Bourdieu, the chimes, and the bad economist: Reading disinterest.
This paper reads Charles Dickens's The Chimes through the lens of Pierre Bourdieu's study of class ethics and his problematization of working-class disinterest. Arguing that nineteenth-century British literature tends to characterize working people as either obsessed by financial schemes or economically disinterested, it suggests that Bourdieu's non-dualistic epistemology can change the way we understand class in literature, and indeed in any discipline that offers images of working people along the lines of an economic/ethical split. Bourdieu's way of seeing economic practices in ostensibly non-economic activity, while seeing in that economic activity a deep stratum of ethics, rectifies representations or interpretations of class where a simple working-class pragmatism that capitulates to the economic alternates with an inherent working-class moral superiority. Dickens's Christmas story, The Chimes, is interpreted using Bourdieu's materialist ideas so as to model how other representations of class can be rethought.
In her closing commentary to the Modern Language Quarterly's special edition on Pierre Bourdieu, Toril Moi asks, "What is the use of Pierre Bourdieu's sociology of culture for contemporary literary criticism? Or in other words: flow can Bourdieu's sociological method benefit the practice of literary critics?" (1997, 497). Her answer is not optimistic. Moi believes that because Bourdieu's methodology, as demonstrated in The Rules of Art (1992), involves both the collection of massive quantities of data on an author and the painstaking examinations of all practices that contributed to the struggle for success, critics of American and British literature will have "huge problems" writing a Bourdieuian textual analysis (Moi 1997,497).The problem is not unique to Bourdieu's ostensible methodology: "huge problems" await each and every cultural materialist because the 'material' we might study and work from -- all that goes into the production of a text -- is interminable. In the spirit of Bourdieu, however, we could respond by saying that if one dispenses with such hard categories as inductive and deductive, qualitative and quantitative, or historical and theoretical, in order to interpret and contextualize a text, some of the inherent difficulties in developing a sociology of literature can be overcome. In this essay I argue that Bourdieu's approach to class practices and distinctions, which is neither purely a priori nor a posteriori, is valuable for the discussion of the representation of class, and especially the working classes, for it offers a subtle yet widely applicable corrective to a great deal of critical literature that characterizes working people as obsessed by financial schemes on the one hand, or economically disinterested on the other.
This essay aims to demonstrate that Pierre Bourdieu's study of working-class cultures, and especially the ambiguity in the semantics of disinterestedness that notoriously complicates his work, can be read against this habit of dichotomizing working-class practice along the lines of short-term pragmatic interests or a disengaged moral resistance.Though I continue to have difficulties with Bourdieu's tendency to create a world where nothing is ever done entirely for its own sake, as distinct from something being done because it has to be done, I argue that his non-dualistic epistemology can greatly enhance the study of the ways in which class is represented in literature, and is indeed relevant to any discipline that considers working people along the lines of an economic/ethical split. In fact, Bourdieu's way of seeing economic practices in ostensibly non-economic activity is matched by an impulse to locate a deep ethical stratum in that economic activity (for example, as demonstrating pride in the distinguishing features of one's class culture). Taken together, these elements rectify interpretations that move between a simple working-class pragmatism amenable to capitulation to the economic-as-it-is, and an inherent working-class moral superiority. Bourdieu insists that the signs of non-capitalist activity are a response to necessity, that they are not purely driven by extra-economic values, and indeed betray an economic logic. But Bourdieu's working-class habitus,"an internal law through which the law of external necessities ... is constantly exerted," is also "irreducible to immediate constraints," for it never operates in the absence of ethical and extra-economic considerations (1990, 54-55). Bourdieu assumes that only a relational analysis appreciates the logic of the classes, and that cultural differentiation based on economic lines can have a political correlative. He demands, that is, a problematization and politicalization of disinterest.
I will begin by tracing the ways in which working-class culture has typically been drawn according to a divide between self-interest and disinterest. My examples are mostly taken from nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century British literatures, which reflects my area of study. I wall then discuss Bourdieu's counterintuitive and counteractive articulation of working-class economic and non-economic activity, finally, I will offer a reading of one of Charles Dickens's Christmas stories, Ihe Chiittes, that identifies elements of economic logic at work in the ostensible disinterestedness of its working-class characters. The model of class practices provided by Bourdieu, I argue, ultimately challenges readers to complicate the story in constructive ways and allows a cultural materialist hernieneutic to proceed without massive quantities of historical data.
This essay discusses only historical questions about working class representation, and not the question of what they were or what they are. Attempts to plot the development of the working classes upon extra-economic grids have tended either to project a bifurcated conception of class or link class to culture with a view to dissolving the solidarities of the one into the complexities and vagaries of the other. For that reason. I am interested in understanding the retrospective construction of fc working-class culture' and its abstract categorization of 'the working classes'. In this essay then 'working class' means all that has been subsumed under the term: popular culture, urban culture, and a cluster of other historically unspecific concepts that describe historically specific political, economic, or social practices. In Languages of Class (1983), Gareth Stcdman Jones argues that notions of class are the effect of linguistic contexts. In a rather different manner I ask, in what way is 'the working class' an effect of a binary discursive logic? lwen in the best studies of the working class, such as Jonathan Rose's, that claim to be deeply or entirely historical, one nonetheless sees a split characterization of u as either economically interested or playfully pre-capitalist; such polarizations range across the distinctions between nonfiction and fiction, conservative and liberal, and Britain and the Continent, and continue from the nineteenth century to today. But the ahistorical conception of'the working class,' as at one moment optimizing potential gains and in the next presenting a moral challenge to the very idea of utility; is undone by Bourdieus elision of the moral and economic. The interfusion of motives we see in the characterization of Bourdieus working classes allows us to retroactively complicate stereotypes that arguably originate in the nineteenth century but persist today.
