by Charles Dickens (illustrated by John Leech)
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My initial, uncertain read was that this was GK Chesterton’s biography of Dickens, but a helpful viewer of the site found that it was “Christmas” not “Chesterton”, my mistake deriving from the fact that this specific title doesn’t appear on most Dickens bibliographies, since what it is is a compilation of his three novels A Christmas Carol (December 19th 1843), The Chimes (December 16th, 1844), and The Cricket on the Hearth (December 20th, 1845). I’m in the midst of overhauling the website’s layout and design, so I’ll have to come back to this analysis, since it’s really 3-in-1.
There’s a few things jumping out at me right away, like how Jack dies (very likely) on the evening of the 13th of December, 1979, something that becomes significant to a painting of a bird in room 237, whose name refers to a Greek mythological figure whose name refers to the “halcyon days” of December, which starts (if memory serves) the day after Jack’s death, and carries on through the bulk of the Christmas season.
Another thing, as pointed out by my anonymous helper: A Christmas Carol features its main character, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, being visited by four ghosts: his friend Jacob Marley, and then the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Sticking out from exactly behind this tome is a book called The Fourth Ghost Book (which has no other connection to Dickens that I know of yet), so named because it was the fourth book in a series of compilations about ghosts. But could this “fourth ghost” reference be making a comment on Dickens’s four ghosts? Who would the fourth ghost be? Jacob Marley? The Shining features a recurring song, The Awakening/Dream of Jacob, which at one point is playing while Wendy answers the phone about Jack getting the job. A shot which features the Dickens book sitting beside her.
As for my former writing about this being by Chesterton, I really liked my analysis, though it was clearly technically wrong. I’ll leave the part of my analysis I liked for your consideration, but just remember that it may not apply to a serious analysis of Kubrick’s intentions, and I will probably remove it entirely someday.
A major principle, deriving from Chesterton’s thought is called the Chesterton Fence, where progress/change of any sort to the old way must first prove that it understands why the old way existed, why things were done that way. This reminds me of Bruegel the Elder’s spiralling Tower of Babel, with its crumbling arches. Through that lens, the Chesterton Fence is almost a dramatization of natural selection, by way of trying to humanize (and reclaim from science?) Darwin’s great insight. This also makes me wonder about Chesterton’s place at the top of this pile, in one of the easiest-to-read/notice books in the film. Was this “tower of biblio” (sorry) an ironic comment on Chesterton’s lofty status as a social influencer, and the many ways he changed his mind throughout life?
For my part, I’m probably halfway between Chesterton and Foucault (referenced in the New York Review of Books) on this issue. I don’t see human history as one long uninterrupted upward grade from animal-level ignorance to the singularity and beyond. It strikes me as a series of stop-start reactionary evolutions almost entirely dependant on only every chemical reality of the natural world. If we run out of the fuel to anchor our civilization in outer space, wishing won’t make it so. Adaptation might make it so, but not definitely. There is the potential we will make a prison of this rock. Nevertheless, if you take in the entire history of life on earth, these hiccups do start to becoming almost microscopic chips in the smooth upward trend (between extinction events, of course) toward the potential for something interstellar to occur. Progress, then, starts to look like a runaway, inevitable, irresistible, inflating energy. Or an infinitely vast combination lock, tirelessly trying to open-sync its quadrillions of tumblers. If we hit another Tower of Babel moment in our globalized society, and even if that seems (to the last person alive before our extinction) like the reason why we didn’t make the evolutionary cut…beyond omnicide, there’s nothing saying another species won’t come along in another couple tens of millions of years to replay the whole drama, learn from our mistakes, and do it better. I mean, we figured it out. And let’s face it: we’re pretty fucking stupid.
And speaking of how stupid we are, there’s a whole ‘nother side to this coin: Charles Dickens, the great author and social critic, whose life story is also in the peak Babel position. I’m sorry to say, I’m much too worn out by this process to throw myself fresh into the enormity of Dickens’ life and works, but a few things jump out. 1) I’ve found his writings to be exhaustingly impenetrable in part thanks to what you might call his marvellous blathering (film versions of his works, with their necessary terseness, I find spellbinding), but I suspect my aversion is probably strictly to do with not having a deft grasp of his time and place. Stephen King is probably the next, most popular storyteller after Dickens, famous for his inability to trim or self-edit, but because I get his language and his references, I’m pleased as punch to wade in the blather (you might’ve noticed I’m a blatherer myself). So I’m guessing Kubrick saw a connection there. 2) Dickens was a major champion of social reform, critiquing even religion’s role in 19th-century society, with a courageous reverence for realism, shining many a light on the harsh treatment of children by society, such that Karl Marx expressed admiration, and Darwin’s ultimate text may’ve been structured in imitation of him.
Next literary reference: The Wish Child
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