‘Limp’ vs. ‘Acute’ Criticism: An Interpretive Community Refigures James



In the spring of 1986 a group of graduate students with diverse backgrounds and interests (in American literature, communication and theater arts, religious studies, women’s literature, English pedagogy) met in my Topics in Criticism class to debate reader-oriented models of criticism and their role in the classroom. A substantial portion, as it turned out, of this seminar evaluating recent scenarios of meaning-making (phenomenological, semiotic, ‘affective’, deconstructive) was devoted to a critical workshop on James’s ‘Figure in the Carpet’ that studied these interpretive moves in actu. My purpose in conducting this experiment was not to unveil an ‘essential secret’ or figural design in James’s story, but rather to foreground the intricate process by which various competing interpretive figures come into being in the process of critical articulation; also to test the resourcefulness of a community of readers such as ours when confronted with a text that both flaunts and questions a traditional poetics and mode of interpretation premised on the existence of a hidden ‘figure of the text’.


Critical Rewrite Frame Story Interpretive Community Cognitive Closure Reading Report 
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Notes and References

  1. 8.
    R.P. Blackmur, ‘In the Country of the Blue’, Critiques and Essays on Modern Fiction, 1920–51, ed. J.W. Aldridge (New York: Ronald Press, 1952), p. 313.Google Scholar
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    Jean Perrot, Henry, James: Une écriture énigmatique (Paris: Aubier Montaigne, 1982), pp. 9, 275.Google Scholar
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    Alfred Habegger, Gender, Fantasy and Realism in American Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 251.Google Scholar
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    Strother B. Purdy, The Hole in the Fabric: Science, Contemporary Literature and Henry James (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburg Press, 1977), p. 18. Purdy discusses James’s paradoxical epistemology in relation to contemporary anti-hermeneutic literature (Robbe-Grillet, Ionesco, Günter Grass, Dürrenmatt, Vonnegut, and others).Google Scholar
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    Joann P. Krieg, ‘A Question of Values: Culture and Cognition in The Turn of the Screw’, Language and Communication, 8/2 (1988): 151–2.Google Scholar
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    Leo Bersani, ‘The Jamesian Lie’, Partisan Review, 36 (1969): 65.Google Scholar
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    David W. Smit, The Language of a Master: Theories of Style and the Late Writing of Henry James (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), p. 77.Google Scholar
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    Jean Franz Blackall, Jamesian Ambiguity and ‘The Sacred Fount’ (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1965), p. 9.Google Scholar
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    See Frank Kermode, Novel and Narrative (Glasgow, 1972), p. 15.Google Scholar
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    Kermode, The Art of Telling (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 112.Google Scholar
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    Leo Bersani, A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1976), p. 131.Google Scholar
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    Henry James, ‘The Science of Criticism’, in Selected Literary Criticism, ed. Morris Shapira (London: Penguin, 1968), p. 171.Google Scholar
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    Krishna Balden Vaid, Techniques in the Tales of Henry James (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969), p. 16.Google Scholar
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    Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, vol. I, 1983), pp. 76–82.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Marcel Cornis-Pop 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Virginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUK

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