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Trilling's James: Liberalism and Selfhood in "The Princess Casamassima".

In 1968, Christopher Lasch noted that in their self-understanding as inferior to men of actions, intellectuals in the twentieth century have often become unwitting agents of the workings of power. "The revelation that the man of action, revolutionist or bureaucrat," writes Lasch, "scorns the philosopher whom he is able to use has not led the philosopher to conclude that he should not allow himself to be used; they merely reinforce his self-contempt and make him the ready victim of a new political cause" (357). But recent history has revealed a point that Lasch seems not to have been able to see as clearly in the 1960s: that a number of intellectuals and cultural critics were perfectly willing to be used; more precisely, they were in fact eager to intervene in an imaginary historical panorama they understood as dangerous to the American nation.

The pervading feelings of anticommunism during the 1950s were indeed much more complex than a simple blind adherence to the message of such staunch opponents of communist ideas as, say, Senator McCarthy. As Ellen Schrecker argues, during the 1950s college campuses affected irrevocably the culture's image of itself; many of the intellectuals housed in those campuses had a more lasting--albeit less glamorous--influence on the culture than the wandering and miasmic arguments of McCarthy himself. "The American historian and present Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin," Schrecker claims,

named names for HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee]; Lionel Trilling, perhaps the leading literary critic of the day, chaired a Columbia committee that developed guidelines for congressional witnesses; and Talcott Parsons, whose formal paradigms shaped much of American sociology, participated in the AAUP's [American Association of University Professors] special survey of the Cold War academic freedom cases. (340)(1)

Although the work of Lionel Trilling has received a wealth of attention, the relationship between his views on liberalism--shaped by his particular understanding of the Cold War scenario--and his role in American letters remains comparatively unexamined.(2) An exceptionally lucid cultural critic, Trilling quickly absorbed the country's generalized conservatism towards communist ideas. He subsequently proposed his version of political liberalism as the only logical option to the perceived communist threat. Using the most conservative premises of liberalism as a philosophical background for his literary theories, Trilling managed to recast the literary in the light of the political. It might have been Trilling's greatest achievement that in so doing he forged aversion of the literary similar to his vision of American culture.(3) But insofar as he thought American culture was to become "exceptional," Trilling imagined fiction as that idealized realm where society could become truly unfettered from constraints. Insofar as his particular brand of liberalism permeated his literary thinking, Trilling has helped create an understanding of fiction parallel to what is culturally known as American exceptionalism. In restricting the political and the cultural only to a super-refined sense of freedom of the individual, Trilling's understanding of the political paradoxically ignores precisely what is most inherent to politics: a definition of individuals in relation to social, economic, and historical institutions. Conceiving of society as an abstract force, and often relegating politics to simply the level of the individual, Trilling thus harnessed the connection between politics and literature that was supposedly his main concern in his most important work, The Liberal Imagination.

Trilling's aversion to Communism has long been pointed out; the consequences of his views have not.(4) In The Liberal Imagination, as a result of that aversion, under the constant, imagined Soviet threat, and invoking geopolitical security, Trilling replaces the tragically political sense of what Henry James calls "the imagination of disaster" by the "liberal imagination." In effectively stripping what he calls "imagination" of any sense of history, and in arguing for a highly individualistic sense of classical liberalism, Trilling therefore manages to establish a close link between the autonomy of the literary and the isolationism of the state.(5) Thus Trilling creates a version of liberalism that he later uses in his literary work to promote the same autonomy of the literary realm. The Liberal Imagination announces itself not as "political essays," but as exercises in "literary criticism"(7). Yet Trilling immediately collapses the distinction by arguing that they "assume the inevitable intimate, if not always obvious, connection between literature and politics"(7). When read in the light of his subsequent statements on politics, however, Trilling's seemingly productive conflation assumes a different perspective. Although clearly a post-war book, The Liberal Imagination, William Chace notes, "only rarely specifies surrounding political circumstances" (79). The political circumstances behind Trilling's text are the continual perception by the American liberal intelligentsia of an imminent, inevitable communist threat. And Trilling, the champion of complexity and contradiction, reacted to this political phenomenon inexplicably simplistically. For Trilling, politics is correlative with what he calls "ideological thinking"; his most sustained exploration of what he understands as ideological thinking takes place in "The Princess Casamassima." Less popular than "Reality in America" or "The Meaning of a Literary Idea," Trilling's "The Princess Casamassima" has had a wider repercussion in American thought than frequently noted.

As soon as it was published in 1948, "The Princess Casamassima" immediately introduced the comparatively minor novel by James into the American canon.(6) More than any other critical intervention in the field, Trilling's redirection of the canon managed to guarantee the separation of the literary from the political and ethical realms. Trilling achieved that separation through his sui generis definition of "ideology," a definition always set up in opposition to what he calls "ideas." Ideas, for Trilling, "come into being when two contradictory emotions are made to confront each other and are required to have a relationship with each other" (Liberal 283). Trilling furthermore opposes this dialectical process behind ideas to what he considers the dangerous historical moment of ideology:

But to call ourselves the people of the idea is to flatter ourselves. We are rather the people of ideology, which is a very different thing. Ideology is not the product of thought; it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas to which, for various reasons having to do with emotional safety, we have very strong ties of whose meaning in actuality we have no clear understanding. (Liberal 286, emphasis mine)

Although Trilling makes a gesture towards recognizing the complexity of the political context in which he writes when he claims that "we have no clear understanding" of it, he thereafter characterizes the effects of ideological thinking in such terms as "brutalization of the intellect" (271), "a specter that haunts the culture" (271), "the language of non-thought," and "the dogged tendency of our time to ideologize all things into greyness" (275). The formulas to which Trilling refers have a clear political reference: his perception that Communism had a chance of being a victor in the ideological war that permeated much of the world in the 1950s. The danger of submitting to ideological ends resides in yielding to an ideological structure of thought obliterating life's sense of variousness. The tendency to "remain in uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts" (284), which he identifies with the culture's true artists, those who "do not submit to serve the ends of any one ideological group or tendency," is Trilling's alternative to what he understands as a historical moment dangerous to the nation.(7) Consistent with his argument, Trilling constructs this cultural moment upon a binary that opposes "them" to "us." He then translates this polarity into the opposition ideas/ideology to claim that he needs to transcend that binary structure of thought. For Trilling binaries are only useful as long as they are understood as provisional and transcendental thinking nodes. Only by moving beyond them and remaining in perpetual doubt will the nation discard ideology for the more productive world of ideas. At the risk of oversimplifying, it can be argued that Trilling spent his lifetime elaborating a mode of thought that would uphold contradiction--which surpasses binaries--as its ultimate value. Lack of contradiction is precisely the trouble with Stalinism. In The Last Decade, a much later, almost retrospective text, he makes that point plain. He insists that his opposition to Stalinism derives from its ideology, which he summarizes as "the belief that the Soviet Union had resolved all social and political contradictions and was on the way toward realizing the highest possibilities of human life" (140). Trilling will tirelessly repeat this thesis, reaching its highest expression and making his greatest impact in American letters through his brilliant--albeit highly problematic--reading of James's The Princess Casamassima. It is paradoxical that in that reading he grounds the philosophical basis for his argument in liberal theory, thus engaging himself in the binary exercise he so vehemently despises.


