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Acting Beautifully

Henry James and the Ethical Aesthetic

Sigi Jottkandt

Publication Year: 2005

What is the matter with the women in Henry James? In The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove, and his short story “The Altar of the Dead,” one woman returns to a monster of a husband, another dies rather than confront the truth of her lover’s engagement, while yet another stakes her all on having a candle lit for a dead lover, only to promptly reject it. Exploring these strange choices, Sigi Jöttkandt argues that the singularity of these acts lies in their ethical nature, and that the ethical principle involved cannot be divorced from the question of aesthetics. She combines close readings of James with suggestive tours through Kantian aesthetics and set theory to uncover the aesthetic underpinning of the Lacanian ethical act, which has been largely overlooked in the current drive to discover a Cartesian origin for the subject as the subject of science.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. viii

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pp. xii-xviii

"It occurs to me that my title may seem a little misleading once one realizes that my subject implicitly deals at least as much with Lacan as it does with James. My decision to leave Lacan out, however, comes not so much out of a furtive desire to deceive the reader as from an intent to emphasize how the psychoanalytic concepts I will be dealing with here make..."

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pp. 1-41

"Few of James’s novels have generated as much reader frustration as The Portrait of a Lady. While Isabel’s final decision to return to Osmond famously had such supportive contemporary readers as Grace Norton confessing to having thrown the book across the room in vexation, our collective irritation today at what seems like James’s distinctly perverse refusal to..."

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pp. 43-97

"In his landmark study of The Wings of the Dove,1 Peter Brooks sets the terms for what has subsequently become one of the major thrusts in the novel’s critical reception.2 For Brooks, the novel has as its central concern the question of representation and its limit, or as he puts it, the 'abyss of..."

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pp. 99-145

"In this chapter I want to turn back to some of the issues I began with, back, that is, to what might be considered the 'burning' question of ethical thought, the question of universality.1 It was the concept of universality, after all, that Hegel addressed when he came to consider the dialectic of human and divine laws in his discussion of the Ethical Community..."


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pp. 147-163

Works Cited

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pp. 165-171


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pp. 173-177

E-ISBN-13: 9780791482759
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791465578
Print-ISBN-10: 0791465578

Page Count: 196
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Series Editor Byline: Henry Sussman See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 63168679
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Acting Beautifully

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • James, Henry, -- 1843-1916 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Didactic fiction, American -- History and criticism.
  • James, Henry, -- 1843-1916 -- Aesthetics
  • James, Henry, 1843-1916 -- Ethics.
  • Conduct of life in literature.
  • Ethics in literature.
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