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July 29, 2002
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I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
The Portrait without a Subject: German Re-visioning, the Self, Nature, and the Jamesian NovelMichael S. Martin, University of South Carolina
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.
(Wallace Stevens, "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon")
To say that Immanuel Kant has ruled Western philosophy for over two hundred years could arguably be a gross understatement. His contribution to historical philosophy, for example, can be traced from "What Is Enlightenment," where he believes that nothing is required for enlightenment but freedom, to "Idea for Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent," where he states that the development of humankind's capacities is brought about by antagonism. Kant's writings both dictate and transcend the moral, aesthetic, and rational epistemological systems that govern much of Western philosophy. However, for the sake of being critically succinct, my essay will concern itself with Kant's ideas on the subjectivity of aesthetics as applied to Henry James' masterpiece, _The Portrait of a Lady_ (1881). The primary critical supposition that I will attempt to prove is that James followed a particularly neo-Kantian formulation of aesthetics -- sometimes subtle, sometimes conspicuous -- that both affirms and modifies the German philosopher's notions in the _Critique of Judgment_ (1790). Using _Critique of Judgment_ as a point of departure, I will attempt to define Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics as well as identify its distinguishable characteristics. Then, my essay will examine this Kantian framework, along with Paul Ricoeur's notions of subject-object relations, as they apply to Jamesian aesthetics in "The Art of Fiction" (1884) and _The Portrait of a Lady_.
Perhaps the first thing needed for such an analysis is to seek a clear definition of the subjectivity of aesthetics that is found within Kant's theoretical matrix in _Critique of Judgment_. _Critique of Judgment_ is essentially Kant's attempt to categorize aesthetics into a verifiable form, an approximation of the form of beauty with a degree of breadth, scope, and complexity that had not been attempted successfully by any philosopher until this point. To begin discussing Kant's formulations in _Critique of Judgment_, perhaps we should start with his emphasis on subjective judgment versus objective judgment, building our understanding of the specific definitions and characteristics of his aesthetic schematics as the essay progresses. A subjective judgment, to Kant, is a non-empirical assertion that takes away the emphasis on the objective representation of an aesthetic object, amplifying the resultant "feeling in the subject as it is affected by the representation" (Kant 376). This assertion places the human, discerning subject as a progenitor in the aesthetic process: instead of meaning being placed outside of the receptive subject, Kant is arguing that the receptive subject, via feeling, is active in the process of aesthetic judgment. A judgment becomes specifically "aesthetical" to Kant when, instead of affirming the logical and the rational (and thus objective) as standards of judgment, representations are specifically "referred in a judgment to the subject" (376).
Central to Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics, and which also negates any external prerequisite of judgment, is his critique of a pre-formative conceptual basis of representation. In _Critique of Judgment_, he makes constant reference to the delimiting basis of conceptual thought. As mentioned previously, concept is connected with objective purposiveness -- both of which are forms of critique that rely on an external basis of aesthetic judgment. Rather than invoke a cognitive faculty in subject-object relations, Kant argues that we must purify our aesthetic by disassociating ourselves from such a faculty. A non-conceptual approach to aesthetics allows for the overall "effect" of the aesthetic representation to offer itself to the human faculties (380). Basically, the a priori concept, like objective purposiveness, reduces the authenticity of the aesthetic experience. Again, the human subject plays a significant role in this non-conceptual approach. That is, by allowing the superimposition of the effect to shape our aesthetic experience, we, after the fact, contribute by giving what Kant calls understanding and imagination (the "lively play of both mental powers") to a certain representation (380). The paradox of such an assertion is that by allotting aesthetic experience to the subjective mind as a medium for conceptualization, we somehow commune with what Kant calls the universal. This is how Kant makes an ingenious contradiction about the subjectivity of aesthetics as it relates to conceptualization. That is, by denying conceptualization until encountering the object, we circumvent the fallacy of a priori reasoning; in the process, subjective volition is correlated with what he terms "the conditions of universality"(380). Succinctly, concept should come via inductive reasoning rather than deductive reasoning.
