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D. ?. Todd HENRY JAMES AND THE THEORY OF LITERARY REALISM Even though one would like to forbear commonplaces, they have, as Wittgenstein has taught us, considerable value as reminders. If we are sufficiently respectful, they will help us find our way through the brambles and thickets of our own enthusiasms or the enthusiasms others would foist on us. It has long been a commonplace among philosophers, or anyway among analytic philosophers, that performance is one thing and a theoretical accounting of performance is quite another. The most sensitive and sophisticated speaker of a language, if he is not a professional linguist or philosopher of language, inevitably will fall at once into the most naive errors if he undertakes theorizing about language. And few athletes are even faintly intelligible when speaking of their doings even at the level of sports theory, to say nothing of the higher and more general level of cardio-vascular and muscular physiology, for example. Theory and performance are connected unstraightforwardly even at the level of logic; on the workaday level of practice there is often no clearly discernable relation between theories and doings, and certainly expertise in one does not entail expertise in the other. This distinction, between knowing how to do something and knowing that something is the case, is by now one of the most thoroughly worked over distinctions in the history of philosophy; and although, no doubt, the last word has not been said on the matter, enough is known of its logic to support the view that it is both genuine and irreducible. I mention this commonplace because people strongly interested in literature and literary theory seem egregiously prone to ignore or overlook that common stock of banalities which, if properly utilized, would infuse their thinking with a greater measure of clarity. One of the more exasperating aspects of the currently waxing cult of Henry James is that its votaries are intent on fostering the idea that Henry James was a supremely great literary theorist. Not content 79 80Philosophy and Literature with the fact that James was a very great novelist, the evangelical Jamesian insists that we all must accept that James was a great thinker as well. There is, of course, some excuse for this; one cannot read the critical writings of Henry James without immediately apprehending that they have been informed by a powerful intellect. Nevertheless, theJames cult must be resisted, and that for the simple reason that they are wrong about James's prowess as a literary theoretician. The most outrageous recent extravagance of the James gang is served up by James E. Miller Jr. in Theory of Fiction: Henry James. Miller's view of James as a theorist is that he was comprehensive despite the fact that he nowhere articulated a comprehensive theory of fiction but "scattered his theory throughout a voluminous body of work, including his stories about writers." Miller also thinks that James was "remarkably consistent in his views from the beginning to the end of his career." ' This judgment, if correct, would justify Miller in taking James's famous midpoint essay "The Art of Fiction" (1884) as the axis on which Miller's Introduction and the book as a whole turn. Miller, rather prudently one must say, disclaims definitiveness for his Introduction as a statement of James's supposed theory of fiction. But he does claim that the book as a whole is "the most comprehensive, exhaustive, and innovative volume of fictional theory ever published." This large claim rests wholly upon the acceptability of James's essay "The Art of Fiction."2 Miller, of course, is not alone in his judgment of the pivotal significance of "The Art of Fiction." Leon Edel claims that James "embodied the very core of his beliefs" in that essay. "The Art of Fiction," Edel believes, is "one of those great pronouncements which seems to offer the last word on the subject." Despite that recalcitrant "seems", it is clear that Edel would agree with Miller that Henry James was, throughout his career, a comprehensive and consistent literary theorist, for he expressly claims that the James of the Prefaces many years later "re-expressed . . . with great subtlety ..." the views of "The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 79-100
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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