Trilling found in the political foundations of liberal theory the perfect soil to root both his literary and political views. Although the connection between Trilling's politics and his liberal views is quite obvious, how he connected liberalism and literature remains vague. The seemingly unfamiliar connection between liberalism and literature is located in what Trilling valued most in novels: the construction of characters. In "Art and Fortune" he simplifies the notion of reality when he writes that in novels reality is perceived primarily through the characters; his simplification becomes even more problematic when he then describes characters only in terms of their abstract qualities:

All great characters exist in part by reason of the ideas they represent. The great characters of American fiction, such, say, as Captain Ahab and Natty Bumppo, tend to be mythic because of the rare fineness and abstractness of the ideas they represent; and their very freedom from class gives them a large and glowing generality; for what I have called substantiality is not the only quality that makes a character great. (Liberal 251)

"Substantiality" is another of Trilling's words, one like ideology and reality, that evaporates an otherwise highly complicated historical context. In The Liberal Imagination, subjectivity entails a subject immersed in an individual existence largely untethered from social processes. In constructing this primarily ethereal subject, Trilling effectively overshadows the extent to which a person is always the result of historical determinants.(8)

Trilling's division of characters into ideal or mythic and substantial or material should come as no surprise, for in depriving subjectivity of all material determinants, he is able to operate once more within his characteristic dialectical parameters. Trilling's habit of thinking dialectically without reaching any significant conclusions stems from some of liberalism's founding premises.(9) And Trilling's oppositions, reality/idea, material life/psychic life, politics/literature, complexity/simplicity, can all be subsumed under the main polarity behind American liberalism: private/public. It is not insignificant that to complicate the progressive understanding of literature--especially that of Parrington--that conceived of art as an expression of public will, Trilling adopted a more psychological view of art that seemingly also centered on the cultural, but that ultimately, because of its emphasis on the abstract and on the contradictory, posited an isolated individual beyond historical circumstance. Nor is it insignificant that such an individual corresponds exactly to a liberal view of the subject.

What is significant is that although commentators on liberalism hardly agree as to what exactly constitutes the movement, they all insist that at least it implies a subject unfettered from any kind of constraints. Recently Martin Stone defined liberalism as "only a family of ideas, loosely related," claiming that "there is no single, unified doctrine to be upheld" (78). Stone's definition echoes the one offered by the major historian of the movement, Guido de Ruggiero, who claims that "various definitions of liberalism have been given. It has been called a method, a party, an art of government, a form of State organization. These descriptions are complementary rather than exclusive" (357). The problem of definition becomes even more perplexing when considering that the term has frequently been appropriated by political groups with conflicting goals.(10) The movement has also crossed borders, in each country developing its own hybrid variety. But in its most traditional form, a form that originates in the seventeenth century and the form to which Trilling subscribes, liberal doctrine is associated with a relationship between the individual and the state; more narrowly with a relationship between the individual as agent or thinker and an external world. If by nothing else, liberal political theory is unified by positing a subject separated from any sense of community. How this separation occurs is clearly summed up in what R. G. Collingwood, in his preface to Ruggiero's immensely influential The History of European Liberalism, identifies as the central premise of liberalism:

Liberalism begins with the recognition that men, do what we will, are free; that a man's acts are his own, spring from his own personality, and cannot be coerced. But this freedom is not possessed at birth; it is acquired by degrees as a man enters into a self-conscious possession of his personality through a life of discipline and moral progress. The aim of Liberalism is to assist the individual to discipline himself and achieve his own moral progress. (vii)

Roberto Unger's Knowledge and Politics presents a view of liberalism similar to that of Ruggiero and perhaps the clearest contemporary articulation of the movement.(11) For Unger liberalism has

always rested on what he calls "liberalism antinomies." Some of these antinomies are fact/value, reason/desire, public/private. Because these opposites govern the way one leads one's life, they in effect produce a subject as split as the liberal consciousness itself. This split, Unger's argument goes, creates a state of hostility between the two sides. Unable to resolve this perpetual tension, the subject turns this internal hostility towards an other, always located outside the subject. In contemporary society, this other always takes the form of institutions or, simply, other people. The state of affairs that Unger describes therefore produces "a conception of society as an association of independent and conflicting individuals" (20). And in relationship to others, the "self experiences the weightlessness that is the reverse side of its fear of all social bonds as threats to individuality" (25). Thus according to liberal doctrine, subjects

begin by not recognizing the common humanity they share with persons far from them. Then even those who are close become foreign to them. Finally, through this unending disruption of community, they become strangers to themselves. (25)

Ultimately liberalism's antinomies create this sense of estrangement. "The estranged and the resigned," Unger continues, "share a common view of the relation of thought to life. They both believe that there is a public world of factual and technical discourse and an intimate world of feeling" (27). Knowledge and Politics is an effort to unify this dichotomy, a dichotomy that American liberalism has cheerfully embraced.