With this aconceptual basis of reasoning comes a unique dictum of Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics. That is, Kant seeks a verifiable form, what he often calls "the unity of relations," that can be projected onto nature itself. Borrowing an idea from _Critique of Pure Reason_ (1781), Kant constantly seeks a substantive form within the cosmos, a method of categorizing the sundry manifestations of nature. In _Critique of Judgment_, Kant mentions form as being an imperative part of the subjectivity of aesthetics from its correlation to beauty. Beauty, to Kant, is "attributed to the object on account of its form," sensory perception reminds us that we find "every form of the objects of sense...," and ornamental representations are so "only by their form" (381). Perhaps we can best understand Kant's emphasis on form by looking closely at his discussion of color in the section entitled 'Elucidation by Means of Examples' in _Critique of Judgment_. Kant states that the mind has a two-fold method of perceiving colors: by perception of the sensory effect of colors as well as the reflection of "the regular play of impressions (381)." This passage suggests that the mind, in its reflective state, perceives colors and thus all visual phenomena with an implicit tendency to find a formal cohesion in the objects being viewed. The "unity of a manifold of sensations" that Kant speaks of here is the mind perceiving singularity where there is multiplicity; that is, Kant examines formal design within the microcosm of color to represent nature (and the universe) as a whole (381). This relates to two postulations that we have already established about the subjectivity of aesthetics in _Critique of Judgment_: the idea of the purification of the aesthetic experience and the resultant abstraction that acts as the mind's conduit for its participation in the process. Abstraction here seems to imply a higher essence of understanding, that which gives form to previously amorphous conceptual thought. Kant says in this passage that for the judgment to be pure in its aesthetic assimilation, we must block out foreign sensations and instead extract its formal unity from the process. He is asserting that form affords a pure aesthetic experience, one that gives tangible definition to previously abstract qualities in nature. The unity of nature seems to be implicit within the cosmos; it is through the mind's tendency to seek singularity that such a teleological projection can occur, however.
Before delving into the discussion of Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics as it relates to James in "The Art of Fiction" and _The Portrait of a Lady_, I will attempt a condensed overview of Kantian aesthetics. First, one of Kant's major contributions to aesthetic theory is that he moves the locus of emphasis away from objective determination and instead focuses upon the capability of the judging subject. The human mind now plays a vital part in any aesthetic experience. That is, while the object under scrutiny maintains a relative autonomy from the receptive subject in terms of concept, purpose, and beauty, the mind now seeks "essential and universal purposes" in its quest for an ideal of beauty (384). Coupled with this movement towards extrapolating the universal from an object's representation is an implied Kantian dictum. That is, Kant advocates shifting the interest of the aesthetic object from the reader's subjectivity and her response to art toward concern with the internalism of the work itself. Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics both affirms subjective participation in the aesthetic process while also arguing for the independent self-subsistence of the object in question. My essay will re-address many of these often seemingly contradictory points of Kant's argument as they apply to James' own aesthetic treatment in _The Portrait of a Lady_ and "The Art of Fiction."
Henry James' 1884 publication of "The Art of Fiction" affirms many salient characteristics of Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics (Tanner 144). "The Art of Fiction" establishes the Jamesian ethos of aesthetics. James' doctrine of organicism, for example, might best be understood in the context of the aesthetics of subjectivity. From the aforementioned "Elucidation" section of _Critique of Judgment_, we can assert that the human subject contributes to the aesthetic process by its "reflection [of] the regular play of impressions" (Kant 381). By giving semblance to disparate impressions, the subject's ability to "delineate," that is, perceive form within multiplicity, becomes "the essential thing" (Kant 381). This formal unity, however, is an attribute of cognitive judgment: the aesthetic "reflection" of judgment is essentially an act of recognition, an act which is subsequent to and a result of the preceding cognitive judgment. Accordingly, in "The Art of Fiction," James attempts to convey an aesthetic with the ability to capture formal unity in the context of the novel; that is, James seeks a Kantian unity in his essay by such statements as "a novel is a living thing, all one and continuous, like any other organism" (179). James' aesthetic seeks form within the individual parts of a novel's form, "the living thing"; he sees description, dialogue, and incident as complementary active forces within the novel's composition. The formal unity that James seeks within the specific framework of the novel must have a specific means for creating such a design. In "The Art of Fiction," James states that the "needle and thread of the novel," what he concomitantly calls "the idea and the form," are the "story and the novel" (178). While Kant idealistically projects a formal unity upon nature via perception, James imputes the same design of singularity upon the successful novel's creation. By finding that in each of the parts there is something of each of the other parts, James is proposing that the seemingly disparate elements of the novel, the ones that critics often focus on, are actually representative of the organic holism of the text.