These stereotypes were largely set in motion by the early sociological accounts of the 'Condition of England1 pioneered by the hugely influential Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle downplays the economic activity of his working class because acknowledgement of economic ambition might have been associated with a comparable political ambition. Despite the radical and Chartist movements of the 1830s and l840s. Carlyle presents a working class eager to deny political goals. His working classes are naturally subservient, only in need of paternal-organic guidance, and desire only to work for the sake of working. The working classes, according to Carlylc, need work in order to fulfill an internal need. This external need is often deprecated: "Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness" (2005, 196). John Ruskin would later repeat the idea that the best of the working class deny economic needs, so that "with brave people the work is first, and the fee second" (1903-12, 18:413). Yet at the same time Carlyles working classes are written as if governed solely by need, poverty being the only determinant of their aspirations under the shadow of capitalism. Ruskin, arguing that laborers "have no pleasure in the work by which they make their bread," can only admit that they "therefore look to wealth as the only means of pleasure" (1903-12,10:194). Often, the characterization of the working class depends upon the implied audience. When the implied audience is the working class -- as if the nonworking classes (who primarily comprised Carlyle's actual audience) were schooling the working class -- the emphasis is on work for its own sake. When the implied audience is the non-working classes, Carlylc rages against the injustice faced by the working class, how a greedy middle class and a lazy upper class have forced the working class to revolve around need. Here he addresses "that question of work and wages" (1965, 26). The two poles of the contradiction, desire and necessity, are never brought into negotiation-There is no sense, for example, that the path towards intrinsic satisfaction, and thus social peace, might be through extrinsic satisfaction.
In this respect, the major difference between the sociology of Carlyle and the fiction of his contemporaries is that Carlyle depicts the working classes conjunctively as both rationalist and disinterested, although the two practices of working-class life never occur simultaneously, while in the fiction of the era, for narratological reasons, authors represent the working classes disjunctively, as either disinterested or ruthlessly self-interested. The examples are too numerous and well documented to record at length. Mary hagleton and David Pierce have characterized the working classes as represented in middle-class fictions of the 1840s "as the needy, the other nation, the trouble makers,"both sympathetic and antagonistic (1979, 14).To express disgust at industrialism and its attendant values, urban working people are written as abounding with caritas, integrity, and a deep human goodness incompatible with any economic sensibility, even when their lives are dominated by necessity. So in Charles Dickens's Dowbey and Son (1848), for example, the capitalist's gloomy, life-denying home (the House' of Dombey) is negatively compared to the "cheerful homes" of working men "and the children who wait watching for them" (2008, 446) or the vital, life-affirming working-class home of the'loodles family. Self-interested working-class villains and the dangerous and profligate cram the pages of Condition-of-England stories, but for every rogue there is a domesticated or romanticized member of the people who draws our sympathy by raising essential humanistic values over economic necessity, despite poverty7 and industrial hardship. In Hani Times (1854), Dickens contrasts the self-effacing Stephen Blackpool, who seems to have no self-interest at all, to the megalomaniac Slackbridge, who has no ethical standards. And in this novel we are told that "the Good Samaritan was a Bad Economist'4 (1995, 215). One major variation to this dichotomy between ethical and economic activity or deserving and undeserving poor, occurs among authors more closely aligned to political economy. In Illustrations of Political Uconomy (1832-34), Harriet Martineau sets a hard-working, economically scrupulous, deserving working class against a lazy, cheating, undeserving working class. In Elizabeth Gaskelfs Mary Barton 1848) and North and South (1855), responsible working-class moderates contrast with insidious union members. But the central division between an ethical, socially responsible poor and a self-interested poor who are a symptom of the age remains intact. Despite the clear differences, as Regenia Ciagnier argues, middle-class representations of the working classes in the 1840s are "largely of a piece" insofar as "similarities finally outweigh the differences" (1991, 103).