Recent work on liberal theory appears animated by the desire to circumvent these polarities. In Political Liberalism, for instance, John Rawls revises some of the ideas that he first introduced in his widely read A Theory of Justice hoping to do away with these enfeebling dualities. Political Liberalism attempts to answer the following questions: "How is it possible that deeply opposed though reasonable comprehensive doctrines may live together and all affirm the political conception of a constitutional regime? What is the structure and content of a political conception that can gain the support of such an overlapping consensus" (xx)? Readers of Theory will recall that in that text Rawls had set out to construct what he calls "justice as fairness." Such construction entailed a view of subjectivity so abstract that it made one wonder if it has any possibilities of practical realization. As Rawls himself puts it in the later work, "the aims of Theory were to generalize and to carry to a higher order of abstraction the traditional doctrine of the social contract" (Political xvii; emphases mine). Aiming to revise such an, as he himself puts it, "unrealistic" notion of society, Rawls now in Political Liberalism attempts to answer the questions posed above. To understand the structure of a political conception, Rawls concludes that "we must distinguish between a public basis of justification generally acceptable to citizens on fundamentally political questions and the many nonpublic bases of justification belonging to the many comprehensive doctrines and acceptable only to those who affirm them" (xvi). Although Rawls's revision of his previous stance seems initially promising, he in fact reenacts here the familiar liberal scenario of posing endless abstract dualities. A paragraph below stages that duality even more clearly: "The aim of political liberalism," he writes, "is to uncover the conditions of a possibility of a reasonable public basis of justification on fundamental political questions. In doing this it has to distinguish the public point of view from the many nonpublic (not private) points of view" (xvi). Meaning to do otherwise, the parenthetical comment in fact makes the dichotomy even more resonant. My point here is not that liberalism is problematic because it rests on dualities, but that often these dualities are used for suspicious purposes. A paradigmatic case of the issue is the typical liberal argument that private vices (such as greed, for instance) will in the end produce public goods (such as general prosperity).(12) Every attempt to redescribe--and thus redefine--liberal theory results in the same perpetuation of the endless dualities to which Trilling so fervently clings, a perpetuation that in turn results in the image of a freely choosing individual who precedes any sense of community.(13) Creating the image of an autonomous subject clearly sponsors the view that the movement aims to provide--as it always has--a privileged space in society for the particularly gifted, the strong, and the wealthy rather than carving out a space for what it always abstractedly calls "the common good."

Several contemporary political commentators have called liberalism, following Bernard Yack, "naive."(14) Yet they all seem unable to move away from what Posnock calls "the root dualism of classical liberalism that posits the individual as predating society" (69). All the senses in which liberals are naive can be subsumed to the movement's foundational premise that individuals are transcendental agents capable of forging their own destiny and can therefore overcome any kind of determinants. Yet liberalism's naivete may in fact be its strength. For it is liberalism's peculiar view of subjectivity that makes it seemingly immune to critique. That is, the degree of independence to which subjectivity is allowed makes it impossible to reach a sense of communal consensus that would in turn allow for alternatives. Which is to say that the sense of subjectivity's freedom is such that it appears to be endemically independent of any sense of coercion. So if this sense of freedom is correlative with subjectivity, its correlation is indistinguishable from, and reducible to, the non-existence of communities. This is what Unger means when he writes that "individuals become strangers to themselves"(25). What Unger fails to see is that this process of individualization does not--indeed cannot--"disrupt a sense of community," since the idea of community from a liberal standpoint is always already mediated by the correlative qualities of autonomy and individualism.(15) And Trilling, amazingly brilliant as he was, perhaps because he clung compulsively to this particular liberal premise, became in fact one of the most respected intellectuals of the century.(16) When one presses further on his view of freedom, however, liberalism starts to tread on looser ground.

The kind of freedom liberalism offers is what Judith Shklar has called "liberalism of fear,"(17) and Donald Pease, in relation to American culture, has termed "negative freedom."(18) The result of this negative freedom is, as Pease puts it, "an intolerance to anything past" (Visionary 8). Refiguring the past as a unified, undifferentiated moment in the culture, this intolerance blurs the sense of plurality from history; denying a sense of difference, this refiguration enframes history in such a way as to gain the culture's spontaneous approval of that particular enframement. Arac also points out that "for most American cultural intellectuals, these problems [of independence] were posed ... most particularly in terms of `Stalinism.' [These intellectuals] live in history as the `anti-Stalinists' intellectuals, and this chosen negative independence continually acted to restrict their positive independence" (309). That is why Trilling can assert that "in the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition" (Liberal 5). Once he promotes liberalism as the only intellectual tradition in America, Trilling can then characterize its cultural work. For Trilling, liberalism "recalls liberals to the sense of variousness and possibility," "implies the awareness of complexity and difficulty," and relates to an understanding of literature because literature "is the human activity that takes the fullest and most precise account of variousness, possibility, complexity, and difficulty" (10). Insofar as liberalism allows Trilling to create an isolated cultural realm, the relationship between literature and politics, via liberalism, becomes the way in which a whole generation of intellectuals could maintain the autonomy of the literary and, given that literature reflected reality, the autonomy of the nation.


The polarities constitutive of liberal doctrine and its cultural consequences resemble the divisions that have characterized discussions of American literature. The most immediate effect of the well-known polarity between Romance and Realism in American fiction, for example, has been the erasure of the sense of tragedy in American letters as a result of the same erasure in American culture.(19) The cultural history of the United States in the second half of the twentieth century has largely been dominated by what we might term the Cold War mentality. This sort of mentality has enframed historical events in such away that the American national identity has been unified by what I referred to as "negative freedom." Pease uses the term to describe a different historical period. But it can still be applied to the moment we are examining. Afraid of the decaying power of the mythos of the Revolution of Independence in the twentieth century, the consensus historians--Trilling among them--appropriated the theory of liberalism to re-introduce, in a different form, the notion of negative freedom that conceived any kind of individual or institutional ties as threatening to the self. Pease uses "negative freedom" to designate a state of mind originating after the American Revolution. "The Revolution," Pease argues,

had secured the nation's freedom from an oppressive past. The mythic association accruing to this historic event subsequently made freedom synonymous with liberation from an oppressor. And this negative freedom granted cultural authority to a variety of breaks from an equally variable series of oppressors. (Visionary 8)

If national myth is understood as that narrative element tying a nation together, then the mythical associations of The Revolution already foreshadow many of the cultural problems in twentieth-century America. Since the break with the British past had already been turned into a mythos, this national myth became the "dominant way of producing an American culture." Thus Pease concludes that "the mythos of the Revolution and the negative freedom supporting it encouraged many Americans to turn liberation into daily ritual" (8). Pease's observations are useful because they offer us a way to read behind the familiar and unexamined myth of American innocence and to focus instead on a traumatic moment that constitutes a negative mind-set.

Another way of saying that a traumatic experience in the American mind becomes elevated into a mythos is to argue that the traumatic element is forever doomed to be repeated in history. The cultural moment in American history most similar to that of the American Revolution is the Cold War. Although there are clear differences between the two traumatic moments, they both share a main characteristic: a set of mind opposing the United States to a threatening other. To achieve this mind set, the United States constantly recreated itself in the image of the American Adam, the innocent and idyllic youth who could transcend the realm of politics and be perpetually free. When the image elided the tragic sense, therefore, the nation managed to create a political realm in American culture capable of creating public consent in the face of historical moments constructed as threatening to the national security. Unfortunately, the idealism of this version of the culture offers a grim and despicable mockery of the nation when confronted with such real moments as the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.