The simultaneity of the visual apparatus is key to Jamesian aesthetics. That is, James suggests several implicit dictums of Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics by both viewing the text as an organic whole and by seeking a rendition of life without rearrangement. James critiques the pre-arranged novelistic devices of modern writers, what he calls in conspicuously Kantian terms, the "factitious artificial form" (177). The novelist, to James, must give us the unadulterated portrait of life without the shackles of personal preference; she must not let her particular vision of life distort what is actually portrayed in the literary artifact. Selection, James says, should come after the fact, when the novel has already tried to capture "the strange irregular rhythm of life" (177). If the novel's selection of material is like a visual apparatus of life, James is arguing that the textual representation should be all-inclusive, a form without a pre-conceptual basis of selection.
Besides this attribute, James makes some other statements in "The Art of Fiction" that are reformulated Kantian ideas. In _Critique of Judgment_, Kant maintains that part of the aesthetic experience must entail a contribution on the part of the subject who is interpreting the representation. That is, Kant states that we connect to the higher purposiveness of aesthetic reflection by a certain degree of abstraction, marked by understanding and imagination. Thus, the mind becomes a variable in the aesthetic equation, offering something that manifests a higher level of aesthetic integration. James also believes that there is a necessary representation between the aesthetic object, in this case a novel, and the mind that creates it. For example, James states that "the deepest quality of a work of art will always be the quality of the mind of the producer" (182). This can best be understood in Kantian terms; that is, a work of art -- the aesthetic representation -- is marked by a symbiotic relationship between the object and the producer. The usual distinctions between subject and object, in James and in Kant, are supplanted by this symbiosis, one that connects the object viewed with a higher moral purpose in both writers' view of the subject. The novelist, to James, cannot have a superficial mind devoid of the moral qualities "of the substance of beauty and truth" (182). Kant also seeks a higher moral purposiveness within the integration of subject and object. The specific moral qualities that Kant mentions are those of "goodness of heart, purity, strength, and peace" (Kant 386). These traits of higher moral purposiveness are symbolic of the union between object and subject; the latter invokes a superior degree of imaginative connection between the aesthetic representation and one's mind.
Aesthetic representation, within the Kantian universe as well as the Jamesian, also relies on the internal purposiveness of the object in question. As mentioned, internal purposiveness implies a standard of judgment that is not dependent upon any external standard of judgment. In one instance, James criticizes the use of dogmatism concerning subject matter (179). The dogma, or concept before experiential knowledge, would undermine the aesthetic experience. The most explicit example of how James incorporates an ethos of internal purposiveness, however, comes during his discussion of the execution of the novelist. James states that execution, within the context of criticism, is "the only point of a novel that is open to contention" (175). Later in the essay, he writes that "questions of art are questions (in the widest sense) of execution; questions of morality are quite another affair" (181). In his critique of Besant, James is arguing that one must be careful not to apply a moral purpose to an examination of the literary artifact; he critiques such an approach as one based in "vagueness" and clearly attempts to separate morality and execution into two separate camps, one worthy of critical application, the other, "quite another affair." What James is trying to articulate is that we must grant the writer his _donnee_, or subject matter, leaving only the carrying out of the aesthetic process open to criticism. In this sense, the novel has its own means to an end, that is, a purposiveness that must be independent from any pre-conceptualized standard of judgment. The artistic failure that James speaks of is a confirmation of the Kantian shift of aesthetics, paradoxically affirming the reader's subjectivity and, at the same time, emphasizing the internal mechanics of the work itself. Hence, "The Art of Fiction" can be interpreted as the Jamesian manifesto of aesthetic principles, many of which, such as the internal purposiveness of the aesthetic object (novel), are reminiscent of Kant's theories in _Critique of Judgment_. As my essay has established the similarity between Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics and James' aesthetic manifesto, "The Art of Fiction," what remains to be done is a critical exegesis of how such a theoretical framework can be applied to the novel _The Portrait of a Lady_. In particular, in what ways does James adhere to such a Kantian approach to aesthetic principles, and how does he modify Kant's definitions? To begin with, the question might be raised concerning how this novel emulates Kant's subjective experience of aesthetics.
