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BOOK REVIEWS There are also a complete list of James titles published by Macmillan and a detailed index. Norman Page _______________ University of Nottingham James and Philosophy Merle A. Williams. Henry James and the Philosophical Novel: Being and Seeing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. χ + 250 pp. $54.95 STORY-TELLING as philosophy? As the boundaries between disciplines continue to dissolve, the importance of narrative literature to philosophy has emerged as the subject of a number of new scholarly books. Among them is that of Merle A. Williams, senior lecturer in English at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, who makes a convincing case in Henry James and the Philosophical Novel for the way James's late work shares "a system of close correspondences" with phenomenology and the related philosophies of existentialism and deconstruction. Hers is a detailed and challenging analysis which will give readers and scholars new insight into the workings of Jamesian narrative. To show that "the phenomenological approach... has strong affinities with James's style of narrative," Williams amasses evidence from five of his late novels and novellas, including What Maisie Knew, The Spoils ofPoynton, The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl (which she calls the novel ne plus ultra for both phenomenology and imaginative narrative). In these, "James's texts may be seen as 'acting out' and endorsing the premises of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology ," revealing what Williams calls the "characteristically Jamesian enterprise of fiction as philosophy." As in the novels of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, "a story-telling operation may also facilitate new philosophical perspectives," Williams says, offering some of her own new perspectives on James's plots and characters. Both the Jamesian novel and Merleau-Ponty's philosophy treat perception as inherently perspectival, Williams says. Phenomenology, as she describes it, is "deeply concerned with the exploration of man's immediate, and pre-reflective, experience, considering the phenomena as they present themselves." In Merleau-Ponty's work, the individual is understood as "an embodied consciousness, located within a given spatial context and discovering his very subjectivity as temporality." So too in a James novel does a central consciousness contend with the constant need for interpretation and re-interpretation of experiences 511 ELT 37:4 1994 that persist in moving just beyond his or her subjectivity. In a comment Williams doesn't quote from his Phenomenology and Perception, Merleau -Ponty uncannily sums the similarity up: The system of experience is ... lived by me from a certain point of view and it is my involvement in a point of view which makes possible both the finiteness of my perception and its opening out" (304). If the "father-figure" of the phenomenological movement is Edmund Husserl, perhaps Jacques Derrida is its son, his own earliest and oedipal enterprise having been to undermine Husserl's idea of presence as originary. Presence, said Derrida in "Speech and Phenomena" and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs, is derived, not originary. Derrida offers instead his own concept of differance, a differing and deferring, as its absent/present stand-in. Williams makes the point to show that if James's "highly-wrought texts have phenomenological contours" in what it means to perceive and to frame complex judgments, their "silences, evasions and suppressions have affinities with the play of Derridean deconstruction." Thus, her admixture of Merleau-Ponty with Derrida and with the existential stance of S artre and Kierkegaard gives her analysis of James a patina of late twentieth-century critical theory, and with good effect. Though Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) developed phenomenology so much after James, Williams says James wrote from a "phenomenological impulse" which guided his thinking and led him to test the "limiting conditions for perception, moral appraisal or even coherent interpretation " that were to be the focus of the eventual philosophical movement. Merleau-Ponty saw phenomenology as part of "the general effort of modern thought," and certainly the case Williams makes here for James lends credence to viewing him as an essentially modern novelist, prefiguring and expressing later theory. Though William James's philosophy was influential and shared affinities with phenomenology, she discounts the idea that Henry simply wrote stories to go...


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