These traumatic moments in American culture pivot upon a dual function. They all create an imaginary other threatening the national security and the sense of freedom it created. But by defining freedom always narrowly, solely in terms of freedom from constraints, these moments have constructed a nation where the most valued sense is that of individualism. I define individualism here as liberalism does: as the imaginary set of beliefs in which individuals manage to keep self-sufficiency by identifying any communitarian feelings, human bonds, and institutions as threatening to their sense of selves. These traumatic moments construct this mind-set by effectively erasing, from the public sphere, the acute sense of tragedy that accepting a different narrative of events would entail, since such an acceptance would shatter the nation's self-image. Thus this dual function refers to the capacity of this structure of thought to produce a certain version of events while, at the same time, to obliterate the conditions of its own production.

Trilling reads James's The Princess Casamassima through the dichotomy constitutive of liberal doctrine and of the account of American literature we privilege even today. Commentators have long established Trilling's essay as a landmark in the history of criticism.(20) But brilliant as the piece may be it "tells," as Mark Krupnick puts it, "more about Trilling's preoccupations in the forties than it does about the novel that Henry James wrote" (69). These preoccupations were political; Trilling was in fact mainly concerned when he was writing his essay in 1948 with opposing what he, in relation to James's work, called "the imagination of disaster" in order to prevent the nation's tendency towards the dangerous sense of the political.

The Princess Casamassima portrays the relationship between the princess who gives title to the novel and Hyacinth Robinson. Surrounded by poverty and haunted by the mystery of his origin, Hyacinth has nevertheless managed to transcend the limitations of his own class and develop a refined sensibility. The aesthetic awareness of the surrounding misery plunges him into a world of politics, secret organizations, and radical beliefs that he questions only when he meets the idyllic yet alluring world of the Princess Casamassima. While her world forces Hyacinth to question some of the assumptions governing his beliefs, his own world leads the Princess to give up the sumptuosity of her existence and become an actor in the political scenario Hyacinth inhabited before he met her. In his discussion of the novel, Trilling follows the dichotomies he had earlier developed in "The Meaning of a Literary Idea." Opposing literary ideas to ideology, when Trilling allegorically attributes the qualities of literary ideas to Hyacinth and those of ideology to the Princess, he replicates his liberal belief that by involving herself in the world of politics, the Princess has obliterated the "variousness of life" and has dangerously aligned herself with the "greyness" of the ideological world. Whereas Hyacinth, conversely, turns into Trilling's hero because he manages to transcend, or at least to question, the realm of politics, the Princess has become a "perfect drunkard of reality," one who

cannot but mistake the nature of reality, for she believes it is a thing, a position, a finality, a bedrock. She is, in short, the very embodiment of the modern will which masks itself in virtue, making itself appear harmless, the will that hates itself and finds its manifestations guilty and is able to exist only if it operates in the name of virtue, that despises the variety and modulations of the human story and longs for an absolute humanity, which is but another way of saying a nothingness. (95)

Trilling's description of the Princess reveals his dislike of what he calls "brute reality." But unfortunately he simplifies the complexity of the Princess to align her with that reality. So aligning her allows him later to assign a heightened sense of complexity to Hyacinth. Nowhere is Trilling at his most inexplicably naive than at instances like this, when he almost dismisses with a stroke of the pen a character as complex as the Princess. But there's more to the passage. Trilling attacks the Princess because she represents, for him, the purest embodiment of an uncontrolled will, one that has rejected the variety and contradictions of life and has been violated by an idea. What does it mean to say that somebody is the embodiment of a will?

In "The Princess Casamassima," at least, the difference between "willing to be something" and "being the something that one wills" is made to evaporate; willing means manipulating reality in such a way that what you will becomes what you are. Insofar as Trilling discusses what he argues the Princess has become, he also discusses the will she embodies. The Princess is the "embodiment of the modern will which masks itself in virtue" precisely because she has performed the conscious act of willing; she has not, that is, allowed the variety of life to embrace her and has instead created, willed, a different version of the real. That the version of the real she creates should offer the Princess a "position," a "finality," is, for Trilling, equivalent to not living, to what he calls "the non-life." When the Princess becomes consciously aware of the tragic sense of life, Trilling assumes that instead of letting the variousness of life absorb her, she has created her belief. Trilling then considers her tragic awareness a simplistic, capricious act. But worst of all, for Trilling, is that the will the Princess created "masks itself in virtue." In Trilling's essay "virtue" is inseparable from the power of imagination, one of the greatest attributes associated with James's art. Imagination is important because it is "one of the keys to truth" (67). And it is in the name of "the liberal imagination" that Trilling argues for the continual importance of James. "Liberal" in this context means James's ability to elevate art to such heights from which only the few enlightened--liberal--ones will profit. What the Princess masks in virtue is her ability to will through imagining a reality different from the one Trilling would have as the only alternative for the nation. This idea resurfaces obsessively through Trilling's texts. In "Manners, Morals, and the Novel," Trilling returns to the Princess, once again to make a similar point. The Princess, he says,

seeks out poverty, suffering, sacrifice, and death because she believes that these things alone are real; she comes to believe that art is contemptible; she withdraws her awareness and love from the one person of her acquaintance who most deserves them, and she increasingly scorns whatever suggests variety and modulation, and is more and more dissatisfied with the humanity of the present in her longing for the more perfect humanity of the future. It is one of the great points that the novel makes that with each passionate step that she takes toward what she calls the real, the solid, she in fact moves further away from the life-giving reality. (211)

In abandoning the artistic life to embrace that of politics, the Princess, in Trilling's reading, ceases to live. Leaving behind the "variousness" identified with a life devoted to art, the Princess cannot but become a failure as a character. Insofar as the Princess exchanges a life of artistic perception for a revolutionary life of politics, she will be stranded from the only reality capable of giving life.

