Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Henry James's Europe

Dennis Tredy
Annick Duperray
Adrian Harding

V. Performance

18. James and the “Paradox of the Comedian”

Richard Anker

Texte intégral

If she was theatrical, she was naturally theatrical.
The Bostonians, 48
’What’s rare in you is that you have […] no nature of your own. […] It’s
a kind of thing that’s a labyrinth’
The Tragic Muse, 138-39.

1In order to set the stage, so to speak, for the comedian who will be the principle object of this paper, I would like to quote a sentence from The Tragic Muse, in which several important distinctions are made between Miriam Rooth, the comedian in question, and her mother. The sentence is the following:

The figurative impulse in the mother had become conscious, and therefore higher, through finding an aim, which was beauty, in the daughter
(The Tragic Muse 144).

  • 1 See Sheila Teahan’s The Rhetorical Logic of Henry James for an excellent analysis of the oppositio (...)
  • 2 The rhetorical foundation of consciousness is perhaps alluded to by James in his preface to The Go (...)

2It is by the mediation of Peter Sherringham’s consciousness that James’s narrator offers this series of distinctions between Mrs. Rooth and her daughter, the future comedian: the ”figurative impulse,” native to mother and daughter alike but elevated to consciousness in the daughter alone, converted by her histrionic vocation into art, its aim, or ”telos,” is what the same reflector, further on in the novel, will qualify as the ”strictly mimetic gift” (320) of the young comedian. Miriam Rooth, of course, belongs to a line of Jamesian heroines going back to Christina Light, in Roderick Hudson, whose ”artful artlessness” ([1983] 269) is the source of Roderick’s bewilderment in the novel, ultimately destroying his life in the process of undermining his artistic vocation as a sculptor. As the apocalyptic denouement of this early novel attests, the ”figurative impulse” or ”mimetic gift” that determines the mystifying character of such heroines as Christina Light—who makes a second appearance in The Princess Casamassima where she plays a crucial role in the undoing of Hyacinth Robinson—poses a considerable threat to the stability of the typically male character succumbing to its attraction. Beyond the obvious psychological implications of such seduction, what is at play here is a more essential tension, typical in James, between the rhetorical, or tropological, nature of the text and the phenomenological basis of consciousness.1 The mystifying character of Christina Light’s ”artfully artless” behaviour thematically dramatises a pressing formal threat in the writer’s perspective, the threat posed by the ”deviations” and ”differences” constituted by the rhetorical nature of language.2 The fictional playing out of this tension between the rhetorical and the phenomenological is by no means static in James’s work, but is itself inscribed within a teleological movement whereby consciousness gains an increasingly dominant, if illusive, hold over the deviating character of the tropes on which it depends. A certain sublimation of the danger posed by the ”figurative impulse” is formally operative from one novel to the next, sublimation which only attains full thematic expression in The Tragic Muse, as is attested by the sentence quoted above, in which the difference between mother and daughter is defined not as that between one person endowed with mimetic facilities and another deprived of them, but rather as a redemptive elevation of these facilities, posited as native, in the consciousness-provoking act of furnishing them with artistic intent. This redemptive elevation or sublimation of what is taken to be a native mimetic faculty is perfectly manifest in The Bostonians, where Verena Tarrant’s ”artlessly artful facilities […] not part of her essence” (366) are successively elevated, even while being subordinated, in a chain of substitutions corresponding to the narrative appropriation of rhetorical drift or deviation. The young heroine’s extraordinary oratorical faculty serves as ”medium” of the ”father’s eloquence” (69) in the early pages of the novel, is then raised to the status of feminist port-parole under the tutelage of Olive Chancellor, before finally being channelled into the domestic and pseudo-democratic service of her future spouse, Basil Ransom. The dual nature of the sublimation in question, elevating and negating, raising and subordinating at the same time, is nowhere more evident than in Basil Ransom’s hypocritical plea demanding that the young heroine sacrifice her vocation as feminist port-parole for the sake of conjugal union with himself; in response to Verena’s concern that her oratorical talent risks being squandered in this exchange of the public platform for a private one, Ransom (whose name suggests the appropriation by force or excessive pressure of a value that is by no means his due) replies:

’My dear young woman […] the dining room itself shall be our platform, and you shall mount on top of that. […] What will become of your charm? […] It will become about five thousand times greater than it is now; that’s what will become of it. We shall find plenty of room for your facility; it will lubricate our whole existence. […] You won’t sing in the Music Hall, but you will sing to me; you will sing to everyone who knows you and approaches you. Your gift is indestructible; don’t talk as if I either wanted to wipe it out or make it a particle less divine. I want to give it another direction, certainly; but I don’t want to stop your activity. Your gift is the gift of expression, and there is nothing I can do for you that will make you less expressive. It won’t gush out at a fixed hour and on a fixed day, but it will irrigate, it will fertilize, it will brilliantly adorn your conversation. Think how delightful it will be when your influence becomes really social. Your faculty, as you call it, will simply make you, in conversation, the most charming woman in America’ (375-76).

