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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2004

Herbert Sussman
New School University
Gerhard Joseph
Lehman College and the Graduate School, City University of New York


With every tool man is perfecting his own organs…. by means of spectacles he corrects defects in the lens of his own eye; by means of the telescope he sees into the far distance. Man has become a kind of prosthetic god.—Freud, Civilization and its Discontents DOROTHY VAN GHENT'S “View from Todgers's” classic essay of 1950 (about perspective in Martin Chuzzlewit) might be defined as the starting point for what we now accept as the veriest Dickens commonplace: the fact that an interchange between animate human subject and inanimate object characterizes his world view. The boundaries of person and material thing are permeable, are constantly criss-crossing, according to Van Ghent, in a “system that is presumed to be a nervous one…. its predications about persons or objects tend to be statements of metabolic conversion of one into the other” (221). But this persistent reading, expressed here in biological terms–“nervous” system, “metabolic conversion”–of Dickens's stylistic habit, itself depends upon attributing to Dickens the critic's sharp distinction between the “human” and the “inhuman” or “non-human.”

© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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