In framing his reading mainly through the opposition between the grey reality of the Princess and the variousness of life in Hyacinth, Trilling sacrifices a central element in the text: the question of Hyacinth's ambiguous parentage. Haunted by an anguished ignorance regarding his real parents, Hyacinth consistently fails to establish any significant sense of community with any of the other characters in the novel. He is therefore what Trilling calls a truly individual, liberal character who has managed to transcend the whims of society and live in the realm of ideas.(21) Hyacinth's lack of communal sense is conveniently ignored by Trilling, who can thus carry his opposition between what he calls Hyacinth's heroic stature and the Princess's lack of life. Hyacinth in effect spends most of his short life thinking about the question of his identity in relation to others, veering his early artistic life towards the political, and feeling that this context might clarify who he actually is. But even after his unsuccessful immersion in the political world, Hyacinth roams aimlessly through the bleak streets of London pondering, in vain, about "that dim, dreadful, confused legend of his mother's history, as regards which what Pinnie [his stepmother] had been able to tell him when he first began to question her" (166).(22) Readers of James's novel will recall that Pinnie herself does not know fully all the details behind Hyacinth's confusing birth situation. Pinnie's confusion is further complicated by ambivalent versions of Hyacinth's birth, and by contradictory advice that other characters give her as to how much of the supposed truth she should share with Hyacinth. Since all the theories as to Hyacinth's parentage revolve in one way or another around an aristocratic father, Pinnie compulsively wants to take care of the child hoping that some day Hyacinth himself would belong to the aristocracy. Pinnie thus expects to change her miserable life by reliving it as the mother of an aristocrat-to-be. And Pinnie, "whose imagination took flights about every one but herself," tells Hyacinth stories about his birth that provide him "with a hundred different theories of his identity. What he knew, what he guessed, sickened him, and what he didn't know tormented him"(166).

Trilling's reading of the novel thus ignores Hyacinth's vexing family history to be able to turn him into a perfectly self-assured subject. Trilling even turns suspicion into absolute certainty. For what Hyacinth suspects, Trilling asserts.(23) When Hyacinth begins to suspect Lord Frederick might be his father, he feels his life may finally lead somewhere. The result is, of course, sheer disappointment. But Trilling finds absolute proof behind Hyacinth's mere belief. There is more: for behind each flimsy relationship Hyacinth establishes with anyone in the novel Trilling finds a univocal set of parents. "Hyacinth has," Trilling authoritatively affirms,

no less than three sets of parents: Lord Frederick and Florentine, Miss Pynsent and Mr. Vetch, Eustace Poupin and Madame Poupin, and this is not to mention the French-revolutionary grandfather and the arch-conspirator Hoffendahl; and even Millicent Henning appears, for one memorable Sunday, in a maternal role. The decisive parental pair are, of course, the actual parents, Lord Frederick and Florentine, who represent--some will feel too schematically--the forces which are in conflict in Hyacinth. (80, emphasis mine)

Portraying Hyacinth within an unproblematic family circle, Trilling can then affirm that the youth in fact controls his own decisions. In insisting that readers disregard the confusing historical genealogy behind Hyacinth--indeed in insisting that such confusion does not exist--Trilling can thus deliver a Hyacinth whose uncertain life is his conscious choice. Or even more shrewdly, Trilling manages to construct a Hyacinth who, out of his essential confusion, has learned to live in the world of what Trilling calls "ideas." Trilling's Hyacinth becomes a hero in the novel when he decides against his pledge to assassinate the Duke as part of the beginning of a process of destroying the ruling class. The reasons for Hyacinth's decision against his pledge at the end of the novel are far from clear, and may have to do with his growing sense of confusion about who he really is. Trilling, however, concludes that murdering the Duke is, for Hyacinth, equivalent to murdering his own father. And "by repeating poor Florentine's action, he will be bringing his mother to life in all her pitiful shame" (80). Thus Trilling elevates Hyacinth to the stature of a hero at the expense of Hyacinth's dilemma over his own identity. The question of his identity, a question that Hyacinth "spent nine-tenths of his time in brooding over," and that finally leads him to suicide, never seems to be an issue for Trilling. The elevation of Hyacinth takes place when Trilling foregrounds what he calls "the forces which are in conflict in Hyacinth." These forces are positive characteristics for Trilling because they contrast with the obstinate and concrete self-assuredness of the Princess. Rather than an inability to deal with raw reality, the opposition between these two forces becomes the epitome of a mind in "perfect equilibrium." Although totally numbed by what he perceives as a situation beyond his comprehension, Hyacinth, Trilling argues, finds in that inexplicability the key to understanding what it means to live in civilization. Behind the abstract ideals that he cannot comprehend Hyacinth manages to see "the envy, the impulse to revenge and to dominance" (89). And Hyacinth is "the less inclined to forgive what he sees because, as we must remember, the triumph of the revolution presents itself to him as a certainty and the act of revolution as an ecstasy" (89; emphases mine). Thus Trilling gets his way by attributing to Hyacinth the capacity to see what he cannot. I would like to argue that it is precisely because he cannot see that his irresolution originates. Hyacinth is a hero because he is a passive spectator taking in, as it were, the variety of life. I agree with Trilling that Hyacinth is primarily an irresolute character, but I do so only to reach a conclusion different from his. For Trilling, Hyacinth's irresolution is the key to his heroic character; I would instead argue that his irresolution, by leading him to suicide, is his most negative trait. This irresolution originates in his incapacity to establish any meaningful sense of community. Thus the liberal triumph of the individual leads Hyacinth to his tragic death. Despite Trilling's arguments to the contrary, liberal individualism can indeed have tragic consequences.

In the "Preface" to The Princes Casamassima, James identifies the power of observation as one of the originating factors of his novel:

The prime idea was unmistakably the ripe fruit of perambulation. One walked of course with one's eyes open, and I hasten to declare that such a practice, carried on for a long time and over a considerable space, positively provokes, all round, a mystic solicitation, the urgent appeal, on the part of everything, to be interpreted and, so far as may be, reproduced. (33)

James's correlation between the origin of the novel and the figure of the voyeur endlessly walking--and through walking knowing--the city is a commonplace of nineteenth-century literature. It is not insignificant to notice here, however, that James's originality lies in his reversal of the structure of perception.(24) Perception is, for the voyeur, the key to a deeper understanding of himself and the circumstances around him. Although the novel portrays Hyacinth walking and watching, there is as James puts it "one little difference." "This difference," James continues,

would be that so far as all the swarming facts should speak of freedom and ease, knowledge and power, money, opportunity, and satiety, he should be able to revolve around them but at the most respectful of distances and with every door of approach shut in his face. (34)

Unable therefore to access the process of perception that might help him achieve the knowledge he seeks, Hyacinth can only define himself in terms of what others see in him. Thus his decision to believe he is the son of an aristocrat derives from Pinnie, for whom, as we know, "to believe in Hyacinth was to believe that he was the son of Lord Frederick" (58). Even as the novel opens Hyacinth begins a process of subjectivation through the gaze of others. Rather than the self-assured subject Trilling makes of him, Hyacinth's subjectivity is only conceived through the highly problematic relationships he tries to establish with others.

