 13) I noted in passing, writing it down because of its rhythm. Say it aloud to hear its poetry, "When we lived at Henley Bond's gander was stole by tinkers." Those were different days.

I love the "reliable narrator." If we are told that someone's face is cruelly twisted, it is because he is cruel. If someone has kind eyes, then they are kind. It makes me nostalgic for a simpler time, perhaps a simpler time I have only imagined.

Book Two Chapter 11 is a letter from Little Dorrit to Arthur Clennam telling him of her travels on the Italian peninsula. For me the device of the letter compounds the time displacing effect of the novel. First the novel casts me back to the slower world of the early 1800s. Then the letter, written by Little Dorrit over the course of an hour and let sit for a day or two before being posted in Rome, travels for weeks, overland and on ship, before reaching London, and sits there, at the post office, until collected by Arthur.

It does seem that things are going faster, doesn't it? Accelerated Change they call it. History is moving faster than it used to, like a spiral spinning in tighter and tighter on itself or the exponential change shown on a graph. There is more and faster change now than there was 60 or 30 or even 15 years ago.

Peter Theil, who cofounded Paypal and was Facebook's first private investor, argues rather cynically that, with the exception of computers, technology hasn't advanced much since the late sixties: "they promised us flying cars and all we got is 140 characters." But it's not as if you can ignore that exception. Computers have changed most (or all?) aspects of our lives, our collective experience and our personal histories. They have changed the way we perceive our world. Certainly they have changed the way we communicate. Not least important in this regard are those "140 characters."

When my ex-wife moved away from San Miguel she gave me back the letters I had sent her when she was in her last year of naturopathic medical school in Seattle and I was already practicing in Connecticut. They are in a shoebox somewhere in my bodega. (I told you I was nostalgic.) Letters, of course, were rendered nearly obsolete by the quicker medium of email. But email itself has been superseded, except among st us oldsters, by messaging services like Whats App. An email does not lend itself to as much composition as a letter. Still an email does lend itself to much more composition than an "instant" message. Then while the email is delivered instantly, it might lie in undiscovered in some inbox for hours before the recipient happens to check there. But the instant message comes with an instantaneous alert - bing - announcing its arrival. But what of those "140 characters?"

Pornography arouses prurient, immoderate or unwholesome interest. Pornography takes sex, something that ought to be private and puts it on display. It takes into the marketplace something that ought to be intimate. It debases something that ought to be sacred, separate. (The Hebrew word Kodosh means holy, separate, set apart.) It makes sex vulgar.

Also, pornography depersonalizes other human beings. Basic respect is denied. People are treated as objects.

There are other things, besides lewd sex, that arouses prurient, immoderate, unwholesome interest. There are other arenas where people are depersonalized. There are other, non-sexual things that might be labeled pornographic. For example, those "140 characters," Twitter.

I myself don't have a Twitter account, but I am familiar with the way it works. I have visited the site. I have seen many examples of the depersonalizing, prurient mob mentality that prevails on the platform. It arouses unwholesome interest. It fosters immoderate intent. Anonymous users deny the humanity of those they attack, all of it on public display. Twitter, not all of it, is pornographic. It is communication made pornographic.

I know that I'm sounding like my grandmother in her dotage, but a goodly part of the problem is that it's all happening too fast. There is no time to reconsider, no time to, as Mr Meagles in Little Dorrit advises Tattycoram, "Count to five and twenty." The capacity to instantaneously make public our thoughts and feelings that social media affords us has changed our society. This is especially true when you consider the multiplier effect, what happens when we pile on and do it all together. At the advent of the atomic age Einstein worried that our wisdom had not kept up with our power. I am not alone in observing that the societal disintegration we now witness is due to our abuse of the power of social media.

Further contrasting Dickens and Twitter, the old times with ours, it seems clear that along with the loss of a slower, more deliberate way of living, we have also lost our sense of decency.

Recently, I was myself viciously attacked in emails by several persons for having the temerity to quote, in an article I wrote, several studies that deny the claim that blacks are disproportionately killed by police. In that article I acknowledged that anti-black racism exists, but suggested that the campaign against it would be better served by sticking to the truth.

Maybe the studies I quoted are wrong. Maybe there are other statistics. (I looked and couldn't find them.) But it seems to me the worst, most self-defeating part of woke culture, and of this woke civil unrest, is its intolerance of other points of view. Why can't we talk about it? People are afraid to voice any dissent. People are afraid to say the wrong thing. I guess if you think that America is a cesspool of racism, then a society governed by Orwell's Thought Police might be seen as an improvement.

As history continues to accelerate, as time continues to speed up, as we ever-tighten along the spiral of change, the theory goes, something has to give. There are those who believe that the center of the spiral represents a coming global "phase change," a singularity where we will enter:

"an intellectual transition as impenetrable as the knotted space-time at the center of a black hole, and the world will pass far beyond our understanding." - Vernor Vinge

Maybe after passing through that intellectual black hole we will finally find the time and motive to be nice, or at least decent, to each other.

**************

Dr David a victim of the Hippie movement, is still trying to change the world. He and his merry band believe that with the new expanded Lokkal (on your computer screens soon) it just might happen.

events @ sanmiguelevents.com

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