Could anyone disaffirm the notion that _The Portrait of a Lady_ involves the reader in a more complex, systematically interwoven textual experience than perhaps any other novel? With an emphasis more on the representation of the mind rather than the body, _The Portrait of a Lady_ indeed follows such a subjective paradigm. Experientially speaking, the novel is as rich a representation of aesthetic subjectivity as one encounters in literature. That is, James' novel invokes the collaborative process of experience, from which we shape meaning after assimilating a textual representation, over the usual method of viewer involvement, the use of action by the author. How does _The Portrait of a Lady_ move forward in any sort of semblance of plot? The answer is characterization. This authorial device corresponds with the novel as being propelled less by a medium of arbitrary plot formulation -- such as we see painfully exhibited in other Realist novels such as Howells' _The Rise of Silas Lapham_ (1885) -- and more towards an immersion into the psychological dimension of James' unique vision. As one critic states of this dimension of the novel, "the willful neglect of a purely subjective experience could only make for a failure of representation" (Paterson 14). What James does not neglect, however, is the psychological realism of the novel, what I would define as the subjective involvement that the novel evokes, both affirming the author's unique vision of the world and rendering the reader completely immersed in the psychosomatic dimension of the work. Despite the subjective suggestiveness of the novel, there exists a distinct conflict between James' appropriation of Kantian aesthetics -- particularly the novel's emphasis on an aesthetic object's internal purposiveness and interest, manifested in the character of Isabel Archer -- and how the aesthetic object's relative independence is compromised by forces around her.
James' particular vision of the world, epitomized in _The Portrait of a Lady_, is unquestionably marked by a characteristic that Kantian aesthetics attempts to subvert: the quest for possession. In the schematics of Kantian aesthetics, the subject, while at times an integral part of the aesthetic process, comes to enlightenment when he accepts that the object under scrutiny has an independent form of existence with a separate and autonomous purpose. The love plot of _The Portrait of a Lady_, outside of Ralph Touchett, is marked by men who strive for possession -- of an independent object -- as a means of sustaining their own subjective visions. This is certainly the case with men who desire to possess the independent aesthetic "object" in the novel, Isabel Archer. The three men who overtly attempt to win Isabel's hand in marriage, Caspar Goodwood, Lord Warburton, and Gilbert Osmond, each represent a different degree of the possessive nature of men in the novel. Gilbert Osmond, however, seeks to convert Isabel into his collection of "pictures... medallions and tapestries" (311). As Gilbert is showing his vast array of priceless antiques and other sundry "romantic objects," he is really showing Isabel what she herself may become in time (313). As one critic states, "He [Gilbert] is a collector of things, and she [Isabel] offers herself up to him as a fine finished object" (Tanner 148). Unfortunately for Isabel, no one can enter Gilbert's subjective aesthetic without losing that element of autonomy, what Kant terms "self-subsistence," that characterizes an independent object. Gilbert's awareness of the independent self-subsistence of Isabel essentially only confirms his own subjective vision; he wishes instead to only acknowledge her as his object. Gilbert cryptically foreshadows this when he tells Isabel "A woman's natural mission is to be where she's most appreciated" (James 314). Certainly, Gilbert's definition of appreciation is the fruition of his subjective vision of the world, one where Isabel is objectified to the point where almost any independent awareness of self, purposiveness, and autonomy is dissolved completely. Later in the novel, James posits a psychological picture of this disintegration via the visual technique of chiaroscuro: "Then the shadows had begun to gather; it was as if Osmond deliberately, almost malignantly, had put the lights out, one by one" (474). The lights in this passage can be interpreted as Isabel's affirmation of herself as an independent object that are, of course, slowly being extinguished; the shadows that have begun to gather are the encroachment of Gilbert's subjective vision.
