Sunday, July 2, 2017

On Reading Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist In Fact


Happy to announce I'm reading or rereading, I honestly  can't remember which, Oliver Twist.

Dickens,  it's trite to say, is a miraculous miracle of a writer.

I remember being taught second year English by the inestimable Warren Tallman, an Ichabod Crane looking guy, tall, gangly, bespectacled, with wisps of hair, a friend of Robert Creeley, and his fellow Black Mountaineers,  champion of the poetics that theorized following the rhythms of natural breath, as argued for, as I remember, by Karl Shapiro, and who championed the irascible Mordecai Richler, and who gave me, unexposed to so much, my first taste of intellectual Bohemia, especially on inviting a few of us to parties at his house, the likes of which at 19, grown up lower middle class, and knowing only little of the world, I couldn't begin to imagine, and who set me on my path to majoring in English and then on to graduate studies.

We read Great Expectations. I remember we were talking about some scene where an ultra obsequious merchant, not His Oiliness, Uriah Heep, was selling Pip something or trying to. And Warren Tallman was turning himself pedagogically and almost bodily inside out just to try to convey that factor X that makes Dickens's prose fiction so indescribably miraculous. I can't remember whether he was able to do it to his or our satisfaction. But I do remember his asking us with, what can I call it, maybe desperate enthusiasm, paraphrase, "Can you see what he's doing there? Can you see it?" 

So that's one thing about Dickens, the miraculously oddness of his writing, his playful archness, his ironic exaggeration, his savaging of the objects of his scorn with the most delicate but piercing tropes and verbal touches, and his sheer sentimentality, fat tears running down so-sad faces on a black velvet background sentimentality, but making incomparable art out of it, and bringing me near to tears with it too. 

His anti semitism notwithstanding.

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