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Notes Towards Day 12: Henry James, c'est moi?

Anne Dalke's picture


Class Notes by Miss Archer2

I. Coursekeeping

notetaker: MissArcher2

go round and share your plans for/imaginings of your papers?

by 5 p.m this Friday, post 4 pp. on-line on "you and HJ":
create a new blog entry, tagged as "James Web Paper 2")

reminder: Serendip down @ 7 p.m.....

ALSO, PLEASE, before leaving for break:
post in your commonplace book a mid-term
course evaluation: "What's working? What isn't?"

When we return, we'll turn to the oldest of the siblings
(we've been working in reverse chronological order), using (mostly)
The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition. Ed. John J. McDermott. Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 1977.

after break we'll read
two early essays by James, "The Stream of Thought,"  "Habit,"
and two contemporary meditations (one by me)

I am also bringing Wai-Chee Dimock to campus to speak to my other class on genre; and to give a public talk in the Ely Room @ 7:30 on Tuesday, March 16: "Literature as Public Humanities" (about the Facebook group, "Rethinking World Literature," as well as the PBS series called "Reading the World"). Please plan to come--her work is really very important in thinking about the future of literary studies!

We'll ALSO have 3 more (!) visitors to help us through
our 6 (!) weeks upcoming w/ William James:
Paul Jefferson (emeritus in History @ HC , who taught "The Metaphysical Club: American Pragmatism in Theory and Practice"), Paul Grobstein (BMC Neurobiology), and Bharath Vallabha (BMC Philosophy).

III. jrlewis' posting: the narrator is the tyrant of the novel.....
We, the readers, are subjects of Henry James’ imagination. 

IV. what was added to you by today's reading of

3 increasingly expansive concentric circles,
modern meditations on HJ's modern applications:
Cynthia Ozick, “The Lesson of the Master" (1982),
"What Henry James Knew" (1993), &
Wai Chee Dimock, "Subjunctive Time (2009)?
what questions do you have? where do you want to push back?
how are these essays related (or not?)
or pushing up against one another?

Ozick, "Lesson," '82:
I hate Henry James and I wish he were dead.

I believed in the Master's call to live...unspoiled by ..."life"...

I was listening to the Lesson of the Master at the wrong time...
and this cost me my youth.

I offer myself as an Extreme and Hideous Example
of Premature Exposure to Henry James.

...the Lesson of the a lesson about misreading...

The true Lesson of the Master, then, is simply, never to venerate what is complete, burnished, whole...

There is this mix-up most of us have between ourselves and what we admire...

Ozick, "What HJ Knew," '93:
As the years accumulate, James becomes, more and more compellingly, our contemporary, our urgency.

James is one of that handful of literary proto-inventors -- ingenious intuiters -- of the unconscious ... he knows ... much more than we ... can possibly take in ... Freud ... may be insufficient to James....

Jamesian works ... vibrate with cognitions that are ultimately not submissive to their creator .... James will write nothing but ghost stories--with the ghosts, those shadows of the unconscious, at the controls .... the later James ... is overridden by a  strangeness that is beyond his capacity to domesticate or explicate...

"Life at these intensities clearly became 'scenes': but the great thing ... was that we could make them or not as we chose."

Like the modernists, he swept past the outer skin ... to the secret life behind -- glimmers of buried truths, the undisclosed drama of hint and inference....

The facade of comedy and the horror behind. And the penalty for "going behind" ... was the impenetrable blackness, the blankness ... that gathered there ... and the horrors themselves? They cannot be named. It is their namelessness that defines them as horrors.

The face of a knowledge that is beyond our knowledge -- intimations that cannot be borne.

He would not seek to know too much.

Alice' s diary offers a mellow view of Henry James, who often came to divert her .... Yet something else lay coiled at the bottom of his sister's diary, and James was unequipped to live with it .... Alice had dared to look into the abyss of knowing-too-much; James would not look with [her].

At the climax of his powers Henry james looked freely into the Medusan truth, he snared the unconscious. "Make him think the evil," he said, soliciting the unprepared nineteenth-century reader as the twentieth came near (a century that was to supply unthinkable evil), "make him think it for himself." And in the end--anarchy loosed upon the world, and pitilessness slouching toward him---James thought it for himself.

Dimock, "Subjunctive Time," '09:

Whatever we see could be other than it is .... the world that we call “empirical” ... that appears to be the only world there is ... is a subset ... of a much larger universe .... what prevails as reality often does so haphazardly
.... Materialization is chancy, shaky, a toss-up .... an empirical description of the world is not only fractional, but arbitrary in what it leaves out -- arbitrary, down to the sentences that it allows us to think or say.

What the subjunctive offers would seem to be ... a “counterfactual realism"... describing the world beyond those limits .... this might turn out to be one of the largest claims that can be made on behalf of [literature], allowing it to be a cognitive and expressive domain different from others, dedicated ... to the restoration of a fullness of time.

James ... had this to say about what [war] can do to the English language:  “The war has used up words; they have weakened, they have deteriorated like motor car tires; they have, like millions of other things, been more over-strained and knocked about and voided of the happy semblance during the last six months than in all the long ages before, and we are now confronted with a depreciation of all our terms, or, otherwise speaking, with a loss of expression through increase of limpness, that may well make us wonder what ghosts will be left to walk” .... His worry is that words ... have been exercised too strenuously ....

Ghosts are still afoot in the world .... It is these phantom pathways that give the novels an order of magnitude not reducible to whatever is already manifest. The macro in James ... has ... to do with ... a dimension of the world that has yet to be fathomed, or that has yet to emerge. It comes into being through those moods and tenses that reside in just this subterranean region, taking long walks, back and forth, across the fine line between what is and what is not ....

“As if” is ... a vital modality in literary history itself, one that keeps open all those virtual forms that the indicative sentence would like to eliminate ..... I don’t think we have a literary history yet based on this kind of as if, based on a time-line that makes a subsequent event an important context for a text written prior to it .... Prose...can be carried forward ... lifted out of its original context and given a second life ....

"The pretension to smashing world rule by a single people, in virtue of a monopoly of every title, every gift, and very right, ought perhaps to confound us more by its grotesqueness than to alarm us by its energy." These were scathing words in 1915 .... Almost a hundred years later, this words would still be scathing .... There is something downright spooky about the ability of these words to shift their target and to retain a precision of aim, to be still accurate when they could not have known what to be accurate about. Perhaps this is the ghost that James is talking about, a quirk in time that erases the line between “before” and “after,” making these two commutable and reversible.

It is left to [Vonnegut's] science fiction novel, departing flagrantly from empirical reality, to capture those truths that would otherwise have vanished without a trace. Counterfactual realism is most eloquent on just this point. Even as it visits a phantom duration on James, extending his micro platform onto a world stage, it also shows us an alterative layer of evidence, complexly threaded and complexly modulating: a genealogy of grief beyond the lifespan of any single author. Literary study is not standard history because it is a great deal more. Through the prism of subjunctive time, we see some of that vital difference.

V. How to "wrap up" our (far too brief) study of Henry James? 
What have you learned from-and-about him?
What more would you like to know? 

Class Notes by Miss Archer2