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Shorter Book Reviews 133 evaluate those inner visions which can be custom-made all too easily? Moreover, self-invention, self-deception and self-analysis, though not strictly interchangeable, are too closely connected in literary autobiography not to generate uncomfortable degrees of relativity and ambiguity. Yet, being a circumspect investigator of the paradoxes of autobiography, Adams is himself fully aware of such reservations about his playing with writers who prefer not to tell the truth without significant lies. Unlike a Thoreau, who extravagantly hoed, weeded and simplified his life in the woods in order to ascertain its grand transcendental design, the twentieth-century autobiographers examined here seem to cultivate the weeds of personal deceit as if to protect themselves from the demands of both idealism and literalism. Adams approaches his selected writers with a sure eye for the forms and effects of their varying defensive strategies of lyingand with astute asides on their place in American literary tradition. In this regard, Adams' book itself complements Thomas Cooley's Educated Lives: The Rise of Modem Autobiography in America (Columbus, 1976),particularly so concerning the theory and the self-portraits of Stein and Anderson. All in all, reading Adams on lies should help one discern the truth-value of literary quests for self, both on their own and as part of an ongoing regeneration of the truthful fiction of America. Klaus P. Stich Department of English University of Ottawa George Catkin. William James: Public Philosopher. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. xii + 218pp. The life and work of William James, like those of many philosophers, have too often been wrenched from their historical context. George Cotlcinseeks to rectify this tendency in a study that "examine[s] the cultural, social, and political realities that surrounded James" (4). Such an approach need not be narrow or antiquarian, since James can still speak to our own age when understood within his particular milieu. Catkin characterizes his approach here as 11 avowedly contextualist," with nods to other practitioners such as Quentin Skinner and John Dunn (2-3). While admitting the limits of this method, Cotkin challenges his readers to apply one of James's own tests to 134 Shorter Book Reviews the result: does it work? Does this analysis of James furnish helpful new insights? On the whole, this reader must answer: yes. Interest in James's fascinating family has led some commentators to neglect its wider social and cultural setting. Coming of age on the eve of the CivilWar, James's generation faced a widening variety of career paths. For many in his age group and class, this broad horizon of opportunities produced only hesitancy and indecision. For most, the irresolution ended with the outbreak of war; for James, curiously, it did not. Why he sat out the war remains unclear, though his domineering father certainly discouraged his enlistment. Like other biographers, Cotkin agrees that James's nonparticipation is crucial to our understanding of his thought. Because he had not shared in the transforming war experience, for much of his life James felt himself,in Holmes's telling phrase, "judgednot to have lived" (29). In a particularly imaginative treatment, Cotkin suggests that the figure of Hamlet represents an illuminating way to interpret James during his years of personal crisis. Like many Victorians, James sympathised with the indecisive prince's dramatic agony. While in Europe in the late 1860s, his search for meaning, combined with a 11 crisis of vocation," a "battered ego" and "struggleswith his father" brought him to a psychological low point (59). His appointment at Harvard in 1872,followedby his marriage in 1878,pulled him back from the abyss. With the help of Charles Renouvier's ideas, James concluded by the late 1870sthat the habitual exercise of his own will "would exileHamlet's ghost" forever (70). Buoyed by this personal resurrection, James was forced by events at the close of the century to limit or revise his image of the energetic, decisive, heroic figure. He did not truly enter the public forum until the debate over imperialism; then he sharply criticized the United States' acquisition of the Philippines. American imperialists treated their new Filipino subjects as abstractions, without a legitimate culture and history of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 133-135
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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