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Dickens and Mass Culture$
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Juliet John

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199257928

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199257928.001.0001

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Culture, Machines, and Cultural Industry

Culture, Machines, and Cultural Industry

(p.157) 5 Culture, Machines, and Cultural Industry
Dickens and Mass Culture

Juliet John (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Chapter 5 acts as a fulcrum for the book, examining Dickens's attitudes to culture and the machine, looking forward to the importance of machines to Dickens's afterlives, and back to the real and symbolic importance of machines in his own day. At the heart of the ambivalence about Dickens in literary criticism from his own day to ours is an association between Dickens's fictional work and the machine, informed by the opposition between the machine and the idea of culture influential in Victorian and subsequent cultural theory. This chapter argues that Dickens occupies a threshold position in cultural history, his aesthetics and philosophies informed by both a mechanical and an organicist conception of art that is more obvious outside the loud and therefore limiting oppositions of Hard Times. Walter Benjamin's classic essay, ‘The Work of Art in The Age of its Technical Reproducibility’ was revolutionary for its ability to think positively about the effects of ‘technical reproducibility’ or ‘mechanical reproduction’ on art, in ways that both illuminate and echo Dickens's working assumptions. The constructive use of mechanism is often linked in Dickens's writings to the work ethic, and figures largely in his depiction of cultural industry, particularly in David Copperfield. This chapter argues that in Dickens's writing and in his vision of writing, a ‘mechanical notion of interiority’, in which the mechanical constitutes not the opposite of feeling but a form of affect, is a recurring preoccupation.

Keywords:   machines, cultural industry, aesthetics, Hard Times, Walter Benjamin, mechanical reproduction, David Copperfield, affect, interiority, work ethic

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