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Mapping Conjecture in Henry James and Joseph Conrad: A Stylistic Approach Barry Stampfl, San Diego State University, Imperial Valley The stories of Henry James and Joseph Conrad often pivot on the deciphering of enigmas. Characters and narrators exert themselves to figure things out, with mixed results. Meanwhile, we readers follow along, also doing our best to figure things out, also achieving mixed results. As sign systems requiring decoding by competent readers, novels and short stories are dependent on interpretive processes in order to come into existence as literature. The foregrounding of interpretation in James and Comad, therefore, is a self-reflective turn, by means of which mental operations fundamental to fiction are raised as critical issues. Many scholars in one way or another have registered this idea, and a number explicitly have interrogated the logic, rhetoric, or psychology of discovery as they are placed in view by our two novelists.1 They have in effect already initiated the project of mapping conjecture in James and Conrad. ' 'Conjecture,' ' however , may be understood in a strong theoretical sense not employed by any of these critics: as the name for an epistemological model cutting across many disciplinary boundaries. This strong sense is documented most clearly by Charles S. Peirce and his commentators. The stories of James and Conrad, as they run changes on the theme of the collision of the mind with the real, seem to reveal the implications of this model. Thus, to superimpose Peirce's concept of abduction upon the stories is to compare maps. The exercise shows that while the Peircean map is the more explicit, it is also the less extensive. A rummage through intellectual history locates materials in writings by Hans Vaihinger with which to augment Peirce's map. Welding key ideas from the two philosophers, we produce a new approach to stylistic analysis that enables us to follow in greater detail the metaconjectural meditation encoded in James and Conrad. As we trace its nuances, however, we soon come to see that even the map composed of elements from both Peirce and Vaihinger fails to cover the range of conjectural functioning disclosed by James and Conrad. Finally, then, we invoke Helene Deutsch and the psychoanalytic literature deriving from her diagnostic category of the "as if personality. While The Henry James Review 14 (1993): 99-114 © 1993 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 100 The Henry James Review the resulting conceptual grid still falls far short of comprehensiveness, it does demonstrate a certain rough adequacy for charting a prominent epistemological divide apparent in the work of the two early modernists. The "divide" in question does not separate James and Conrad, but traverses their works; it is a fracture within conjecture, over which both may be felt to hover anxiously. My thrust, then, is to explore a vision that they share: a fretting over the fate of conjecture ingrained in the rhetorical texture of their stories. Especially in their dramatizations of a certain species of investigative failure—wherein linguistic forms associated with conjecture appear as positively opposed to discovery—James and Conrad bring insidious possibilities of self-betrayal down on us all. ' 'Abduction,' ' of course, is Peirce's principal name for a mode of reasoning , distinct from deduction and induction, to which the mind resorts in order to reformulate creatively its conceptions of the universe. Its close association with hypothesis is conveyed by its other designations: ' 'hypothesis," ' 'hypothetic inference ,' ' ' 'reproduction,' ' or ' 'presumption." Broadly speaking, Peirce suggests that abduction covers "all the operations by which theories and conceptions are engendered " (5.590), operations that for Peirce are most clearly manifested in the process of arriving at a scientific hypothesis.2 At the same time, he conceives of abduction as a general principle ruling the whole of human knowledge. It is essential to history (2.714,6.606), constitutes the first stage of all inquiries (6.469), and is a necessary part of perception (5.181) and memory (2.625). Peirce insists that ' 'the first starting of a hypothesis, and the entertaining of it' ' is governed by ''a perfectly definite logical form' ' (5.189), which is as follows: The surprising fact C is observed, But if A were true, C would be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 99-114
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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