This brings us to perhaps the most subtle but provocative use of Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics in _The Portrait of a Lady_. That is, we can read the various shifts in direction within the novel as representative of the conflict of telos that characterizes the novel. As stated, Kant wants to impute a telos or design onto the natural realm, one that would communicate the sundry categories and concepts that implicitly govern the universe. Telos also, by definition, refers to an inherent design in nature that suggests a movement towards a locus of finality. In _The Portrait of a Lady_, the novel is characterized by a conflict of telos; that is, each male character attempts to project a design or form onto the lives of other characters. Whether Isabel, the recipient of this artificial design, is aware of the forces at work around her is debatable. However, some conspicuous examples in the text exemplify how much telos, in this sense being culturally constructed as opposed to naturally, works to control the lives of the characters involved in the textual milieu. For example, Isabel's rejection of Caspar, a man who "showed his appetites and designs too simply and artlessly," is representative of the emphasis on teleological projection in the text (171). Caspar's fault is that he lacks the artifice to hide his desire for implementing design over Isabel's life. Isabel's trip to Europe can be interpreted as an attempt by the quintessential 'American' woman to follow the telos or design of the Old World, that is, a culture that is firmly entrenched in a historical reality with a beginning and end. The concept of history to the American woman is one that is incomplete and undeveloped in comparison with the decadence of Europe; in the novel, for example, Isabel, in a moment of prescience concerning her upcoming trip to Europe, does confirm to Mrs. Touchett that she "likes[s] places in which things have happened" -- that is, the historical reality embodied by the teleologically-grounded chronology of Europe (81). The opposite of such a firmly-entrenched design is the American telos represented by Caspar. Isabel's rejection of him is as much one that is averse to his salient desire to impose his design upon her as it is a rejection of the embryonic stage of telos that the American historical reality embodies, one in which identity via a past is limited by the country's shortened sense of a culturally-constructed self.
If the novel is propelled by a sense of teleological conflict, one that affirms the Kantian notion of conceptual and categorical determination, then obviously Gilbert attempts to impose his particular design upon the life of his wife. Isabel does not discern the design inherent in Gilbert's plan to marry her; he is not as obvious in his intentions of imputing telos onto Isabel's life as a character like Caspar. Gilbert knows the subtlety of implementing his particular telos onto Isabel, like he has done with Pansy, intellectually, emotionally, and physically; he works his malignant plan with precision. The contrast between Isabel's two visions of Gilbert, one before the marital consummation and the other after, proves Isabel's naivete in understanding Gilbert's design. "She had a more wondrous vision of him, fed through charmed senses and oh such a stirred fancy! -- _she had not read him right_." (emphasis mine) (476). While it certainly does not help matters that Isabel still is aligned with an overtly quixotic vision of life until her marriage, it is obvious by this statement that her previous a priori conception of Gilbert cannot ascertain the scope of his delimiting design. The voice of Isabel at this moment in the novel has gained the insight of awareness but at the cost of the fulfillment of her own teleological progression. James says, "She remembered perfectly the first sign he had given of it [Gilbert's hatred towards and deception of his wife]- it had been like the bell that was to ring up the curtain upon the real drama of their life" (477). With this statement, Isabel is perceived as finally grasping the realization that her independent telos has been subsumed under the design of another, Gilbert.
While Isabel may be subsumed under the culturally-constructed telos of Gilbert, she might also be aware of the contractual obligations of her marriage, one where her independent subsistence within the misogynistic relationship with her husband is indeed a conscious choice on her part. To invoke a twentieth-century theorist in this regard, Paul Ricoeur, one might argue that Isabel has objectified herself in the marriage contract on some level, however, that is inevitably purposeful. Ricoeur's larger project in his _Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary_ (1950) is to outline a philosophy of the will, positing that the self is simultaneously both an autonomous object and a subject with a vested interest. As Ricoeur writes about subject-object relations, "the you is the other myself" (11). In regards to _The Portrait of a Lady_, the subject, Isabel, is only slightly aware of the overpowering design of her winning suitor, Gilbert -- but she enters into the marriage contract freely. In chapter fifty-one, for example, Gilbert reminds Isabel of her own agency in the act of marrying him. He says to his wife, "You are nearer to me than any human creature, and I'm nearer to you. It may be a disagreeable proximity; it's one, at any rate, of our own deliberate making" (James 583). From a Ricoeurian vantage, Isabel has entered into the marriage contract as means of "projecting" herself; though Ricoeur is positing the act of self-commitment as a diachronic project taken on the part of the subject, he still creates a theoretical model for the "disagreeable proximity" that exists between Isabel and Gilbert in James' novel. Isabel, despite being the victim of Gilbert's constrictive teleological design - the same telos that Kant attempts to impute upon nature in his _Critique of Judgment_ - still, if we affirm Ricoeur's argument, maintains a degree of agency in the process. According to Ricoeur, the self "throws itself ahead of itself in posing itself as the object" (59). That is, in any binding commitment, the self circumvents temporality, becomes complicit in the very act of willing itself, and, in a way, becomes part of the eventual outcome of its willing. Gilbert's perception, however malignant when coupled with an actualized design, is one where he reminds Isabel of how she was the causal agent in instigating their shared marriage; that is, her search for an erudite, decorous European suitor has fashioned her into a contract of her own making, a "project" that is the self objectified, to invoke Ricoeur.
