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Reviews The Phenomenology of Henry James, by Paul B. Armstrong ; xiii & 242 pp. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983, $26.00. A critical study linking HenryJames and phenomenology would seem to be a natural, both culturally and philosophically. Phenomenological ideas were "in the air" throughout James's career and he certainly imbibed them. Moreover, his philosophical views, insofar as they can be gleaned both from his nonfiction and fiction, seem to suggest a strong affinity with the phenomenological school, the essence of which is summarized by Armstrong as follows: "Although nothing beyond experience guarantees our meanings and values, James and phenomenology discover within experience the basis for a purposeful existence" (p. 211). These similarities serve to inspire Armstrong's study, a discussion of phenomenological concepts in five works: What Maisie Knew, Roderick Hudson, The Portrait ofA Lady, The Golden Bowl, and The Spoils of Poynton. The focal point of the correspondences Armstrong finds between James and phenomenology is, logically, James's emphasis on consciousness, the received impression, and the act of knowing as constitutive of reality. Given this focus, Armstrong argues for a unity between the epistemological and the moral in James's fiction, between knowing and doing, centered in the mind's apprehension of experience. Using analogous concepts from Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Heidegger, Armstrong provides an insightful discussion of the significance of the impression as the "intentional ground" ofJames's art. He then proceeds to show how this form of intentionality becomes the unifying point between consciousness and moral vision in What Maisie Knew. Roderick Hudson, on the other hand, is an example of the extravagant imagination, detached from its phenomenological ground, and therefore self-destructive. Armstrong broadens his perspective to a consideration of freedom, necessity, and, echoing Ricoeur, the paradox of the "servile will" in The Portrait ofA Lady. Then, following Sartrean lines, he examines the moral implications of "knowing and doing" manifested through Maggie Verver's growing consciousness in The Golden Bowl, and concludes with a phenomenological reading of The Spoils ofPoynton based on Marx's concept of alienation from things. 110 Reviews1 1 1 Yet for all the logical connections betweenJames and phenomenology, Armstrong 's study is only partially satisfying. While the parallels he draws are convincing , they tend to remain just that — parallels. The interdisciplinary approach as such produces few insights into James's work that have not already been deduced without the phenomenological apparatus. In fact, Armstrong's paralleling sometimes seems an exercise in critical translation, a kind of linguistic mystification in which the lucidity of the text is clouded with pretentious philosophical jargon. Consider, for example, these not atypical phrases: "Maggie transcends the transcendence of her existential captors, objectifying the subjectivities that had objectified her . . ." (p. 171); or, "The 'anomal/ of Osmond's and Madame Merle's 'relative position' is a 'gestalt shift' for Isabel — a rearrangement in the order of things contrary to her perceptual expectations because it is discontinuous with the way the world ordinarily reveals itself ..." (p. 122): i.e., Maggie and Isabel wised up. James always suffers in translation, but this kind of verbal embalmment suggests a deeper problem: Armstrong's uncritical absorption of the assumptions and vocabulary of phenomenology and his selective application of its concepts to James's thought and art. Did James believe exclusively that no fixed principles extrinsic to personal experience had credence? Did he believe that only experience was determinative of character? Or was there a strain of fatalism in his thought, an intuition of certain "givens" in human nature? The answers seem far more complicated than Armstrong's use ofphenomenology suggests. James may indeed be a phenomenologist, but he is not only a phenomenologist. A more discriminating treatment would have proven less tractable, but more illuminating . That Armstrong has not achieved this is particularly unfortunate because, once the critical language is decoded, what he has to say about the fiction is on the whole sensible and perceptive. Whitman CollegeJohn F. Desmond Roland Barthes, by Jonathan Culler; 130 pp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, $19.95 cloth, $5.95 paper. Unlike other recent studies of Barthes — e.g., those of Annette Lavers (1982) and Steven Ungar (1983) — Culler's seeks not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 110-111
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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