Coming relatively lace in a tradition of middle-class writing that evaluates working-class practices, George Orwell helped naturalize this polarized view of the working classes. Clearly sympathizing with his subjects, and in many ways admiring and even imitating them, he exaggerates a very familiar image of a compartmentalized mind. As often as not, Orwell's working classes are economically preoccupied, and understandably so. Their lives of hop-picking or dishwashing, for example, force upon them a rationalistic. economistic point of view, where need and money dominate every aspect of their decision making. Immediate economic struggle means making rational choices and keeping a constant calculating eye on the use-value of anything or anyone coming their way. It also means an almost willful ignorance of long-term economic issues and their political counterparts. But Orwell also represents working people freed from bourgeois penny-pinching, a truly hedonistic class oblivious to the money-centered world. Here the working classes are generous despite their situation, focused on morality and not money In "Hop-Picking" (1931). Orwell describes migrant workers constructing their lives in terms of 'reality." of the probable and not the possible. They become all but preoccupied with finding pragmatic ways to optimize their advantages, scheming amongst themselves for small rewards. But he also says that he has "never seen anything that had exceeded their kindness and delicacy," that generosity and anti-bourgeois sociability follow from a culture of traditional living (Orwell 1968, 63-64).' For all the power of economic imperatives, somehow Orwell's working classes easily step out of the economic context that appears at other times to dominate their lives. Orwell may see 'decency' in working-class pragmatism, but this is not equivalent to Bourdieu's identification of an ethical basis in economic action; rather, it is an expression of sympathy for a traditional group of people trapped yet persevering within a capitalist system from which they rarely or barely benefit.
British working-class culture has in this way been predominantly historically represented as either bound to necessity and therefore, to use Max Weber's language, 'formally rational,' or as fundamentally outside mainstream capitalist society; and thus Substantively rational/ Weber argues that an action is formally rational if it is an efficacious means to a premeditated end and is governed solely by that end. Substantive rationality identifies rationality from the point of view of an ethical end, which entails ethical means. Most contemporary critics of the nineteenth-and twentieth-century British class system do not formulate a divide in working-class culture between (formal) rationality and spontaneity. But across what is arguably a still relevant debate between Structuralism and 'Culturalism,' beneath Perry Andersons 'hard Marxist materialism' and E. P.Thompson's 'soft Marxist resistance,' run two contrary images. The first is of the working classes as hard economic agents who in their contest with necessity capitulate to and are indistinguishable from the system-as-is. They are here incapable of challenging the world to which they have to answer. The alternate image sees the working classes as inherently subversive non-economic 'folk' expressing dissent through the very marginality of their culture to the dominant culture, living as if in the realm of freedom. The working classes, accordingly, are without agency insofar as they are part and parcel of the world they inhabit, or with agency insofar as they are unsuccessful in that world and implicitly outside that world. Nowhere in this bifurcation of the working classes is the possibility that working people live this very real split tactically (to use Michel de Certeau's term), simultaneously, or dialectically Accepting the crossover of practices allows students of the working class to move beyond the divides between the rational and the non-rational, or between conscious and unconscious agency.
Against this perennial oscillation is Bourdieu's conception of the interplay of economic and ethical ends. Alhough his working classes are not the same working classes as in nineteenth-century England, he allows us to identify in nonworking-class representations of working classes what Fredric Jameson calls a strategy of containment.2 I therefore turn to Bourdieu's emphasis on the underlying economic characteristics in every field of working-class life. Applying Bourdieu's non-dualistic epistemology, we can rewrite or recharacterize representations of the working classes by Carlyle, Dickens, and Orwell by identifying how codes of honor and loyalty and modes of pre-capitalist activity are employed to work towards the final aim of improving or maintaining economic status.
In The Logic of Practice, Bourdieu argues that "[e]ven when they give every appearance of disinterestedness because they escape the logic of 'economic' interest (in the narrow sense) and are oriented towards non-material stakes that are not easily quantified, as in 'pre-capitalist' societies or in the cultural sphere of capitalist societies, practices never cease to comply with an economic logic" (1990, 122). He searches among workers and working classes for signs of "the logic of costs and benefits, including the costs of transgressing the official norm and the gains in respectability accruing from respect for the rule" (17). Dickens's Blackpool can thus be given alternative ambitions "informed by a kind of objective finality without being consciously organized in relation to an explicitly constituted end; intelligible and coherent without springing from an intention of coherence and a deliberate decision; adjusted to the future without being the product of a project or a plan" (50). This practical logic is not a finalist or mechanistic economism because it does not correspond to narrowly understood economic interests, a profit motive for example, but to general optimizing strategies of which economic strategies are but one among many. Bourdieu does not envisage a zombie-like determinism, nor does he reduce materialism to ideological prescriptions, a materialism cut off from the material word. His concept of the habitus implies a new materialism," a practical relation to die world" or "the preoccupied active presence in the world through which the world imposes its presence, with its urgencies, its things to be done and said, things made to be said, which directly govern words and deeds" (52). The habitus initiates an internalized logic that generates and organizes practices or dispositions in a non-mechanical manner, creating non-mechanical behaviors. But an economic logic nonetheless intersects with or overdetermines all non-economic activity, especially the ostensible manifestations of a pre-capitalist ethos.
