Big Books of American Literature: Alchemies of Mind
Day 3: Tuesday, January 24, 2006
"The Turn of the Screw" continued

From Genevieve Cseh's Homepage

I. coursekeeping:
sign in
anyone still owe me an information sheet?
who we are, as of Thursday:
3 hc males, 2 hc females, 28 bmc females

1Alice &2 Allisons; 2 Catherines; 2 Emilys; 2 Lauras&1Lauren

8 first-years, 5 sophomores, 8 juniors, 5 seniors

1 anthro, 1 bio, 2 creative writing, 1 ed minor, 8 english, 1 geo, 3 history, 1 math, 1 physics, 2 psych, 1 religion, 1 romance languages, 5 unknown majors

2 concerned that examining their emotions will be upsetting/painful


5 mentioned sleeping:
1 likes naps, 1 enjoys sleeping, 1 least likes losing sleep, 1 dislikes oversleeping, 1 is not a morning person

2 don't like to do dishes, 2 don't like to cook

varied responses to on-line requirement:
2 scared:
I feel a deep sense of dread..I'm very self conscious.
I think it is frightening.


2 know nothing:
didn't know there was any
impartial, don't know too much about it


6 unsure:
less than thrilled
makes me a little nervous
makes me uncomfortable
makes me a little uncomfortable
a little wearisome about it
like idea of being able to see classmates' thoughts, but slightly intimidated @ thought of them reading mine
I'd rather have it printed out in front of me but


6 o.k.:
know is good for me
think it's healthy: keep me involved, forces me to do my homework
fine with it: it enhanced my writing/knew my work would be displayed publically
sounds fine, not writing too much
like to write--online or paper doesn't matter
like on-line writing, don't mind posting papers on-line


5 excited:
like the internet
I love it!!
looking forward to trying something new
Great idea--internet and I are good friends, possibly WAY too good.
like the idea of an online community where I can read other's opinions/work


note on sign-in sheet that you picked up a packet
--stop in front ofc. and pay Shawn Covington ($15? $20?)
--note changes in syllabus (more Freud, ease of links up top, etc.)
--you'll find some material I spoke from/about last week,
--revised readings for Thursday: read Wm. James and first 2 Freud essays; we'll hold off on Civilization and its Discontents til we get to The Scarlet Letter
--you might note first paper "opportunity", 5 p.m. next Monday, 1/30
--also note opportunity to add *something* week of 4/11-4/13
What would be most useful for us to do then?
--request to turn off cellphones, take care of bathroom breaks before you come to class
-- + acknowledgement of my role as "traffic cop" @ a busy intersection!
(what you can do: count to "10" if you speak easily, to "1" if you don't--thanks, Hayley!)

everybody find your way to the on-line forum?

Discussion Notes now available (and updated weekly) on-line

II. Where We Left Off...

From Psychoanalysis

psychoanalysis as a "school of suspicion":
it feeds on the discrepancy between "signifier" and "signified,"
the distance from the sign (the word) to what it represents

the governess "reads" Mrs. Grose (who can not read):
her suspicion gives rise to interpretation
we can behave like Mrs. Grose (& believe the governess) or
we can behave like the governess, & be suspicious about what we're told

a naive reading (like Mrs. Grose's) lends credence to the testimony of the governess;
a disillusioned reading (like the governess's) would--ironically--"see through" the governess's version of events

Felman calls the "suspicious reader" (the psychoanalyst) a "terrorist: demands that one speak in clear language"
reader-critic, extorting the secret of the text=governess, forcing the child
(that cannot know itself/reflect on/name itself/its experiences) to a confession

Governess: "It's a game, its a policy, and a fraud."
Mrs. Grose: "It's all a mere mistake, a worry and a joke."
Nietzche: "irreduceable and fundamental error...is the condition of life"
Lacan: "the text...engenders a conflict of interpretations...Nowhere is there a last word..."

Does the title of the story point us toward a conclusive meaning, or the refusal of one?

