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Mark Seltzer. Henry James and the Art of Power. Ithaca: ComeU U P, 1984. 200pp. $19.95. James criticism is currently experiencing a resurgence of energy and the deployment of new forces. Young critics, a gleam in their eyes, who enter the war-games dedicated to explaining the Master, are armed with difficult questions and uncompromising approaches for getting at answers. An exceUent case in point is Mark Seltzer's Henry James and the Art of Power, whose pubUcation date of 1984 helps to suggest when this tum of events began to take place. "Power" is definitely a subject that matters these days, and chief among its father-figures is Michel Foucault, the philosopher-king whose studies in European social structures received wide translation into English by the mid-1970s. As Seltzer's introductory remarks make clear, Foucault's New Historicist methods have opened the way for students of literary texts to scrutinize "the inevitable politics of interpretation" that accrue as much to works of fiction as to the overtly politicized documents of social life. Seltzer maintains that Foucault's lead frees one from the impasse imposed by the deconstructionist criticism espoused by Paul de Man on the one hand, and—on the other hand—by the Marxist principles forwarded by Fredric Jameson. Seltzer is convinced (and convincing) that art and society—representational modes and history—must be read in conjunction and read with the expectation that meaning can be discerned by means of the symbiotic relationship of text and context. Seltzer refuses, therefore, to be held back from his search for meaning by the defeatism he finds in either de ManÃ-an deconstruction (since it declares that "the fiction-in-itself is never readable" because literature insists upon "freedom from both meaning and history") or Jameson's Marxism (since it asserts that fictions are "never knowable" in a reading process that remains attached—not to a history which is always "absent"—but only to "History" and iUusion, falsifying aU attempts to bed fictions in "real life"). What does an inteUigent young man Uke Seltzer do when confronted by two powerful contemporary theories of literary criticism that would deny him access to texts that mean something in relation to modem Ufe? He confronts those theories in turn with ideas suggested to him by Foucault's analyses of social documents; even more, he faces down the opposition by making no smaU claim—the engagingly impertinent assertion that "what I want is radicaUy to redirect the traditional course of Jamesian criticism." But what, specificaUy, has the fiction of Henry James to do with the powerplays taking place upon the kiUing fields of literary criticism? It has everything to do with the situation, Seltzer maintains, as he states his thesis in the opening paragraph of his book. Not merely has Henry James been read as the very exemplar of a novelist outside the circuit of power, but further, his novelistic and critical practice has been appropriated to support an absolute opposition between aesthetic and political claims. It is this opposition between the art of the novel and the subject of power that I want to reexamine. ... I want to suggest that art and power are not opposed in the Jamesian text but radically entangled. There is, to adapt James's phrase, a "criminal continuity" between techniques of representation that the novelist devises and the technologies of power that his fiction ostensibly censors and disavows. Review of Henry James and the Art of Power 143 Put at its simplest, Seltzer's argument originates in his impassioned belief that James's art has hitherto been done a great disservice by the critics who sever James's Uterary achievements from the world because of their insistence that art is aesthetics is form is without connection to things as they are. To Seltzer (and to me) such a view, if rigidly held to as the gospel truth, is nonsense, and needs to be buried out of sight and mind in the nearest potter's field. But how to prove this to unbeUevers? Seltzer's book is not long, but it manages to treat three major James texts with a skiU sufficient to make his main points come...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 142-144
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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