The novel opens when Mrs. Bowerbank, the novel's representative of the law, appears in Pinnie's house to request that Hyacinth be shown, probably for the last time, to his dying mother. But most important is Pinnie's insistence that Mrs. Bowerbank see the child herself. Only if the child is scrutinized and recognized as superior to the milieu that surrounds him does Pinnie think she can sustain her life-long dream of raising somebody of the aristocracy. Although Mrs. Bowerbank makes it absolutely clear that she is there only to talk to her, Pinnie insists that she "can find the child, if [she] would like to see him" (53). When, during the course of their conversation, Mrs. Bowerbank doubts the aristocratic nature of the child, Pinnie responds: "If you could only wait and see the child, I'm sure it would help you to judge" (61). As it turns out, Pinnie is in fact right; when she sees Hyacinth, Mrs. Bowerbank immediately perceives a discrepancy between the boy's origin and his present abode. When Hyacinth first makes himself available for public scrutiny, Mrs. Bowerbank's "eyes rested on him a moment, and then, most unexpectedly, she gave an inconsequent cry. `Is that the child? Oh, Lord o' mercy, don't take him'"(61).

What others see in Hyacinth is what is not there: it is that unnameable, mysterious outside lying at the heart of the novel. Hyacinth's trauma lies in his incapacity to accept, let alone understand the contingency of the facts surrounding his birth. Even after he has decided for himself what those circumstances are, he still fails to live by them. The only way to make sense of Trilling's description of Hyacinth as a hero is to consider his to be what Slavoj Zizek calls a "heroism of alienation." Rather than a character in perfect control of his plight, Hyacinth, at the end of the novel still cannot grasp the imbalances in the formation of subjectivity. Or, what probably amounts to the same thing, his failed attempts to bridge the gap between what he perceives as the public and private aspects of his life lead to his suicide. His irresolution at the private level is thus replicated at the public level. His life pivots endlessly between the aesthetic and the political. And unable to "embody two ideals at once," as Trilling puts it, and as the Princess does, he fails to embody either of them.

Although critics have already established that Trilling's discussion of the novel is highly problematic, it has permeated most of its subsequent readings. Posnock, Rowe, Boyers, Krupnick, Reising are just some of the critics who depend heavily on Trilling for their understanding of James's novel. In fact Rowe's reading of the novel, for instance, a reading often called "brilliant," starts by placing it in the context of Trilling's work. "Trilling analyzes," writes Rowe, "The Princess Casamassima as an explicit response to the rash of political terrorism in Europe between 1878 and 1885" (172). Dorothy Holton's very recent annotated bibliography of James's novel devotes--even today--more space to Trilling's discussion of the novel than to any recent study. And in "The Princess Casamassima and the Drama of Incomplete Redemption," Greg Zacharias summarizes most readings of the novel when he argues a la Trilling that

Hyacinth Robinson lacks control of his life through much of The Princess Casamassima because he cannot see or understand his relation to circumstances. When very late in the novel Hyacinth finally perceives and understands the circumstances of his life, he fails to control them. James attributes the failure to a series of unsuccessful mentors who shaped Hyacinth's way of thinking. Since Hyacinth understands himself only as others wish him to be understood, he never achieves a state of self-knowledge that would allow him to redeem his tragic life. (69)

I believe the reception of James's novel was so controversial--a controversy that does not seem to have died down--because it is almost impossible to know why Hyacinth "lacks control of his life." Neither does he later understand these circumstances. Another way of making the same point is to argue that James's novel simply shows--in fact the character of the Princess shows--something that neither Trilling nor his liberal views would accept: that self-knowledge is very, very hard to achieve. And even more urgently, I would propose, James's novel makes the highly troubling point that a "tragic life" in fact may never be redeemed. James's novel is a far cry from the simplistic liberal views Trilling espouses here, and far removed from the sense of naivete associated with liberalism.

Most of the commentators following Trilling have argued for the depoliticization of the novel.(25) Many of these readings are based on the naive premise that since James himself was not interested in politics, the novel could therefore not be political. Or worse, they rejected the novel on other common aesthetic grounds: because it contains political references, it must be flawed in depicting a brute and unrefined society. What is clearly at stake in all these readings is the nature of the ethical and political questions the novel addresses or the nature of the political questions the readings of the novel have erased. As the leading cultural critic of his time, Trilling was in a privileged position to intervene in the nation's perception of the American literary canon. Aligned with the country's general anti-communist tendency, Trilling used James's novel to construct a version of American letters that effectively erased the sense of the political as well as the sense of the tragic in American letters.(26) In the title of his major text, The Liberal Imagination, Trilling combined the two elements that would govern his critical practice. Trilling distilled the most conservative elements of the liberal tradition to understand subjectivity as separated from the social, and ultimately as capable of being forged without the restraints of history. And he conceived of the imagination as the element that would make that subjectivity possible by elevating the self beyond the dangerous sense of the political. That Trilling was the first one to introduce James's novel into the American canon and did so at a time of political crisis is a constantly overlooked fact. In his reading Trilling attempts to show the limitations of a culture as well as expand that culture through its rejection of what for him were alien cultures. That his reading is flawed is proven by how the imagination in which he prides himself literally kills Hyacinth, his so-called hero. Besides the frequent associations of liberalism and naivete, Trilling's reading of the novel shows a much more pervasive feature of the conservative liberalism that Trilling espouses. Liberalism's emphasis on individual freedom fails to understand our lives as deeply rooted in and shaped by the society in which we live as well as by our commitments, relationships, and shared aspirations. And Hyacinth, detached from time, society, and cultural history proves a deep mockery to this conservative view. Or which amounts to almost the same thing, his mockery may prove that in a very metaphoric sense Trilling may have been right, since Hyacinth at the end of the novel is in fact free and unfettered. What Trilling forgets to say is that he first had to commit suicide to achieve that end.

I would here like to express my gratitude to David Gorman, Donald Pease, and Marshall Brown for their insightful comments and generous assistance during the various versions of this essay. I am especially thankful for the invaluable help and advice of James M. Mellard.

(1) Schrecker's excellent text remains to this day the classic study of the relationship between McCarthyism and the American intelligentsia. See also Aaron and Pells for other standard, well-respected studies of the era.