Gilbert's standard of judgment, in Kantian terms, lacks any type of value towards Isabel that acknowledges an intrinsic self-worth, that is, one that exists outside of the domain of extrinsic value systems. Gilbert's world, on the other hand, is essentially the superficial world of sensory perception. While an idealist, Gilbert never truly transcends the visceral level. As one critic, Tony Tanner, states about Gilbert, "to care so totally and uncritically for forms, taste, convention is to be absolutely enslaved to mere appearances, never questioning essences or the intrinsic worth of things" (148). Tanner's critique of Gilbert is justified, as Isabel herself realizes that he is of the "artistic, the plastic view" (James 404). Gilbert's "plastic" view lacks the insight to judge an object as being a free beauty, what Kant defines in the _Critique of Judgment_ to be any object which is not determined in respect to any purpose by concepts. Gilbert only views sensory data as a means to an end, the affirmation of the external standard of judgment that Kant believes reduces the appreciation of an aesthetic object. Tanner further critiques Gilbert's aesthetic by stating his intentions with Isabel "to turn her into a reflector of himself, utterly devoid of any spontaneous life of her own" (Tanner 148). For all his aspirations of grandiose idealism, for all his self-professed "accumulation of beauty and knowledge," Gilbert does not venture beyond the superficial level of the world of appearances (James 313). To do so would imply a realization that Isabel exists with her own degree of internal purposiveness and a standard of judgment that exceeds his own subjective vision.
As we have touched upon James' own subjective vision as it is embodied in the novel _The Portrait of a Lady_, we could now apply this aesthetic to the novel as it relates to experiential knowledge. As stated before, experience in the novel is imbued with a tremendous amount of psychological involvement on the part of the reader. At times, this is the only connection that we can maintain with the novel because James purposely makes consciousness a shared simulacrum between the characters. States of consciousness in the novel do not flow like disjointed voices in the textual progression as in most novels. Instead, the characters' consciousness, which is what we as readers experience in the novel's ebb and flow, is transformed into a singular aesthetic unity. For example, the whole of chapter forty-two in the novel is such an ebb and flow of consciousness between the mind of Isabel ("she saw," "she had resisted," etc.) and Gilbert ("he had thought," "he had discovered," etc.). Consciousness, as a shared medium between two seemingly antithetical minds, becomes a singular experience in James' aesthetic schematics.
Hence, the paradox of James' aesthetic vision is that while at the same time he is seeking a proper representation of his own subjective angle in _The Portrait of a Lady_ he is also detaching himself, his own Kantian purpose, if you will, from the entire creative process. That is, while _The Portrait of a Lady_ enacts the Jamesian dictum that a novel should be a "personal, direct impression of life," he must also take a laissez-faire approach to his position within the aesthetic process ("The Art of Fiction," 170). This Jamesian characteristic has been observed by the critic John Paterson, who states that James believes "the novelist had to be less the priest or philosopher than the detached and disinterested observer of things" (4). In _The Portrait of a Lady_, James' narration is irretrievably detached from the novel's aesthetic conceptualization; the novel, like life itself, had to have an existence, a subjective vision, outside of James' own personality. For example, the novel is not marked by aesthetic dogmatism, whether implicit or explicit. James is distanced from the narrative progression of the text even in those moments where we as readers are most involved. For example, in chapter forty-six, when Isabel is interrogated concerning her last relations with Lord Warburton, Gilbert's desired suitor for Pansy, James writes, "It came over her, after he [Gilbert] had said this, that she had once thought him beautiful" (522). In this brief moment, an excerpt of a mere two-sentence paragraph in the novel, James is both efficient in his language and distanced from his subjective judgment concerning the fallen nature of Isabel's relationship with Gilbert. Isabel is only described as once perceiving Gilbert as "beautiful" in a previous state; in this subtle intonation, James, a detached observer of events, merely suggests the unhappy state of Isabel's marriage. The contours of James' vision are the only vestige of authorial intrusion, and he clearly states in his personal journal that, in _The Portrait of a Lady_, the "_whole_... is never told." James, at moments such as this one from chapter forty-six, instead of eliciting the reader's sympathy via a didactic, self-affirming diatribe concerning Isabel's plight, is notably absent from the narrative process. In Kantian terms, James is at once affirming his subjective vision in the novel while also separating his personality from the finished aesthetic product.