3The change of ”direction” that Verena’s ”artlessly artful facilities” will indeed undergo thanks to Ransom’s persuasiveness corresponds with the narrative logic in which the rhetorical or figurative dimension of the text is progressively elevated by, and subordinated to, what James calls the ”inner harmony” (Literary Criticism II 1105) and ”deep-breathing organic form” of the novel (1108). The process in question is obviously, as Derrida would have put it, phallogocentric. In the chain of substitutions leading from serving as a mesmerist’s medium, to feminist port-parole, before naturalising themselves in the form of a ”really social” vehicle of ”conversation,” the ”artlessly artful facilities” of the young heroine, native and yet ”not part of her essence,” are progressively essentialised, domesticated, interiorised and given determinate form. A ”gift of expression” which ”lubricates,” ”irrigates,” and ”fertilizes” various forms of social discourse as well as the textual production itself is universalised and personalised at the same time, according to Ransom, by placing itself in the service of an aim loftier and more congenial to the heroine herself than the one it had ”adorned” previously. Verena of course bends to the will of her suitor (”It was simply that the truth had changed sides; that radiant image began to look at her from Basil Ransom’s expressive eyes” [370]), but the spilled tears evoked in the last sentence of the novel represent in unequivocal terms the price she has had to pay, and will continue to pay, for her sacrifice.

  • 3 One of the more ambitious works in this sense is The Sacred Fount, where May Server’s sacrifice mi (...)

4The formal logic that determines James’s writing from Roderick Hudson to The Tragic Muse, but which will undergo significant revision in the later works, at least in the most ambitious of them, is a sacrificial logic.3 More explicitly however than in the previous works, in The Tragic Muse this logic ceases to be merely operative and becomes thematised as such, the very meaning of the word ”tragic” deriving from the progressively sacrificial nature of the feminine character, in this case Miriam Rooth, constituting the ’structural’ or ’organic’ centre of the novel. As the tragic muse of the novel, Miriam fully consummates the sacrifice of the ”figurative impulse” or ”strictly mimetic gift” that determines her own bewildering social identity as well as that of her predecessors, Christina Light and Verena Tarrant. Her artistic sacrifice is precisely what distinguishes her from her mother, not to mention that other socially troublesome and enigmatic figure, Gabriel Nash. While in The Bostonians, Verena’s mimetic facilities are elevated from the magico-religious service imposed upon them at the beginning to a domestic and pseudo-democratic one at the end, Miriam resists subordination of her faculty to everything but what she calls her ”idea”: ”It isn’t to my possible glories that I cling, it’s simply to my idea […]. I like it better than anything else.” (436). As mediating figure for the artistic ”idea” alone, the ”artlessly artful” or ”artfully artless” impulse at last becomes fully, or truly, artful, surpassing its previous alienation in the service of religious, political, or conjugal law. The mimetic faculty ceases to mystify from the moment it fulfils its artistic vocation, as is demonstrated by the scene of Miriam’s triumph in the role of Juliet at the end of the novel, where Peter Sherringham, brought nearly to the point of madness until then by the blurring of the limits between art and the world, representation and reality, is cured in a moment of cathartic release (”recalled to the real by the very felicity of this experience, the supreme exhibition itself.” [490]). The teleological thrust of James’s writing at this point, corresponding with the sublimation of the figurative impulse at the origin of his own art, becomes evident if one compares Sherringham’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade Miriam to abandon the theatre to marry him with Ransom’s successful one to lure Verena Tarrant from the political stage; when Miriam, who refuses to be put in the ”box” that her suitor offers her by his marriage proposal, protests that he must let her live, Sherringham responds with the same abusive rhetoric of persuasion that Ransom employed in the previously cited passage:

’Let her live? As if I could prevent her living!’ Peter cried with unmistakeable conviction. ’Even if I did wish how could I prevent a spirit like yours from expressing itself? Don’t talk about my putting you in a box, for, dearest child, I’m taking you out of one. […] I mean I’ll give you a larger life than the largest you can get in any other way. The stage is great, no doubt, but the world’s greater. It’s a bigger theatre than any of those places in the Strand. We’ll go in for realities instead of fables, and you’ll do them far better than you do the fables. […] What I ask you to give up is the dusty boards of the play-house and the flaring footlights, but not the very essence of your being. Your ”gift,” your genius, is yourself, and it’s because it’s yourself that I yearn for you. […] You were made to charm and console, to represent beauty and harmony and variety to miserable human beings, and the daily life of man is the theatre for that—not a vulgar shop with a turnstile that’s open only once in the twenty-four hours. […] You were never finer than at this minute, in the deepest domesticity of private life’ (432-34).

5That Miriam Rooth, unlike Verena Tarrant, observes without difficulty that the logic employed by her suitor is manipulative, pragmatically serving the ideological and phallocentric interests that men like Ransom and Sherringham represent, attests to the relative supremacy of Miriam Rooth with respect to Verena Tarrant in the mimetological hierarchy established by the formal structure of the two novels. It’s the same logic, the same phallogocentrism that informs each of them, but since the chain of substitutions leading from mesmerism to feminist discourse to domestic conversation with Basil Ransom, in The Bostonians, is itself surmounted, in The Tragic Muse, by the heroine’s stubborn devotion to the artistic ”idea,” Sherringham finds himself confronted with the head of a ”medusa” (430) precisely where Ransom’s attempt to seduce met with success. Responding to Sherringham’s insult that in acting she’s immodestly ”exhibiting” her ”person,” Miriam says:

Je vous attendais with the famous ”person”; of course that’s the great stick they beat us with. Yes, we show it for money, those of us who have anything decent to show, and some no doubt who haven’t, which is the real scandal. What will you have? It’s only the envelope of the idea, it’s only our machinery, which ought to be conceded to us; and in proportion as the idea takes hold of us do we become unconscious of the clumsy body. Poor old ”person”–if you knew what we think of it! If you don’t forget it that’s your own affair: it shows you’re dense before the idea’ (439).

6”Envelope,” ”machinery,” ”clumsy body,” ”poor old ’person’”—such are the terms designating the material and figural dimension of art as opposed to its ”idea.” That before the ”idea” the spectator should ”forget” the ”clumsy body” that envelopes it, indeed become ”unconscious” of it, shows precisely the extent to which the rhetorical logic of James’s writing at this point subordinates the exterior to the interior, the figural to the proper, the material to the ideal. And it is precisely this logic that informs Miriam Rooth’s ”strictly mimetic gift,” or rather the conversion of it, as she succeeds in the course of the novel in distinguishing herself from her mother and becoming a tragic comedian. It is only in the face of the young comedian’s stubborn devotion to the idea that Sherringham’s plea for the ”theatre” of the world versus the stage properly speaking, or for ”realities” and the ”everyday life of man” instead of ”fables,” reveals itself as a powerless and hollow mask of words, the self-serving rhetoric that it is, whereas in The Bostonians the same discourse was powerful enough to divert an outstanding figurative talent into its ken. Miriam’s marriage to her theatre director, Basil Valentine, far from undermining the authority of the artistic bond in relation to the conjugal one, only confirms it: Basil Valentine is as subjugated to the idea that his wife, as a comedian, incarnates, as Basil Ransom coercively gains supremacy over the figurative impulse of his.

  • 4 ”She found no play too tedious, no entr’acte too long, no baignoire too hot, no tissue of incident (...)
  • 5 The catharsis Sherringham must undergo at the end of the novel in order to ”return to the real” an (...)