In terms of an analysis of class ethnology, Bourdieu is by no means simply interested in working-class culture. In some ways he confuses the notion of class by refusing to restrict a conceptualization of it to relations of production, social origin, income, property, education, or conditions of existence such as sexual difference or age. Rather, he looks at "the structure of relations between all the pertinent properties" and thereby diverges from even the possibility of a reductive, determinist account of cultural life (1984, 157). As David Swartz points out, above all Bourdieu "roots human consciousness in practical social life," making him a materialist who does not rely on a theoretical economics to interpret class and the distinct cultural practices of a specific class (1997, I 39). The elite or ruling class has a distinct cultural capital, one that relates to the particular properties of that class: the value of status. of display, and of an aesthetic disposition. It hoards its cultural capital -- a taste for the avant-garde or the classical, as long as it supports a contemplative constitution and leisurely indifference to materialism -- because such capital is capital for that particular class only. Working-class culture has its own capital. What might appear to the observer as pre-capitalist (loyalty, honor) is comparable to, if not emerging from, economic practices. For liourdieu, "every transaction of honour" is "the expression of a strategy" (1979, 117). This offers a needed correction to the representation of a pre-rational working-class culture as represented by both nineteenth-century liberals and conservatives who, howsoever unconsciously helped justify the lines of exploitation and the maximization of profit through low wages by constructing honor or loyalty as goods in themselves. It is also much more plausible than the hard materialist argument that there cannot be any pre-capitalist activity under capitalism. Bourdieu's materialism, however, is in some ways even more far-reaching than the hardest Marxism in arguing that the code of honor which contradicts "the spirit of calculation and all its manifestations, such as avidity and haste, can be seen as so many partial and veiled formulations of the objective 'intention' of the economy" (1979, 18).
Bourdieu implies that the working classes have a special relationship to the habitus:
The fundamental proposition that the habitus is a virtue made of necessity is never more clearly illustrated than in the case of the working classes, since necessity includes for them all that is usually meant by the word, that is, an inescapable deprivation of necessary goods. Necessity imposes a taste for necessity, which implies a form of adaptation to and consequently acceptance of the necessary, a esignation to the inevitable. (Bourdieu 1984,372)
Though virtue made of necessity can be seen as an 'intention' of the dominant economy, it is equally true that such activity is the symbolic capital of a working-class economy If poverty can be converted into symbolic or cultural capital when it is used to tactical advantage, then it does so primarily for the poor. In this way Bourdieu seeks to refute the dichotomization of economic and non-economic forms of capital. Because the working classes do not have access to the same amount or kind of wealth-producing information as the non-working classes, to privilege the 'purely' economic would be to divorce the working class from its habitus, the day-to-day world in which it negotiates. Always central to Bourdieu's analysis of the working class is the immediacy of material necessity. Whether it is to avoid the disapprobation of peers, or to meet necessity in a more immediate manner by developing a taste for particular types of food, or to be the most loyal or honorable, the working class is seen to work within the logic of its own economic practices, economic practices which are also remotely shaped by dominating economic practices. A ritual exchange between members of the working class, even though it may well be "totally foreign to the spirit of calculation." nonetheless "never steps outside the most strict calculation" because the alternative spirit works within the unconscious framework of necessity (1979, 18). As Carolyn Betensky suggests:
Generally, for Bourdieu, the term 'symbolic capital' designates what is considered (in a given cultural context) to be honor or prestige, systematically misrecognized as economically disinterested ... it is by definition convertible into material 'economic' (in the most common sense of the term) capital, and his symbolic capitalist necessarily akes good in some extra symbolic way (2000,208)
However, Bourdicu does not imagine a world where the working classes cannot challenge die received culture, which is also in its way materialist. Making good for the working classes is different from making good for other classes, lor Bourdieu, working-class economic rationality is never isolated from the field of ethics. He insists that working-class "calculation is in the service of the sense of equity and is absolutely opposed to the spirit of calculation which, relying on the quantitative evaluation of profit, abolishes the hazardous and (at least apparently) disinterested approximations of a code of generosity and honor'' (1979, 18). Drawing on I Iusserl and the phenomeno-logical tradition, he argues that "working-class people expect every image to explicitly perform a function, if only that of a sign, and their judgments make reference, often explicitly to the norms of morality or agreeableness. Whether rejecting or praising, their appreciation always has an ethical basis" (1984. 5). Just as his representation of disinterestedness consistently falls back on an economic strategy his representation of working-class economic rationality returns again and again to a concept of what is right and wrong according to an unconscious loyalty to cultural solidarity, itself crystallized by an opposition to the cultural solidarity of other classes. Bourdieu emphasizes that the 'culture of necessity' preferred by but also determined for, the working classes functions as a critique of the aesthetic of the dominant class. This provides a necessary corrective to the construction of a working-class economic rationality that only sets its sights on short-term survival, and responds to necessity by merely adopting the practices of the dominant class.The relational terms of the social field as a whole, and the differences in the cognitive, moral, economic, bodily linguistic, and perceptual schemes that characterize die diverse groups within it, almost guarantee an ethical dimension (and therefore dissent) in working-class economic rationality. That working classes desire to maintain their difference because of an inability to distinguish formal economic rationality from moral reasoning might whittle away the idea of their agency, but it also positions working people as a much stronger critical force than the middle and upper classes:
Having said this, Bourdieu has been accused of perpetuating the myth of homo economicus, and all his classes are in fact uniformly guided by the specter of a market system. Axel Honneth, Hermann Kocyba, and Bernd Schwibs find that according to Bourdieu, individuals are conspicuously identical as "unconscious bearers of interest calculation," a uniformity which suggests that Bourdieu js methodology is by no means entirely governed by a strict sociological or historical analysis of raw data (1986, 42). Bourdieu may protest that the habitus "is durable but not eternal," and that it is Han open system of dispositions that is constantly subjected to experiences" (1992,133); but in Distinction (1984), Algeria 1960 (1979), and The Logic of Practice he presents a picture of working-class practices that remain constant despite geographical and temporal differences. The people of Kabylia in North Africa, whom he examines in Vie Logic of Practice and Algeria 1960, have the same class distinctions, logic, habitus, and relation to the governing historical context as the French classes discussed in Distinction. Honor and loyalty act identically despite historical conditioning and whether one is a landless peasant, a casual laborer, a dockworker, a journeyman, a farm worker, or unemployed. As Jeremy Lane suggests:
[J]ust as the Algerian sub-proletariat had been judged incapable of constructing a rational political project for the future and the Kabyles incapable of achieving objective distance on their own social-cultural practices, so the working class were taken to inhabit a realm of doxa, a kind of pre-reflexive immanence or absolute immediacy which prevented them from ever achieving the reflexive distance necessary to construct a genuine artefact. 2000, 163)
This is in part why Terry Eagleton questions whether there is room in Bourdieu's social analyses for any kind or degree of "dissent, criticism and opposition" (1992, 114).