III. Di: "I don't know what is meant by 'The Turn of the Screw.'
I don't know why that's the title."

What does this title add to our conversation?
What direction does it point us towards?

Shoshana Felman: "What does the act of turning a screw have to do with literature?
What does the act of turning a screw have to do with psychoanalysis?"

"The last turn of the screw and the omni is secured."

Oxford English Dictionary:
d. turn of the screw: an additional twist to tighten up the hold; an extra twist given to a thumbscrew by way of increasing the torture (in quots. fig.). 1796 [see SCREW n.1 2a]. 1853 DICKENS Bleak Ho. xxiv. 331 (heading) A turn of the screw. 1898 H. JAMES Turn of Screw 4 If the child [in a ghost story] gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children? 1940 Manch. Guardian Weekly 1 Mar. 175 Even more far-reaching schemes of increasing direct taxation..are certain to be realised..whenever the psychological ground is favourable for this further turn of the screw. 1973 Listener 14 June 785/2 The first turns of the screw on the car commuter are already being prepared. The GLC wants to put up parking fines from 4 to 20.

At the beginning, Douglas asks,
"If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw,
what do you say to two children--?"

Towards the end, the governess reflects that she
"could only get on at all.... by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue."

T.J. Lustig calls this an "odd mechanistic metaphor:
centripetal--restriction, intensification, enclosure, enforcement, constraint"

From SIPP

Is that the final "turn of the screw"?

In the text,
--"speculations become a conclusion" (Sussman)
--the governess "comes to believe too vehemently in her constructions of an event that remains rigorously unknowable" (Kukacher)
--"faced with blanks, the unrepresentable, the governess begins to elaborate "(Lustig)

Does our reading
--(unwittingly?) participate in/act out/reproduce the text?
-- repress the unconscious it purports to explain?
--exclude the unconscious, in the effort to 'see it all' ?

Is the invitation to undertake a reading an invitation to act like the governess, to repeat the text by seeking to stop the meaning, to arrest satisfaction, to "get hold of the clue to this meaning" (an illusion of the "whole answer"?--Felman)

"HJ never seems aware of the amount of space he is wasting...
the as it were's and as we may say's."

But maybe he is? Maybe therein lies his "mastery"?

(All critical commentary taken from the Norton edition of "The Turn of the Screw")

IV. I run a risk in developing this reading/reporting on Felman's reading @ such length. As per

Faith, in her sophomore year, said, "Last night, the professor gave us his interpretation of Henry James's Turning of the Screw, and after it he said, 'All right. This is my interpretation. You should be ripping it apart. You're sitting there. Come on, start ripping at it'....Well, I did a little, but basically I agreed with what he was saying."

It is easy to feel compassion for this beleagured man. He has probably toiled much of the previous night over his interpretation. He is excited about it and imagines that the students, too, will get excited. He imagines hands waving, voices raised in passionate debate. Instead, he sees rows of bowed heads, hears only the scratching of twenty-five pencils. The teacher does not wish to deposit his words in the students' notebooks, but the students insist upon storing them there. They treat his words as sacrosanct. He cannot understand why they will not risk a response.

But the teacher himself takes few risks. True to the banking concept, he composes his thoughts in private. The students are permitted to see the product of his thinking, but the process of gestation is hidden from view. The lecture appears as if by magic. The teacher asks his students to take risks he is unwilling--though presumably more able--to take himself. He invites the students to find holes in his argument, but he has taken pains to make it airtight. He would regard as scandalous a suggestion that he make the argument more permeable. He has, after all, his "standards," the standards of his discipline, to uphold, and he is proud of the rigor of his intepretation. The students admire it, too. It would seem to them an act of vandalism to "rip into" an object that is, as Freire might say, so clearly the teacher's private property....so long as teachers hide the imperfect processes of their thinking, allowing their students to glimpse only the polished products, students will remain convinced that only...a professor could think up a theory.