7The sentence from The Tragic Muse that I quoted at the beginning of this paper acquires its full meaning only in the context of the sacrificial logic that determines James’s writing at this point. The tragic consciousness of the daughter is a consciousness that has knowingly sacrificed its figurative impulse for the sake of the artistic idea. What is sacrificed or, if one prefers, sublimated, is what Diderot famously called the ”the paradox of the comedian,” the comedian’s native lack of identity, or rather, as is the case with the structural centres of James’s early novels, their ”strictly mimetic” identity, elevated in the narrative process from its origin and subordinated to a greater cause, a higher principle, a more idealised law. The teleological nature of the elevation from impulse to consciousness, from mimesis to art, is rendered explicitly by the use of the word ”aim”: ”The figurative impulse in the mother had become conscious, and therefore higher, through finding an aim, which was beauty, in the daughter.” More distinctly perhaps in this sentence than in the grotesque representation of Mrs. Rooth’s presumably Jewish identity, James flirts with an anti-Jewishness (not to say anti-Semitism) which consists of stigmatising the Jew as such: the Jew with the proverbial ’stiff neck’ who refuses to be converted. Perhaps this is why James remains curiously elliptic with respect to the Jewish identity of Miriam’s mother; while that of the father is brought up almost with the introduction of Miriam, at the beginning of the novel, we have to wait until near the end of it to read (by the mediation of Dormer’s consciousness): ”The late Rudolf Roth had at least been, and his daughter was visibly her father’s child; so that flanked by such a pair, good Semitic presumptions sufficiently crowned the mother” (414). Despite these ”presumptions,” nothing permits us to affirm with certainty that Miriam’s mother is Jewish, and hence that the ”figurative impulse” which does not sublimate itself, refusing to convert itself and to sacrifice itself as such, is Jewish. No reader can claim with certainty that Mrs. Rooth, ignorant of the ”idea” of beauty and therefore deprived of artistic consciousness, of interiority, dispersing her mimetic ”instincts” (414) indifferently in the appreciation of all sorts of spectacles,4 is Jewish. Dormer’s perception of her however is acute, as is appropriate in a portraitist, and his vision of her as a figure of the ”immemorial Jewess” (414) testifies to the Judeo-Christian logic of the novel. Read in light of its mimetological structure, and the sacrifice it implies, it is no surprise that the analogy James uses in his preface to describe the ”pictorial fusion” of The Tragic Muse is a ”measureless Crucifixion” by Tintoretto (4), meaning that the structural centre of the novel, the figure of the comedian, Miriam Rooth, is Christ-like, analogous to the image of Christ in the painting. Nor is it surprising that James insists, several times in the same preface, and throughout the body of the novel, on the ”sacrifice” of the artist.5 Nor that it is before a religious monument, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, that Nick Dormer, early on in the narrative, professes his enthusiasm for art to Gabriel Nash (118). The aesthetic religiosity of The Tragic Muse is patent, irrefutable to the extent that one considers seriously the ”paradox” comprising its structural centre: ” ’What’s rare in you,’ Sherringham says to Miriam, ’is that you have no nature of your own. […] It’s a kind of thing that’s a labyrinth’” (138). If in the course of the novel it is precisely this paradox of an identity lacking an identity properly speaking, a character without character, with no nature of its own, the paradox in other words of a purely mimetic nature, that is sacrificed as such, that is to say sublimated in the artistic becoming of the comedian, it is not surprising that James’s later work will prove to be haunted both by the implications of this sacrifice and by an incessant return of the paradox. Some of the more ambitious of James’s later works, including ”The Turn of the Screw” and The Sacred Fount, will go a long way towards the deconstruction of the aesthetic religiosity (based on a Christian logic of sacrifice) that determines the formal structure of The Tragic Muse. The ”tragic” acceptance of the sublimation of the ”paradox of the comedian” leaves a distinct remainder in this novel in the form of the difference between Mrs. Rooth and her daughter, between Jewish exteriority and artistic (not to say Christian) interiority.

8Consciousness, in its tragic apprehension of itself, and its apprehension of itself as tragic (Miriam achieving artistic triumph at the end of the novel in the role of Shakespeare’s Juliet), can be said to depend upon the difference of a turn, upon the twisting of the figurative or mimetic impulse upon itself, on its ”elevation,” through finding an ”aim,” which is ”beauty,” revealed in the final analysis to be nothing other than a representation of the mimetic impulse to itself, that is to say a self-representation. The reason that Jamesian consciousness becomes increasingly self-reflexive, even infinitely so, is that it can never gain complete control over its figurative nature. The sacrificial twisting or turning of the figurative impulse upon itself which ultimately posits, in The Tragic Muse, the artistic ”idea” as its transcendental correlative, leads to the hyperbolic production of mere phantoms in ”The Turn of the Screw,” where reflective consciousness is destabilised with every new attempt to gain control over itself. Artistic desire, in The Tragic Muse, is mimetic desire now conscious of itself (Miriam on stage imitating the ”young passion and young despair” [486] of Juliet, instead of falling in love with her suitor), and it is precisely the renunciation of non-reflexive desire, or instinct, which is tragic. Consciousness-making—that is to say the reflexive turning of the mimetic impulse upon itself, its self-representation—is inherently sacrificial. That this process is also a dizzying one, as later texts such as ”The Turn of the Screw” will make clear, is already suggested by Miriam in her attempt to justify to Sherringham her wilful allegiance to the artistic ”idea,” which she also calls ”the other side, the grand one […], the element that makes up for everything”

’I’m a contorsionist, and of course there’s a hateful side, but don’t you see how that very fact puts a price on every compensation, on the help of those who are ready to insist on the other side, the grand one […], the element that makes up for everything?’ (440)

  • 6 It is precisely such twisting and turning which makes the comedian so appealing as ”pictorial obje (...)