However, if it is true that classes naturalize their understanding of themselves in history and treat their idea of the world as self-evident and absolute, according to Bourdieu they can nonetheless alter their views and convert doxa into heterodoxy in periods of social crises and through cross-cultural contact. As Robert Hokon argues, Bourdieu's "concern with the dynamics of cultural struggle and historical change" emphasizes "a constant destahi-lization and a constant modification of common sense" (2000, 93). This is where differences are discernible between his various accounts of the working classes, even if they all, despite an often scrupulous attention to detail, seem to share the same mechanisms for economic or ethical action. Notwithstanding this limitation, the point here is that Bourdieu attempts to transcend the subjcctivist/objectivist dichotomy wherein the subject is either free to negotiate the social world with his or her practical consciousness alert and operative (subjectivist), or is condemned to reflect the social world and be governed by social relations of production (objectivist). He attempts to widen the space between "an objectivist vision that subjects freedoms and wills to an external, mechanical determinism or an internal, intellectual determimsm" on the one hand, and on the other "a subjectivist, finalist vision that substitutes the future ends of the project and of intentional action, or, to put it another way the expectation of future profits, for the antecedents of causal explanation" (Bourdieu 1990, 46).
Challenging the demarcation between objectivist and subjectivist approaches can also be extremely useful when it comes to discussing authorship, the production of literary texts, and their historical location. But the argument of this paper is much less ambitious. I will focus on Dickens's The Chimes (1844), the Christmas story Dickens wrote the year following A Christmas Carol (1843), but one that is especially relevant to my discussion here as it was written in response to what he saw as the economism (or Malthusianism) underlying a review of A Christmas Carol. In the June 1844 Westminister Review, a critic asked. "Who went without turkey and punch in order that Bob Cratchit might get them -- for, unless there were turkeys and punch in surplus, someone must go without." In The CHmm, Mr. Filer scolds Toby Veck for eating tripe, "the least economical ... article of consumption," by saying, "You snatch your tripe ... out of the mouths of widows and orphans" (1988, 100, 101). The story is also ripe for a Bourdieuian analysis precisely because it seems to make the point that economics plays little to no role in the lives of the honorable or worthy poor. As Michael Slater has argued. Dickens in this way follows Thomas Carlyle, who says in Past and Present^Wt have profoundly forgotten everywhere that Cash-payment is not the sole relation of human beings" (2005, 149).3 For Dickens and Carlyle, deeply concerned over the gross commodification of post-Romantic England, it is primarily the working classes who remember that humans are something other or more than optimizing, rational agents of the economy. In The Chimes, at least, working-class culture would actively reject Benthamite theorizing, while the middle-and upper-class individuals in the story, such as Filer, have an exaggerated supply-and-demand view of human relationships.
Dickens's Christmas stories, alongside Hard Times and Domhey and Sony are often celebrated for their satirical vilification of the exclusive preoccupation with the economic. Dickens tends to attack economism by sentimentalizing the poor or powerless as victims of middle-or upper-class greed. In doing so, he often minimizes or even erases not the economic needs of the poor but their own desire to satisfy those economic needs. I have spelt out the frequency of this narrative trajectory above, and in its representation of a moral poor, The Chimes follows suit. However, with Bourdieu's dedichotomizing of the economic and ethical, and with a refusal of such permanent categories as inductive and deductive or historical and theoretical, readers of Dickens' work, and of The Chimes in particular, can begin to generate alternate, materialist readings implicit in this type of narrative, without necessarily accessing overwhelming quantities of data on all the possible material conditions involved in the production of his texts.
