The limits of doubt : a critique of representational scepticism in the late novels of Henry James

dc.contributor.authorKohan, Kevin Michael
dc.contributor.supervisorFoshay, Toby A. of Englishen_US of Philosophy Ph.D.en_US
dc.description.abstractThis dissertation examines the epistemology of poststructuralism, particularly deconstruction, in order to explain and defend the implicit epistemology in Henry James's The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove , and The Golden Bowl. Although James is recognized as a master of indirection and ambiguity, these novels stress the importance of accurate interpretation and the dangers of suppressing our ability to represent the truth. James here criticizes anti-realist scepticism as absolutist and self-serving, and the target of his analysis bears a consistent and telling resemblance to deconstruction. The first chapter argues that a deconstructionist epistemology was historically available for James's scrutiny because its arguments are essentially those of traditional scepticism, recast in the language of a theory of representation. In the hands of Derrida and his followers, this translation results in a dynamic form of idealism, according to which any claim to ground interpretation in the pre-textual is an illegitimate attempt to escape representational mediation and stabilize the inherently disruptive forces of signification. Deconstruction can generate its explosive interpretative effects, however, only by clinging to the necessity of an absolute standard of certainty, a standard that can never be realized, and by exaggerating the applicability of its text-metaphors. James's own position is critical realist--an epistemological stance similar to William James's pragmatism, but wary of its tendency to assume subjectivist, constructivist forms—in contrast to the anti-realist orientation of both deconstruction and the sceptics and exploiters in James's novels. The first chapter establishes the theoretical viability of a critical realist epistemology through an analysis of deconstruction's fundamental assumptions about the nature of perception, time, and the interpretative flexibility of experience. These topics are also addressed from a perspective arising from debates in the philosophy of science: particular use is made of evolutionary theory, which permits a recuperation of the notion of linearity--an essential structure of intelligibility underlying our experience of the world, not a spurious construct of debunked Enlightenment science. Perception can then also be understood as a fallible but reliable method of access to objective conditions that is not necessarily, as it is on the Derridean textual model, overdetermined by the powers of representation. After considering the influence of deconstruction on contemporary readings of James's last three completed novels, Chapter 2 argues that although James, in The Ambassadors, certainly counters a rigid rationalistic epistemology with one that is more fluid and open-ended, the latter perspective. thought by many critics to be compatible with poststructuralism—and endorsed because of this compatibility--is itself finally rejected as too extreme. Strether reads Chad's transformation correctly only he realizes that Woollettian linearity and causality underpin the texts of Paris. Chapter 3, on The Wings of the Dove, uses Derrida's account of metaphor to characterize the exploitation of Milly, whose translation into the present/absent centre of a society defined by its scepticism and its rapacious desire is the key element in James's denunciation of extreme doubt as a strategy of domination. Chapter 4 reads The Golden Bowl as a double game of epistemological subversion: Charlotte and the Prince deconstruct the Ververs' “miraculous forms,” but their idealist challenge to the idealist system prepares the ground for Maggie's full exploitation of Verver representational power. The inversion and revision of Adam's structure results in tyranny.en_US
dc.rightsAvailable to the World Wide Weben_US
dc.subjectJames, Henryen_US
dc.titleThe limits of doubt : a critique of representational scepticism in the late novels of Henry Jamesen_US


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