One shortcoming of many of us who critique our social media culture: We say what we don’t like but fail to say what we like. I have tried to remedy that deficiency in this brief essay for the Hedgehog Review. What you should do instead of hanging out on Twitter is read Dickens. Social media will make your lifeworld narrower; reading Dickens will help you see more expansive possibilities.
Best Dickens novels, in order (kinda):
It’s often said that Dickens’s characters are larger than life, which is true when we let our lives get small enough. Let’s not do that.
Speaking of Twitter – as many people are these days – the smartest thing I’ve read is this by Robin Sloan.
Soon the term will be over and I’ll get back to writing the “biography” of Paradise Lost, how the poem has lived in the world. Here’s what the marvelously dyspeptic and antireligious literary critic William Empson said about the poem: “The poem is not good in spite of but especially because of its moral confusions, which ought to be clear in your mind when you are feeling its power. I think it horrible and wonderful; I regard it as like Aztec or Benin sculpture, or to come nearer home the novels of Kafka, and am rather suspicious of any critic who claims not to feel anything so obvious.”
Too cynical a note to end on? Then let’s hear from Joseph Addison (1672–1719): “It is impossible for any of its readers, whatever nation, country, or people he may belong to, not to be related to the persons who are the principal actors in it; but what is still infinitely more to its advantage, the principal actors in this poem are not only our progenitors, but our representatives. We have an actual interest in everything they do, and no less than our utmost happiness is concerned and lies at stake in all their behavior.”