Henry James: The Poetics of Empiricism (1951)
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Criticism of Henry James in our time is verging into metaphysics. The late works have recently been analyzed in terms of ‘dialectic’ and ‘myth’,1 as products of Swedenborgianism,2 and as an artistic objectification of William James’ philosophical pragmatism.3 Despite great individual differences these three approaches hold in common the basic assumption that James’ inner and final meaning has not yet been ascertained and the corollary assumption that this final meaning is perhaps expressed symbolically, by technique, rather than overtly by subject matter.4 In this climate of opinion James is conceived of as a kind of nineteenth-century Dante, the architect of a secular Divine Comedy for some later-day equivalent of scholasticism, and the legendary ‘late manner’, once considered merely idiosyncratic, is thought to be an elaborate structure which metaphorically expresses a coherent system of values. The critical problems are, first, to find James’ Aquinas, or the rationale for the body of ideas on which the late works constitute a metaphor, and, second, to define the relationship between this logical statement and James’ symbolic one.
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