This essay reconsiders the meaning and function of ambiguity in the work of Henry James. The first half traces how trends in twentieth-century criticism helped to transform ambiguity from a term of censure into one of approval. The second half reads James’s story “The Figure in the Carpet” as an allegory for a practice of critical reading that rejects ambiguity in favor of certainty, precision, and acuteness. By encouraging readers to shift their attention away from a text’s meaning and onto the facultative virtues exercised in interpretation, the story defends the critical impulse without necessarily endorsing its outcomes. The essay concludes by arguing that Jamesian ambiguity ought to be understood as an initial condition that legitimates the processes which invariably seek to eliminate it.


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pp. 1-23
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