The Chimes is mostly about Toby or "Trotty" Veck, an aging ticket porter who, after being bombarded by the newspapers and the economically-centered middle and upper classes that the working classes must be innately 'bad,' begins to despair at the sound of Church bells, and to lose the hope that they once represented for him. After telling him that he died falling from the bell tower, the spirits of the bells and their goblins bring Toby on a tour of the world, only to have him waken to a renewed faith that working people and the poor are not naturally inclined to wickedness. The similarity to A Christmas Carol is clear: as with Ebenezer Scrooge, Toby learns to celebrate the spirit of the season, which in both stories is a spirit of unalloyed goodness and generosity that ought to be the guiding principle all year long. But The Chimes is often considered a more political story than A Christmas Carol The main difference, as Sally Ledger has pointed out, is that the economically-preoccupied middle and upper classes never adjust their attitude toward working people, and the story ends with the classes socially, politically, and ideologically divided (2007, 129),
Toby is poor despite having worked diligently his whole life. Money, however, does not seem valuable to him for its purchasing power; rather, Toby sees money in a symbolically different way, as proof of his value to society: "A weak, small, spare old man, he was a very Hercules, this Toby, in his good intentions. He loved to earn his money. He delighted to believe -- Toby was very poor, and couldn't well afford to part with a delight -- that he was worth his salt" (1988, 90). He loves money, that is, not for its crass worth, but as a sign of his participation in and value to the community. Bourdieu would see Toby as making a virtue of necessity, accepting the necessary, and accumulating symbolic capital so as to increase his prestige in the habitus; Toby wants money to signify that he is still a provider. A code of integrity and honest, hard work defines Toby, as well as all the other members of the working class Dickens introduces, and such characterization tends to minimize or elide their economic or pragmatic interests. Later, Toby is seen looking uall round the street -- in case anybody should be beckoning from any door or window for a porter" (97). This suggests that Toby cannot but help think in terms of economic opportunities, but he sees only Meg, his daughter, who has brought him the tripe. A reminder thatloby needs work (for whatever reason) becomes an opportunity to show that this symbolically charged food provides all the fulfillment he needs, both spiritually and bodily, until the economically minded Hler robs him of the satisfaction. Meanwhile, Meg is to be married to Richard, a blacksmith, who like Toby seems to work more for his sense of identity and community than for his pocketbook. Again like lbby he proudly displays his work on his body:4 Richard has a "face as glowing as the iron on which his stout sledge-hammer daily rung. A handsome, well-made, powerful youngster he was; with eyes that sparkled like the red-hot droppings from a furnace fire" (99). Pride in one's work and in having work provides symbolic capital within the community: Richard is what he does, and Meg is consequently proud to show off her fiance. Elsewhere, the unemployed William hern claims that, "'Tor myself, master, I never took with that hand' -- holding it before him -- 'what wasn't my own; and never held it back from work, however hard, or poorly paid. Whoever can deny it, let him chop it off! ... There's others like me.You might tell' em off by hundreds and by thousands, sooner than by ones'" (117). Like the working-class men in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, he compliments his desire for honest work by taking care of orphaned children. Bourdieu would see Will as searching for a chance to maintain his social position in the community despite his loss of stature. Pursued by unjust laws and crude utilitarians, and despite the hardship he can barely endure, Wills primary goal seems to be to demonstrate his unflinching humanity to others in the community and his devotion to effort. As with Bourdieu s working classes, the working classes in 'Hie Chimes could be said to use their culture in order to censure the narrowly economic practices and preoccupations of the other classes. But such attitudes do not negate the possibility of a more complicated working-class logic operating within a framework of necessity and the making of virtues out of necessity. A Bourdieuian analysis would emphasize that expressions of loyalty to one's class and to the intrinsic values of work, or any other manifestation of a precapitalist ethos, have a final aim of improving one's status in the group.
Against what are positioned as the morally sound and ostensibly disinterested practices of working people in lite Chimes are the economically obsessed middle and upper classes. In addition to Mr. Filer's objection to tripe is his hostility towards working-class marriage. Satirizing Malthusian logic and theories of population control Dickens has Filet mock Meg for her desire to marry Richard because marriage for "these people" reflects "the ignorance of the first principles of political economy" (1988, 103). Filer sees working-class marriage as bad economics, and evidence of "their improvidence: their wickedness" (103). Later, Sir Joseph Bowley, practicing a patently false paternalism, says,"We should feel that every return of so eventful a period in human transactions, involves matter of deep moment between a man and his--and his banker" (110). By enforcing a hard juxtaposition between economically preoccupied upper classes and morally vested working classes, Dickens seems to imply that to think economically is itself'bad.' As the story progresses, and until the arrival of the spirits, Toby begins to accept the position that the working classes are 'bad,' partly because they do not think in terms of a cash-nexus and utility -- but of course the story encourages us to see that this is his mistake.