(2) The one obvious exception is the magisterial work of Donald E. Pease, which has deeply influenced the views I express here. See also Reising's essay.

(3) Trilling often gets lumped together with critics such as Quentin Anderson, F. W. Dupee, Philip Rahv, and other members of the so-called "New York intellectuals." These critics were all associated with Columbia University and contributed regularly to the Partisan Review. But it is well to note that although they were all loosely related by an interest in the connection between literature and culture, none of them took the task of becoming an arbiter of culture as seriously as Trilling did. Although not primarily focusing on Trilling, Ross Posnock, one of the most perceptive contemporary cultural critics argues that "less content than Kazin to be only a literary critic, and modeling himself more on Matthew Arnold than on Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling sought the role of cultural and moral arbiter" (64). For a comprehensive study of the New York intellectuals see Cooney.

(4) With the exception of the work of Reising, Posnock, and Pease most commentators of Trilling discuss his literary and cultural views separately. Most of them do see the conservatism of his cultural views, but strangely move on to counteract that conservatism with the brilliancy of his literary readings. But brilliant as they indeed are, those readings stem directly from Trilling's problematic idea of what a culture is. Whereas Trilling is quite open in asserting that his essays are exercises in what he calls cultural criticism, his commentators seem to have missed that obvious point. See particularly O'Hara, Krupnick, and Rowe.

(5) Several revisionary historians have complicated our understanding of Stalinism and of the perceived American threat of Communism. See the highly provocative text edited by Tucker. Also see, along similar lines of argumentation, Cohen and Getty. Jonathan Arac has recently pointed out that there is ample evidence to counteract Trilling's rash comment in The Last Decade that "the middle class had accepted Stalinism in all aspects of life" (240). Some of this overwhelming evidence, Arac argues, includes "the debacle of the Wallace campaign of 1948 and the failure of anything like the renewal of the Popular Front in the Waldorf conference of ! 949, the expulsion of communists from the labor unions and their prohibition from the newly founded Americans for Democratic Action, all this even before McCarthyism" (310). Arac, however, finishes his comment with the illogical conclusion that there is something we need to grant Trilling. "Let us grant that they [Trilling and others] eradicated from American culture the dangers of Stalinism; now that it is gone, we are again free to explore possibilities on the left" (134). What we do need to grant Trilling, I guess, is that Stalinism seems to have been more drenched in the culture than we think. After Arac has pointed out the exaggerated nature of that threat, it seems to have come back to haunt him, so much that he seems happy that it is now finally over and that we may now safely have some leftist criticism.

(6) In the most recent annotated bibliography of James's The Princess Casamassima, Dorothy Holton writes that the "reception of The Princess Casamassima was a great disappointment to James" (321). It should be noted also that early reviews and commentaries of the novel are very scarce. It is only after Trilling's publication of "The Princess Casamassima" that the novel started to receive attention.

(7) This is exactly the same argument he used in 1953 to ban teachers on the grounds of their political affiliations. In a letter to the New York Times Trilling writes: "It is clear to us [Trilling's Columbia University committee] that membership in Communist organizations almost certainly implies a submission to an intellectual control which is entirely at variance with the principles of academic competence as we understand them" (30).

(8) Trilling's focus on the abstract qualities of character and his obliviousness to historical determinants is a major problematic issue in his agenda. It points also to a further paradox in his work: although ostensibly interested in the connection between the literary and the cultural, he frequently ends on the side of the literary--and a heavily depoliticized, dehistoricized literary at best. Posnock again hints at this problem when he, specifically in relation to Trilling's "The Princess Casamassima" writes that "it is not the materiality of James's `moral realism' that is most compelling to Trilling. Rather, he is gripped by the doomed effort of James's hero, Hyacinth, to extricate himself from radical politics and to affirm the value of high culture" (67). If we substitute "radical politics" by "ideology" and "high-culture" by "ideas," we have Posnock unveiling the binary structure of Trilling's argument, that precise binary that, as I showed above, Trilling seems constantly at pains to avoid.

(9) The most succinct formulation of this issue is by Reising, who, in The Unusable Past nicely writes that Trilling's dialectic "functions almost counterdialectically, as a tool for a kind of stasis.... He values negation for the sake of negation and contradiction for the sake of contradiction" (207).

(10) For some radically different views of liberalism see Sandel's helpful collection of essays showing the variety of views within liberalism. For a position diametrically opposed to Sandel's see Dworkin. For a somewhat more "objective," albeit more simplified introduction to liberal thought, see Gray.

(11) Unger's early text has yielded a great deal of controversial work on theories of liberalism. For two radically opposing views on Unger see Fish and Rorty. Stanley Fish's very negative "Unger and Milton" echoes the highly negative reviews to which Unger's work was susceptible when it first appeared. A paradigmatic case of this initial negative reaction is Stephen Holmes's essay. Contrary to Fish and Holmes, the recent work of Richard Rorty on liberalism has been highly supportive of Unger. See Rorty.

(12) On this point, see Yack's illuminating essay on the thought of Judith Shklar.

(13) This split is enacted again in the current debate among liberals between what they call "utilitarian liberalism," and "communitarian liberalism." Representatives of the two sides are Rawls and Sandels respectively. Although the two sides have ostensibly different aims, their construction of subjectivity is essentially similar.

(14) Yack writes: "Of all the charges leveled at liberalism, naivete is probably the most frequent. Liberals have been repeatedly ridiculed for their naivete about rationality, progress, and our capacity to reform social practice; for their naivete about the universality of liberal sentiments and ideals; and, above all, for their naivete about human psychology, about the rationality, predictability, and basic decency of human behavior" (1). See also the essays by Michael Walzer, Amy Gutmann, and Dennis Thompson in Yack's volume. Thompson's is highly negative in that besides accusing liberalism of naivete it adds the charge of hypocrisy.

(15) Michel Foucault makes a similar point in an interview with Paul Rabinow. When discussing the subtle difference between a "question" and a "polemics," Foucault claims that questions create a dialogue that produces knowledge. This dialogue is "at once pleasant and difficult," Foucault writes, "for it is a game in which each of the two partners takes pains to use only the rights given him by the other and by the accepted form of dialogue" (382). Interestingly, Foucault identifies the polemicist within what he calls a "political model." Polemicists, Foucault argues, "set themselves the task of determining the intangible point of dogma, the fundamental and necessary principle that the adversary has neglected. Polemics allows for no possibility of equal discussion: it is processing a suspect; and tells the truth in the form of his judgement and by virtue of the authority he has conferred on himself." (382). Foucault's vocabulary here, it should be noted, comes very close to that of Trilling when he "suspects" the Soviet Union, when he `judges" it to be a radical form of evil, and when he treats his truth as an "intangible point of dogma." As regards Henry James, the work of Foucault has not had the repercussion it has had on virtually every field. But see Mark Seltzer for a remarkably fine Foucaldian study of James.