...students need opportunies to watch...professors solve (and fail to solve) problems....they need models of thinking as a human, imperfect, and attainable activity....In Friere's 'problem-posing' method, the object of knowledge is not the private property of the teacher. Rather, it is 'a medium evoking the critical reflection of both teacher and student.' Instead of the teacher thinking about the object privately and talking about it publically so that they students may store it, both teacher and students engage in the process of thinking, and they talk out what they are thinking in a public dialogue

V. To make sure this doesn't happen, let's get the remainder of your comments/ all voices in the air, make sure you all can see/hear yourselves as important contributors to the exploration

Jake Jacobs, "Psychoanalysis," via Ishita Sinha Roy

Some new turns of the screw in (t)here:

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907-21):
And here we have the very heart of his Americanism, if we may make bold to call it that. There is something in James's estimate of spiritual values so fine, so immaterial, so indifferent to success or happiness or whatever merely practical issues, as to suggest nothing so much as the transcendentalism of Emerson, the otherworldliness of Hawthorne. There is here a psychology not of... any conceivable [English or] Continental novelist; and one can hardly refer it to any but a New England origin.

The Cultural Context of James's The Portrait of a Lady :
used "Corinne" (=Margaret Fuller's epithet) to provide a motive for inscrutable hatred of a woman with intellectual and spiritual fervor, individualism and a spirit of inquiry

The Blackness of Men's Souls: Why Nathaniel Hawthorne could not Embrace Transcendentalism :
Transcendentalism was a highly optimistic principle....Transcendentalists were strong believers in the potential for positive change....and the individual's capacity to rectify all wrongs. Henry James described this aspect of Transcendental thought as the "shadowless light" which shown over their world.

Biological Consciousness and the Experience of the Transcendent
(from Rob Wozniak's Mind and Body: Rene Descartes to William James):
the American philosopher-psychologist, William James (1842-1910)...eldest son of the eccentric religious philosopher, Henry James Sr. and older brother of Henry James, the novelist...was, first of all heir to the older moral philosophy. The great Concord sage, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) had been his god-father and a close friend of Henry James Sr. (1811-1882). In
Representative Men: Seven Lectures, Emerson had preached an intuitive psychology of character formation and borrowed heavily from Henry James Sr.'s interpretations of the religious mystic Emanuel Swedenborg in order to define transcendentalism as the realization of higher consciousness within the individual personality. William James fell heir to this Swedenborgian and transcendentalist literary psychology ...but was forced to square its religious epistemology with the more rigorous scientific dictates of his own age....he first became a defender of consciousness as an efficacious force in the biological evolution of the species...began his literary career by writing favorably about the effects of natural selection on mental life....Intuitive types, prone to emotional uprushes, who produce art and literature, geniuses whose mind is in constant ferment so they can see analogies that others miss, original thinkers whose associations are unfettered, all represent consciousness as a field of awareness that contains the largest number of ideas to choose from. Rationality and the empirical dictates of the sensory world then select out what is adaptive and what is not. In this manner experience as a whole counts as a potent force in the preservation of the race.... the logical outcome of ... his study ... was his metaphysics of radical empiricism....it demanded science not ignore any aspect of reality if it could, in fact, be experienced. ... at the very end of his life he enjoined psychologists to keep an open mind and to study the fall of the threshold of consciousness. In the subliminal extension of the horizons of awareness, we find alterations that point to the very core of life and identity.

From TheaterSounds: The Turn of the Screw

For Thursday: Regulating Emotion--What Moves Us, How and Why
Read William James, "What Is an Emotion?" and
Sigmund Freud, Selections from "The Unconscious," "Anxiety," and
(if you're interested/inclined) 20 pp. from Civilization and its Discontents.

Post on-line your responses to the readings:
James engages in a curious reversal of (commensensical) cause and effect: we feel sad because we cry, afraid because we tremble, angry because we strike. What do you think of his "story"? Does it accord w/ your own experiences? (Laura has one up already.) Does it apply in any way to what's going on in "The Turn of the Screw"? And what do you make of Freud's amendment, which accounts for the unconscious (either in terms of your own life or HJames's story?

To prepare you for/make the transition to biology, the week after....

From Science & General Cartoons - Nearing Zero

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