Dickens wants readers to understand and to be as outraged as he is himself, not so much by the injustice of Toby's poverty as by the corruption of his positive outlook. But Dickens, it seems, can establish Toby as the worthy poor only by insisting on his innate economic disinterestedness, which is part and parcel of that positive outlook. Toby is represented as decent and natural in proportion to his inability to calculate: "as the functions of Toby's body, his digestive organs for example, did of their own cunning, and by a great many operations of which he was all together ignorant, and the knowledge of which would have astonished him very much, arrive at a certain end; so his mental faculties" (1988, 91). This suggests an opportune moment to employ some of Bourdieu's a posteriori arguments to tease out the class politics of the story and correct the correlation Dickens assumes between working-class economic disinterest and morality Bourdieu represents resistance to capitalist rationalism as a 'being-in-the-present' that starkly contrasts with the calculating rationality and euphemizing formality of the other classes. Toby's disinterest confirms this 'being-in-the-present' and acts as a criticism of the dominating ethos of the dominant class. But Bourdieu's strategy for analysis could remind readers that a deep ethical stratum, which offers moral resistance to the economic-as-is by demonstrating that human relations are not absolutely subordinate to economic ones, can still be maintained when pragmatically based interests generate such oppositional ethics. The ostensible economic/ethical division, with the working classes seen as disinterested and thus moral and the middle and upper classes represented as economically preoccupied and thus immoral, is problematic in that it entirely depoliticizes the working classes and denies any degree of working-class self-reliance. Without such an autonomy some group other than working people is required to ensure working-class economic interests, a paternalist creed that is itself ridiculed in the story through the figure of Bowley.Toby is undoubtedly marked by honor and loyalty lie assists Will Fern so that Will can avoid arrest even though, as a messenger, he would likely lose clients by doing so. But this act need not be considered as wholly 'disinterested.' Given that Dickens is so careful to define class relationally if not antagonistically, we have to ask what costs would be associated with Toby's rejection of working-class moral codes. Again, Toby need not be seen as calculating or planning a deliberate "explicitly constituted end," but he can be understood as employing general strategies to assert his place in the community he identifies with (Bourdieu 1990, 50). Rejecting the "spurious choice between purely material, narrowly economic interest, and disinterestedness" (290) enables an interpretation that allows for alternatives to the characterization of working people as entirely content with the intrinsic satisfaction provided by work and working-class culture, as if culture could be neatly and completely severed from economics.
Even a partial application of Bourdieuian analysis has another hernieneutical benefit here. Michael Slater sees Dickens promulgating a "key to the solution" of class conflict that "lay in the spreading of mutual understanding and sympathy between the classes" (1970, 508). This is a common reading of Dickens and The Chimes, and reflects a longstanding tradition of critical understanding of the story and Dickens's politics. Many years earlier, John Forster, also writing about The Chimes, insists that Dickens "never ceased to think as odious [the attempt to set class against class] as he thought it righteous at all times to help each to a kindlier knowledge of the other" (1928, 348). The last line of the story confirms this most characteristically Dickensian sentiment, a pica to "endeavor to correct, soften, and improve" wherever possible the "stern realties" of the poor (1988, 159). But as Michael Sheldon writes:
The basic message of 'The Chimes seems very straightforward and uncomplicated, close to the simple call for kindness that Dickens makes so effectively in A Christmas Carol Speaking in plain terms, the laborer Will Fern spells out the message to members of the upper classes assembled before him on the estate of his employer, Sir Joseph Bowley.... Will pleads with his audience to 'Give us, in mercy, better homes when we're a lying in our cradles; give us better food when we're a working for our lives; give us kinder laws to bring us back when we're a going wrong; and don't set Jail, Jail, Jail, afore us, everywhere we turn.'To some critics this speech represents the extent of Dickens's view of reform in the story, and therefore they dismiss it as too general and too simplistic. (Sheldon 1982, 330)
But as Sheldon cautions, while "[i]t is easy to make this judgment, ... there is much more behind Dickens's social criticism than a general feeling that society has failed to treat the poor with common decency" (Sheldon 1982, 330). A Bourdieuian analysis would indeed problematize the story by stressing a relational definition of class character, where the classes define themselves against other classes. With this focus. The Chimes is anything but a call to kindliness or sympathy. The story presents two culturally differentiated classes that are never reconciled: they speak different languages, appreciate different food (although Filer ends up eating Toby's tripe), and have opposed understandings of what is of basic value. Remarkably, and unlike much of Dickens's other narratives, the 'happy ending' of the story sees only members of the working classes come together to celebrate the New Year and the hope it represents. The class character of the upper and middle classes remains foreign and antagonistic to Toby and the other working-class characters. The power of the story comes from Dickens's stark refusal of the conversion narrative so often central to Christmas stories, and not only those by Dickens. The classes remain loyal to themselves only, and therefore ideologically opposed. In fact, at the close of the story Toby regains his composure by rejecting the voices of the other classes and their definition of the working classes. The story's resolution, then, lies in symbolic difference, rather than in ideological reconciliation. A Bourdieuian analysis emphasizes that the solidarity of the working class in regard to a set of self-generated cultural norms is directly opposed to the cultural uniformity of the other classes, making Hie Chimes in this way a radical argument for working-class consciousness, culture, and self-reliance. What might be read as ostensibly disinterested or extra-economic activities would instead be seen as symbolic self-representation, and thus as pointing to political subtexts behind what appear as purely moralistic acts.
However, a more conflictual reading of the story, centering on the internalization of economic ideology, emerges if we read Toby as discarding the abstract logic of economic rationality for unquantifiable, non-material benefits that nonetheless comply with an embodied economic logic. As well as establishing the practical value of apparently disinterested acts, Bourdieu's way of identifying economic activity in what appears to be non-economic or even anti-economic helps to complicate The Chimes, and brings to the fore the ways in which middle-class logic is internalized. In following their codes of working-class honor, which appear to stand outside of economic calculation, both Toby and Will Fern participate in the 'intention' of the economy, pursuing its requirement for diligence and productivity. Toby and Will have no "spirit of calculation," (Bourdicu 1979, 18) yet their devotion to work for its own sake has economic implications beneficial to the eco-nomic-as-is, which is a separate matter from their wresting symbolic capital from that code of honor. Instead of seeing The Chimes, then, as a story that pits moral disinterestedness against immoral economics, it can be seen as a story that narrates the modern entwinement of the economic and the ethical, and the necessity of negotiating the influence of the outside world on working-class identity.
