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For Your Consideration III – Birthday Wishes to Henry James

Henry (left) and brother William

In the essay “In the Cage” (from Fiction and the Figures of Life), William Gass speaks about the fourth volume of Leon Edel’s five-volume biography of Henry James. Gass is not too impressed by how Edel reads James but I am once again smitten by Gass and his understanding of James (I would hope for him to expand on these thoughts and put together a Reading James volume to go alongside with his Reading Rilke). But let us revel in this summation of James’s art:

…his moral anger is directed at all those who infringe human freedom, who make pawns of people, who feast on the poor, the naive, or the powerless, who use love to use…and in those sentences which mark the movement of his mind, his steady shift of position and deepening of view, we ourselves can complain of being caught–caged–victimized. His sentences have such complex insides, they amaze, and we wonder if they have either end or purpose; if we shall ever emerge. The object we sought to have explained seems obscured by the explanation; it is no longer a scene we see, it is a sentence we experience. (174)

Is not this the highest praise for one endeavoring fictively?

Earlier in the essay, Gass quoted a letter of James to a sculptor:

The port from which I set out was, I think, that of the essential loneliness of my life…This loneliness…what is it still but the deepest thing about one? Deeper, about me, at any rate, than anything else; deeper than my “genius,” deeper than my “discipline,” deeper than my pride, deeper, above all, than the deep counterminings of art.

Countermine–“To frustrate or defeat by secret and opposite measures.” This proclamation has stayed with me for a while. I think many writers and other artists feel this loneliness. If one has no one to play with, then one has to create something; construct to have some artifact to keep one warm or cool their memories of being lonesome. Of course there are exceptions.

Thank you Henry James.

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