Category Archives: Literature

Something that doesn’t have any meaning for anyone

I’ve been reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I was struck by this exchange between two war-weary friends:

“Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?”
“What other reason could there be?” Colonel Gerineldo Marquez answered. “For the great Liberal party.”

“You’re lucky because you know why,” he answered. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve come to realize only just now that I’m fighting because of pride.”

“That’s bad,” Colonel Gerineldo Marquez said.

Colonel Aureliano Buendia was amused at his alarm. “Naturally,” he said. “But in any case, it’s better than not knowing why you’re fighting.” He looked him in the eyes and added with a smile: “Or fighting, like you, for something that doesn’t have any meaning for anyone.”

I feel this passage captures a truth that I’ve come to realize over the past couple years: people often invest so much significance in abstract ideals or concepts, and gradually load them up with so many associated ideas, that they lose all meaning. This process happens over time, and is driven by people hitching their professional ambitions or their personal identities to these causes, but it always ends the same: a lot of people fighting for something that doesn’t have any meaning for anyone.

On Dickens’ Genius in David Copperfield

I’m beginning to understand why Dickens is so highly praised and emulated. When he is at his best, as he is in David Copperfield, he manages to precisely capture not only the variety of the human spirit in his characters, but also the the political, economic, cultural, and physical landscape that his characters occupy. By developing such memorable characters and allowing them to drive the narrative, he creates an eminently readable story that we can recognize as a mirror of our own experience. As the characters converse, and fight, and form friendships, and try to make a living, they are continually colliding with the forces that are shaping that moment of history. Indeed, this is how we all experience the historical forces of our time, and this is exactly why we can read Dickens over 150 years later and still find affinities with the characters and the dilemmas they face.
Obviously, this isn’t unique to Dickens. Yet the scope of the issue he incorporates into his landscape, his penchant for wit, and his uniquely memorable (if occasionally two-dimensional) characters set him apart from the many other excellent Victorian novelists.