Daily Archives: February 12, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies: “Oliver Twist”


Charles Dickens’s birthday passed the other day, so here’s the classic 1948 film version of Oliver Twist, with Alec Guinness as Fagin.

From The Secular Scripture:

There are said to be customs and rituals in ancient Greece that explain the child-exposing convention; but they do not explain why Victorian writers, fifteen centuries later, should be as preoccupied with it as ever.  With the archetype, at least: the actual exposure and adoption procedure is found only in stories with a strong folk tale feeling about them, like Silas Marner.  Scott and Dickens would often be helpless for plot interest without the motif of mysterious birth: in Dickens a hero’s parents, like those of Oliver Twist, may be triumphantly produced at the end of the story even though they were mere names, playing no part in the story itself.  (CW 18, 67)

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Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant died on this date in 1804 (born 1724).

From The Double Vision:

The greatest of all philosophers who took criticism as his base of operations, Kant, examined three aspects of the critical faculty.  First was pure reason, which contemplates the objective world withing the framework of its own categories, and hence see the objective counterpart of itself, the world as it may really be eluding the categories.  Second was practical reason, where a conscious being is assumed to be a conscious will, and penetrates farther into the kind of reality we call existential, even into experience relating to God.  Third was the aesthetic faculty dealing with the environment within the categories of beauty, a critical operation involving, for Kant, questions of the kind we have just called teleological, relating to purpose and ultimate design.

For Kant, however, the formula of beauty in the natural world at least was “purposiveness without purpose.” The crystallizing of snowflakes is beautiful because it suggests design and intention and yet eludes these things.  To suggest that the design of a snowflake has been produced by a designer, whether Nature or God, suggests also that somebody or something has worked to produce it: such a suggestion limits it beauty by cutting of the sense of a spontaneous bursting into symmetry.  “Fire delights in form,” says Blake, and Wallace Stevens adds that we trust the world only when we have no sense of a concealed creator.  (CW 4, 191)