9The ”other” side, the meta-physical side of the mimetic twist or turn (”I’m a contortionist”), is the objective or transcendental correlative of consciousness and interiority. If Mrs. Rooth, the comedian’s mother, remains deprived of tragic consciousness, forever alienated from the ”other” side (”there being no reverse at all to her blazonry” [143]), it is because she remains stubbornly resistant to the sacrificial turning of the mimetic impulse upon itself.6 But if Dormer’s perception of the comedian’s mother as a figure of the ”immemorial Jewess” is acute, as previously mentioned, it is not only that it refers to the Judeo-Christian logic of sacrifice on which his own aesthetic vision as a portraitist depends. That the Jewish identity of the mother is described as ”immemorial” implies that it is irreducible to the representational logic of the novel and older than the consciousness that claims artistic supremacy over it. Refusing to elevate itself towards the beautiful, resisting the sublimating turn that Miriam performs in becoming a comedian, the mimetic impulse of the mother is the ’maternal’ resource of the novel’s entire system of representation (dramatic, pictorial and narrative); it is older, more primordial, than the theatre which furnishes the cathartic basis, the site of mimetic purification at the core of James’s aesthetic religiosity at this point. One doesn’t have to read The Tragic Muse from the retrospective point of view of ”The Turn of the Screw” to observe that the reflexive (or mimetic) turn of the impulse the daughter inherits from the mother serves as much to occult, or, if one prefers, to repress, the impulse as to ’elevate’ it, which is precisely why the ’return’ of mimesis as such is inevitable. From a careful reading of The Tragic Muse alone one should not be surprised to find Mrs. Rooth making a final, vaguely spectral, appearance as ”an undefined shape” (441) lurking just beyond Sherringham’s perception, beyond a window-pane, in Miriam Rooth’s garden (a scene which prefigures the second appearance of Peter Quint at Bly). Irreducible to perception, and yet constituting the very condition of it, beyond the reflexive or specular basis of consciousness (attested by the presence of the window-pane), the figurative impulse manifesting itself here as a ”vulgar ghostly reference” (428) is the first spectre to emerge in James’s work in the rigorous sense marking the mimetic deconstruction of the aesthetic. The reference is ’vulgar’ to the precise extent that it reveals the imperfect or unachieved sublimation of the figurative impulse by the ”idea.” Grotesque, because irreducible to the beautiful, the semi-ghostly figure of Mrs. Rooth stands as a sublime reminder of the ”paradox” (440) of human identity, resisting the sublimating work of aesthetic form.

  • 7 For example: ”’A vous entendre le grand comédien est tout et n’est rien.’’Et peut-être est-ce parc (...)

10It is because the figurative impulse exceeds the self-reflexive capacity of consciousness that the scene at the end of The Tragic Muse will repeat itself in James’s work. If the condition of being all an artist (”a creature who’s absolutely all artist” [139], says Sherringham of Miriam Rooth) is precisely to have no nature of one’s own, no identity properly speaking, as Diderot had put it in his famous ”Paradoxe sur le comédien,”7 and as James understood it in The Tragic Muse, the artist will be constrained—contortionist that he or she necessarily is—to repeat the turning of the difference dramatised here as that between Miriam Rooth and her mother. The artistic ”idea” will from now on incessantly reveal itself to be the ”vulgar ghostly reference” that it discretely turns out to be in The Tragic Muse.