(16) Trilling's commentators still react in a totally perplexing manner when it comes to these issues, either idolizing or dismissing him yet hardly ever engaging his thought on its own terms. O'Hara, for example, calls him a "patriarch," and concludes that he is "the public guardian of the personal life, and so the American--our--Montaigne" (28). A paragraph above O'Hara had claimed that Trilling's interest lies in his "style of mind, his creation, throughout the course of his career, of himself as a figure of capable imagination" (28). O'Hara is in fact right. Trilling is interesting as long as we understand that for him acts of creation can only be self-reflexive. Insofar as he believes in the absolute autonomy of subjectivity, he can only create himself. How it is that such a solipsistic figure can become "our" Montaigne--or our anything for that matter--is harder to understand. Nathan Glazer embodies the opposite position, dismissing Trilling with the remark that he became an intellectual when the postwar years brought concern over the relationship between the U. S. and the Soviet Union. "It was then," writes Glazer, "that the one thing he knew became important.... [His] unique radical knowledge was that the Soviet Union represented a radical threat to freedom, and that variations in its leadership and policies scarcely affected in any significant ways the unyielding nature of this threat" (emphasis added, 34-35). Although true that Trilling--as this essay shows--perceived Communism rather subjectively, it is quite a long shot to claim that he was totally alone in the enterprise, that just that enterprise made him an intellectual; or, worst of all, that that was the only thing he knew. Robert Boyers in his book on Trilling calls him "the single critic who, in these fifty years or so [from the 1920s to the 1970s], has done more than others to make of his calling an honorable and distinctive mode of literary expression" (1). It is paradoxic that a critic who ostensibly made a reputation trying to connect the literary and the social is so often read as an isolated, dehistoricized phenonomenon.

(17) Shklar is to my knowledge the only liberal thinker who radically deviates from the way the liberal has traditionally been understood. Her take on liberalism is, to say the least, highly different--critical I should say--of the views I discuss above. Precisely for this reason her scholarship is generally regarded as anti-liberal.

(18) Although Pease uses it in his Visionary Compacts in a particularly American context, the term "negative freedom" has a long history. See Berlin.

(19) The clearest articulation of this polarity in American literature is of course Richard Chase's The American Novel and Its Tradition.

(20) Posnock calls "The Princess Casamassima" a "key essay in The Liberal Imagination, one often judged a masterpiece in Trilling's oeuvre" (67). Similarly, Millicent Bell calls it a "classic essay" (160). And Joseph Frank, in a classic evaluation of the essay, places it "among the finest performances of contemporary criticism" (37).

(21) Trilling's reading of Hyacinth as a stable, liberal, and autonomous self has to this date remained unchallenged. Probably the greatest opponent of such a dehistoricized view of subjectivity is James himself who, in his autobiography writes that the self is "heterogeneous, and theatrical," that "it bristles" and not being made of something pure is instead "a different mixture altogether" (452).

(22) In this essay I use the Penguin edition of The Princess Casamassima instead of the more reputable New York Edition. The reason is that the Penguin edition contains the same text that Trilling consulted.

(23) John Carlos Rowe also points to this issue when he observes that "the contradiction in Hyacinth's family origins has been used critically to follow one of the stronger implications in the narrative: that Hyacinth's secret association with the aristocracy accounts for his ultimate choice of "civilization" and its artistic achievements over the anarchism and violence of his mother and his friends in the working quarter" (164). Notice how radically this reading differs from Trilling's, who insists that Hyacinth's choice was a totally unmotivated act, triggered by an appeal to what Trilling understands as an "ultimate humanity."

(24) For an "insightful" reading of questions of seeing and perception in general, see Seltzer's "The Princess Casamassima: Realism and the Fantasy of Surveillance."

(25) It is important to insist upon that paradoxical nature of this problem. Posnock summarizes the issue masterfully when he writes that "intellectuals of Trilling's generations were variously drawn to art as a heaven for formal beauty and internal complexity free of the vulgarity of politics. But Trilling was hardly content with this idealism; he never stopped pondering how art and politics were entangled, even as he sought to release art from this burden. If and when literature and politics were brought together, as in Trilling's famous juxtaposition of James and Dreiser, they remained static entities, suspicious of one another" (68).

(26) The first critic to have established James as an apolitical writer is, to the best of my knowledge, Malcom Cowley. In a famous review of Matthiessen's Henry James: The Major Phase, Cowley claims that "the works most likely to be praised are those most widely removed from any social movement and least contaminated with ideas. Henry .James is the great example in this country of the `pure' novelist" (122). This line of thought, however, was later brought to dramatic heights by Irving Howe, who is probably more responsible than anybody for establishing such apolitical reputation to James. "The temptation of politics," writes Howe, "seems never to have troubled him at all" (139). And in particular relation to The Princess Casamassima Howe claims that the novel is "an experiment in craft and imagination," arguing that the novel could not be political since James "could [not] survey an area of life he had never explored" (150). And again this line established the faulty logical fact that because James the person was not interested in politics James the author could not write about it. It is indeed difficult to find criticism of James that is not apolitical. Some literary critics who occasionally write on James--Leo Bersani and Eve Sedgwick come immediately to mind--do tend to find political issues in James. But these critics' writings on James are too sporadic. I do not think that Seltzer is exaggerating when he writes that "a technical and formalist emphasis has dominated Jamesian criticism, and problems of social reference have characteristically been converted into problems of textual reference" (14). For classic examples for the opposite emphases to which Seltzer refers, see Amstrong for the technical; for the formalist, Kappeler. Even a critic so socially conscious as Priscilla Walton has recently written that "The Princess Casamassima manifests a deviation from James customary subject matter" (91). For a competing view, a view that argues that James "customary subject matter" (if one could be identified that easily) is politics and power, see Seltzer.


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GUSTAVO GUERRA is Visiting Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University. His work has appeared in Style, New Vico Studies, and The Encyclopedia of Semiotics. He is currently co-editing a series of essays of Psychoanalysis and Cultural Theory.
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Publication:Papers on Language & Literature
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Date:Sep 22, 1998
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