...".., Introduction: Henry James and Critical Theory
Theory never aims simply at an increase of knowledge as such.
Its goal is man's emancipation from slavery.
-Max Horkheimer, postscript to
"Traditional and Critical Theory" (1937)
In
The Theoretical Dimensions of Henry James,
I argued that Henry James has
been the subject of so many different theoretical and scholarly approaches in
large part because he is himself a writer concerned centrally with the philo-
sophical, social, and linguistic problems of interest to theorists.! Using a wide
variety of different theoretical approaches is necessary in reading James's
oeuvre because he was always an experimental writer, interested in new ideas
that encompassed far more than merely aesthetic questions. In his own times,
such an attitude was termed "philosophical," even more precisely
pragmatic
in the philosophical sense of that word in the early modern period.
As
scholars such as Richard Hocks have shown us, Henry James was not simply
influenced by the pragmatism of his brother, William James; Henry James is
by his own rights a major figure in that philosophical school.2
In his adaptation of his thinking, as well as literary style and form, to the
rapidly changing circumstances of the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, his emphasis on the inextricable relation of consciousness and
experience, and his understanding of moral value as a consequence of social
acts (rather than idealist principles), Henry James adds to the American
pragmatist tradition that is ofren traced from Emerson to Richard
ROrty.3
James's literary pragmatism is distinguished by a consistent openness to
ideas-one might say to an understanding of thinking itself as an open
system-that challenge existing habits and behaviors, thereby making some-
thing "happen" in the public sphere. Indeed, nothing so interests James as a
disturbance in the otherwise smooth surface of social life, especially when
that society encompasses the ruling class.
In
The Theoretical Dimensions of Henry James,
I relied on James's pragmatic
flexibility with regard to new ideas and social situations to investigate some of
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