A Small Boy and the Ease of Others: The Structure of Masculinity and the Autobiography of Henry James
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 45, Number 4, Winter 1989
- pp. 25-56
- View Citation
- Additional Information
SCOTT S. DERRICK A Small Boy and the Ease of Others: The Structure of Masculinity and the Autobiography of Henry James The idea for this essay comes from a public lecture by a famous intellectual, which I witnessed several years ago at Harvard . I was thinking about both masculinity and James at the time, and I found his on-stage persona a striking one. As a master-intellectual sutrounded by competitors and desiring students, he clearly seemed to be a part of the world of male power, yet the masculine nature of his posture seemed to be produced by more than his position as the center of scrutiny. It was the ease of his on-stage manner which produced a sense of his masculine control. Clearly, with every shrug or wave, it implied the presence of resources more than sufficient for dealing with the situation at hand.1 The whole question of "ease" seemed stunningly foregrounded as a sign of the masculine in inter- and intra-gender relations, and in aesthetics . And when I subsequently returned to the work of James, I found that the Mästet obsessively associates this term with male charactets throughout his novels. The discussion which follows tries to account for this persistence, initially by exploring the implications of "ease" as a metaphor, and then by focusing, with the help of Melanie Klein, on its use in A Small Boy and Others, the crucial first volume of James's Autobiography. 2 Fotms of ease weave themselves in and out of our conversation in a variety of ways: ease, easy, easily, easier, easiest, easing, uneasy, and disease. Ease in its most obvious sense is a synonym for pleasure, espeArizona Quarterly Volume 45 Number 4, Winter 1989 Copyright © 1989 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 004-1610 20Scott S. Derrick cially pleasure in the classic Freudian sense of an absence of tension. ' Since the levels of tension in everyday life vary endlessly, both in individual lives and from one life to the next, relative eases abound, and their presence or absence has much to do with whether existence seems reasonably pleasant or a misery. A host of writings, however, from Ecclesiastes to Ecrits, argue that an absolute ease, characterized by completely fulfilled desire, is largely beyond us. In Lacan's aphorism, desire is a structurally produced "lack" which cannot be eliminated by the experiences or objects of the everyday world. Freud provides a compelling reason why in Beyond the Pleasure Principle: we must seek whatever we want in the future through effort, but what we want must always be modelled on the satisfactions of the past which are irrettievably lost. As a consequence, a chain of unsatisfactoty objects—some necessarily more unsatisfactory than others—stretches into our past like the shells of abandoned cars. What we seek in the past might be the ease of an undifferentiated bliss with out mothers, or even the ease of inorganic oblivion, if one of Freud's darker metaphysical suspicions is correct. Regardless of the precise retrospective object we seek, howevet, we might eventually come to find a relative ease merely in the release from futile pursuit. Hence in "The Lotus Eatets," Tennyson's mariners tire of "ever climbing up the climbing wave" and dream of achieving the barely animate pleasures of a flower, which "all its alloted length of days" only "ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil. ..." Without even a change of form, however, ease also represents the desire for sufficient power to achieve satisfaction through the detour of effort or work. In "Ode to a Nightingale," for example, Keats also confesses that "many a time/ 1 have been half in love with easeful death. " Keat's half-love of oblivion, however, appears to be partially a response to his envious half-love of the imagined power of the nightingale, which "singest of summer in full-throated ease. " The conflict between the two kinds of ease is also starkly visible in the heroic Old Testament tale of Samson.4 Early in the story, Samson is the possessot of a heroic ease of power: his force has not been fully employed. When he slays a lion, "he rent him...