The Henry James Review publishes a yearly special issue centered around a topic that is—or could or should be—important to James studies but also one that is under active consideration across other fields and disciplines. “Centered around” rather than “focused on”; considered, not as a means of narrowing and finalizing, but broadly and in multiplying ways. The goal—the hope—is that, together, the essays will read as an extended and expansive conversation. So I am particularly delighted to find that not only are the pieces in “Fredric Jameson, Henry James” in conversation with one another, and then joined in conversation by Fredric Jameson, but that so many of the essays themselves perform their analyses through a kind of colloquy.
As though the combination of James and Jameson were not complex enough, a surprising number of contributors to this special issue articulate their arguments through a third term—Howells, Conrad, Wells, Burke, Booth. Jameson, too, especially in the beginning of his essay, reads Henry James’s writing, characteristically, in relation to other authors—Pound, Faulkner, Proust, Balzac, Flaubert. I take this not as evidence that there is little to say about Jameson and James but as indication that situating James historically—a demand for any Jamesonian discussion—can be performed most fruitfully by way of recognizing the discourses, creative and critical, with which James engages. To give only perhaps the most obvious example: in 1884 James writes “The Art of Fiction” and, in doing so, enters into an ongoing discussion that will continue far into the future. Even limiting the account to 1881–84, we know that James wrote in direct response to Walter Besant’s own “The Art of Fiction” (1884), as well as Andrew Lang’s rejoinder to Besant, also titled “The Art of Fiction” (1884). Essays on the topic by Thomas Hardy (1881), William Dean Howells (1882), Robert Louis Stevenson (1882), and Henry Norman (1883) had preceded Besant’s. And James’s essay generates Stevenson’s reply in “A Humble Remonstrance” (1884). Then there are all of the other readers of these essays, who incorporate their terms and arguments into their own thought, writing, and reading. [End Page 197]
In his response to the essays collected here, Fredric Jameson turns twice to autobiography: once, to “confess” that “James was one of the only three American writers who meant something to me in my intellectual formation.” In the second instance, Jameson re-engages with his teacher, Wayne Booth, and, more briefly, with Kenneth Burke. This is a taking up of conversations, sometimes fruitful (heated classroom discussions, clarifying disagreements), sometimes failed (as when Jameson does not read the second edition of The Rhetoric of Fiction and Booth misses the dedication to him of A Singular Modernity). Jameson explains that, in replacing Burke’s usage of “ideology” with his own more expanded understanding of the term, he, in a sense, replaces Burke himself. But what this does not mean, Jameson insists, is the erasure of Burke’s achievements and their ongoing use; it is not an end to reading Burke and writing with him.
Then, too, there are the many Henry Jameses that appear in these pages: most pervasively the realist novelist, but also the novelist who needs romance, the global writer, the great man, the compleat man of letters. One of the primary means by which contributors bring Jameson and James together is through analyses of structure, though often in unexpected ways. There are discussions of architecture and sculpture; explanations that include diagrams; attention to circumlocutions and circuits; even an investigation of the refusal to be systemic.
The call for submissions to “Jameson, James” claimed that “While he has not written directly on Henry James in a sustained way, James’s writing is, nonetheless, threaded throughout Jameson’s work: as example, as critical authority, as historical witness.” The essays in this collection trace some of those Jameses but do so not in order to simply reproduce either a Jamesonian Henry James. Nor for that matter, do they confine themselves to a Jamesonian Fredric Jameson, that is to Jameson’s own vision of himself and his writing. Re-reading his late fiction, Henry James...