The final element of Kant's _Critique of Judgment_ that I wish to discuss in relation to _The Portrait of a Lady_ concerns the struggle between the moral/aesthetic universe and the world of means. Specifically, the tension that is inherent in _The Portrait of a Lady_ is one marked by various characters' oscillations between these two polarized worlds. These dichotomized ideals can best be understood in terms of a definition that Tanner suggests: "[The moral world] is the world of ends in which everything and everyone has an intrinsic worth and they are all respected for what they are" (144). The moral world, which Kant equates with the higher purposiveness of reason in _Critique of Judgment_, affirms a pure judgment of taste. That is, the object in question is representative of a worth that is measured by fulfilling a purpose that corresponds with its own self-subsisting fruition -- devoid of conformity to some external standard of judgment. The other world reduces the elevated state of the moral to marketable means; in essence, the individual is commodified to a state of objectification. Tanner describes this lower world as one where "people see other people only as things or instruments, and they work to appropriate them as suits their own ambition" (145). These two levels are the realms between which Isabel must maintain some semblance of existence. She attempts to retain a higher moral level throughout the novel ("her aspirations, her theories") while coming to the stark realization that she has been reduced to the world of means (she becomes accustomed, for example, to the idea of "assisting her husband to be pleased" [403, 466]). It is when Isabel is forced into the lower realm of means -- where she is explicitly commodified -- that she no longer has access to the aesthetic virtues she aspires to earlier in the novel. Isabel, in Kantian aesthetics, no longer expresses the moral ideal.
In retrospect, the parallel worlds of the aesthetic/moral and the one of means are indicative of the self-contradictions that mark both Kant's subjectivity of aesthetics and James as an inheritor of that tradition. For example, the ontological shift that we see in _Critique of Judgment_ does not actually move the emphasis of aesthetics completely into the subjective persona. This is because the subjective self must realize that while the individual is a pivotal part of the aesthetic process, there exists an autonomy of the aesthetic object, one which measures its intrinsic worth as an end in itself. Also paradoxical about Kant's aesthetic theory is the idea that at the unifying moment of connecting with a self-subsistent object, the subjective mind is able to achieve a higher level of moral purposiveness. The distinction between objective and subjective dualism, as a result, tends to be lessened. James adheres to antithetical notions of aesthetics in his respective work, as well. For example, while affirming his own subjective vision of aesthetics in his novel _The Portrait of a Lady_, James is remarkably detached, narratively speaking, from the process as a whole. He also builds tension via paradox in the novel by locating Isabel's idealism within a higher moral framework, while in actuality she is oppressed by the reality of her commodification by Gilbert. This polarity of moral worlds is a not so much a concern for Ricoeur's philosophy of the will; instead of setting up oppositions between many of his premises, Ricoeur seeks a refracted Kantian idea: the unity that Kant sought in the nature is now found in subject-object relations. Ricoeur writes in _Freedom and Nature_ that "there are no two selves, one projecting and one in the project; I affirm myself as the subject precisely in the object of my willing" (60). The "project" of Isabel's marriage, which does include another "subject," Gilbert, is one where she is not disparate from her will; the "object" of her relationship, that is, the resultant marriage with Gilbert, is not a disinterested project.
James, Henry. "The Art of Fiction," in _Longman's_, 4 (September 1884).
James, Henry. _The Notebooks of Henry James_, edited by F. O. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947); excerpt reprinted in _The Portrait of Lady_ (New York: Penguin, 1986 ), pp. 638-641;
James, Henry. _The Portrait of a Lady_ (New York: Penguin, 1986 ).
Kant, Immanuel. _Critique of Judgment_ (1790), reprinted in _Critical Theory Since Plato_, ed. Hazard Adams (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1992), pp. 374-393.
Paterson, John. _The Novel as Faith_ (Boston: Gambit, 1975).
Ricoeur, Paul. _Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary_ (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1966 ).
Tanner, Tony. _Henry James_ (Nashville: Aurora, 1970).
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