11It might well be that James’s extraordinary epistemological rigour reaches its pinnacle in ”The Turn of the Screw,” where the principle of correspondence between the figurative impulse and its ”idea,” between mimetic performance and the ”other side,” the metaphysical one, the principle which determines his work up until The Tragic Muse, deconstitutes itself with every turn in the attempt of the governess, a pastor’s daughter, to redeem the figurative impulse in reducing (or raising) it to conscious intent. She lives of course at the mercy of two children touchingly deprived, as she observes, of identities of their own; the orphans of Bly—a mimetic subject being orphaned by definition—Miles (My-less) and Flora—whose name alludes to the rhetorical flowers called tropes—possess, by their very lack of ”property,” that is to say of identity, a ”facility for everything,” a ”general faculty” compensating for this lack (”They had shown me from the first a facility for everything, a general faculty which, taking a fresh start, achieved remarkable flights” [”The Turn of the Screw” [1999] 63]). This compensating faculty is precisely that of mimesis. Their innocence resides in the fact that they know no distinction between the beautiful and the vulgar, the ideal and the spectral. Only the governess, in accordance with the sacrificial logic of James’s own previous work, must distinguish. One is not surprised however that the ghost of Peter Quint turns out to have the aspect of a comedian, reflecting, like the sordid/sublime figure of Mrs. Rooth to Peter Sherringham, her own irreducibly vicarious identity: ”He gives me a sort of sense of looking like an actor” (23).


1 See Sheila Teahan’s The Rhetorical Logic of Henry James for an excellent analysis of the opposition between the rhetorical and the phenomenological in James. This paper disagrees however with her assumption of the absence of a teleological structure in James’s work.

2 The rhetorical foundation of consciousness is perhaps alluded to by James in his preface to The Golden Bowl, where he points out that in his rereading of his works in preparation for the New York Edition, ”[w]hat was predominantly interesting to note […] was the high spontaneity of these deviations and differences, which became thus things not of choice, but of immediate and perfect necessity […]. The deviations and differences might of course not have broken out at all, but from the moment they began so naturally to multiply, they became, as I say, my very terms of cognition” (Henry James: Literary Criticism II 1330).

3 One of the more ambitious works in this sense is The Sacred Fount, where May Server’s sacrifice might be qualified as exceeding the economy of sacrifice which is crucial to the closure of Jamesian narrative structure. Similarly, in ”The Beast in the Jungle,” May Bartram’s sacrifice is presented as the possibility of the novella’s narrative movement, on the one hand, and irreducible to it, on the other.

4 ”She found no play too tedious, no entr’acte too long, no baignoire too hot, no tissue of incidents too complicated, no situation too unnatural and no sentiments too sublime. […] She delighted in novels, poems, perversions, misrepresentations and evasions […]” (142-43).

5 The catharsis Sherringham must undergo at the end of the novel in order to ”return to the real” and marry Little Biddy is the result of his inability to accept artistic sacrifice. Speaking with her fellow-artist, Nick Dormer, Miriam Rooth says of Sherringham: ” ’He wants to enjoy every comfort and to save every appearance, all without making a scrap of a sacrifice’” (418). This criticism is repeated by James himself in the preface: ”the promptness with which he [Sherringham] sheds his pretended faith as soon as it feels in the air the breath of reality, as soon as it asks of him a proof or a sacrifice.”

6 It is precisely such twisting and turning which makes the comedian so appealing as ”pictorial object” for the portraitist: ”she remained to him primarily a pictorial object, with the nature of whose vicissitudes he was concerned […] only so far as they had something to say in her face. How could he know in advance what turn of her experience, what twist of her life would say most?” (462). Needless to say, perhaps, Dormer’s own success as a portraitist depends upon Miriam’s theatrical success as a comedian: ”As soon as she [Miriam] stepped on the boards a great and special alteration usually took place in her—she was in focus and in her frame […].” (382) Pictorial representation and, more generally, the reflector of James’s novels, depend upon the ”dramatic” sacrifice of the figurative or mimetic impulse.

7 For example: ”’A vous entendre le grand comédien est tout et n’est rien.’’Et peut-être est-ce parce qu’il n’est rien qu’il est tout par excellence, sa forme particulière ne contrariant jamais les formes étrangères qu’il doit prendre’” [”You make it sound like a great actor is both everything and nothing at once.” / ”And perhaps it is because he is nothing that he is the quintessence of everything, as his own form does not prevent him from taking on the foreign ones his roles call for”] (341).


Richard Anker is a tenured Associate Professor (maître de conférences) at Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand 2, where he teaches American literature. He defended a thesis on James in 2007 entitled Le principe spectral de la representation: Déconstruction mimétique dans l’oeuvre de Henry James. His current interest in James attempts to situate the author in the European cultural tradition, alongside such writers as Nietzsche and as a precursor to Blanchot.


Volume papier