Bourdieu's analysis of how the world imposes its presence on class identity enhances Dickens's explicit critique of the way in which the dominant culture, via newspapers, political rhetoric, and the language of political economy, would impose its presence on Toby -- for example, by making Toby think that all working-class people are "born bad" (1988, 122). After his encounter with Filer, Alderman Cute (who believes the poor are all criminals and must be summarily "'put down'5), and the conservative "red-faced gentleman" "lbby echoes the thoughts of all three: "'Put 'em down, Put'em down! Facts and Figures, Facts and Figures! Good old Times, Good old Times! Put 'em down, Put 'em down!' -- his trot went to that measure, and would fit itself to nothing else" (1988, 108). Toby then, begins to be convinced that the working classes must be essentially "bad." The process of internalizing anti-working-class prescriptions is even more pronounced in his encounter with Sir Joseph Bowleg who says:
'Now, the design of your creation is -- not that you should swill, and guzzle, and associate your enjoyments, brutally, with food;' "Toby thought remorsefully of the tripe; 'but that you should feel the Dignity of Labour. Go forth erect into the cheerful morning air, and -- and stop there. Live hard and temperately, be respectful, exercise your self-denial, bring up your family on next to nothing, pay your rent as regularly as the clock strikes, [and] be punctual in your dealings: (Dickens 1988, 111)
Although Bowley has an image of working-class culture that does not match the working classes in the story (indeed, Bowley insists the working class must begin to do what it already does), he would construct the working classes to suit his own interests and ego.
In The Chimes, the working classes repeatedly face the danger of having their identities scripted by external groups. Later, Bowley uses the explicit language of indoctrination: "1 do my duty as the Poor Mans Friend and Father; and I endeavor to educate his mind, by inculcating on all occasions the one great moral lesson which that class requires. That is, entire Dependence on myself. They have no business whatever with -- with themselves" (1988, 111). As I have argued, Toby eventually learns to refuse middle-class ideologies that would convert the character and desires of working people. The. spirits eventually divest Toby of such external threats by reminding him that the "voice of lime ... cries to man, Advance," (Dickens 1988, 128) articulating one of Dickens's central beliefs that England's future could not be modeled on a nostalgic vision of the past. This can be read in terms of middle-class ideologies of progress, but it conies closer to revolutionary discourse when 'Toby realizes "that our inheritance is held in store for us by Time. I know there is a sea of Time to rise one day, before which all who wrong us or oppress us will be swept away like leaves ... I know that we must trust and hope, and neither doubt ourselves, nor doubt the good in one another" (156).
While Toby and his working-class circle betray a dimension of economic reasoning in their ostensibly non-economic activities, as a Bourdieuian analysis would insist upon, this process also involves the threat of internalizing and naturalizing capitalist habits of mind. The working class in Dickens's story seeks to find ways to escape or defy the laws of the market. But if it is seen as having naturalized an economic logic within its own terms, it is also threatened by the internalization of middle-class ideology, lending the story a more conflictual and antagonistic meaning. It may not have been Dickens's intention to illustrate any degree of economic determinism, nor to imply that working classes might be simultaneously moral and economic. Yet a Bourdieuian analysis nonetheless helps excavate what lies buried in the text, suggesting that The Chimes is anything but a sentimental, 'Christmas-all-year-round' story
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(1.) Re-reading Orwell's "Hop-Picking" from Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) in light of Bourdieus habitus results in a complete re-evaluation of Orwell's sociology. For example, the camaraderie that Orwell celebrates in all these texts becomes much more than an example of Orwell's masculinist nostalgia for static social roles. Consider Bourdieus description of the French working classes: "the desire to distinguish oneself, to stand apart, [is] a way of challenging others and crushing them. The demand for conformity can thus he understood within the logic of honor: to stand apart from others, especially by gra tuitous and ostentatious novelty, is to throw down a challenge to the group and its point of honor" (1984, 19). Bourdieus discussion of the observer and participant in sociological studies also complicates Orwell's social exploring. A full-length study of their similar projects but hugely different findings might illuminate our understand ing of both Orwell and Bourdieu.
(2.) Jameson defines a strategy of containment as an intellectual or narcological frame that "allows what can be thought to seem internally coherent in its own terms, while repressing the unthinkable ... which lies beyond its boundaries" (1981, 53).
(3.) Dickens in fact sought Carlyle's 'approval' before taking the story to publica tion (Goldberg 1972, 62).
(4.) A ticket-porter would wear a badge, or'ticket,' to show he was licensed by the city to carry messages or goods.
Rob Breton is Associate Professor of English at Ni pissing University, Canada. His hook, Gospels and Grit: Work and Labour in Carlyle, Conrad, and Orwell, is published by University of Toronto Press.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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