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Literature as Conduct: Speech Acts in Henry James

Literature as Conduct: Speech Acts in Henry James

J. Hillis Miller
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Fordham University
Pages: 366
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  • Book Info
    Literature as Conduct: Speech Acts in Henry James
    Book Description:

    The work of a master critic writing at the peak of his powers, this magisterial book draws on speech act theory, as it originated with J. L. Austin and was further developed by Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida, to investigate the many dimensions of doing things with words in James's fiction.Three modes of speech act occur in James's novels. First, James's writing of his fictions is performative. He puts on paper words that have the power to raise in the reader the phantoms of imaginary persons. Second, James's writing does things with words that do other things in their turn, including conferring on the reader responsibility for further judgment and action: for example, teaching James's novels or writing about them. Finally, the narrators and characters in James's fictions utter speech acts that are forms of doing things with words- promises, declarations, excuses, denials, acts of bearing witness, lies, decisions publicly attested, and the like. The action of each work by James, he shows, is brought about by its own idiosyncratic repertoire of speech acts.In careful readings of six major examples, The Aspern Papers,The Portrait of a Lady, The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl, and The Sense of the Past, Miller demonstrates the value of speech act theory for reading literature. J. Hillis Miller is UCI Distinguished Research Professor at the University of California at Irvine. One of the most recent many books is Speech Acts in Literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4812-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    J. Hillis Miller
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    A phrase in my epigraph, “the … conduct of life,” is the title of a high-minded book by Ralph Waldo Emerson. James may have intended a reference to Emerson’s book when he wrote those words. They are part of the eloquent affirmations in the final paragraph of the last preface to the New York Edition, the preface toThe Golden Bowl.¹ James claims that “putting” things, that is, saying or writing them, for example in those fictions he wrote, is as much a form of doing, and therefore of conduct, as any other act.Conduct: the word is defined by...

  6. CHAPTER 1 History, Narrative, Responsibility: “The Aspern Papers”
    (pp. 12-29)

    The Introduction identifies speech act theory as a tool of analysis for prose fiction. Of course matters are not quite so simple. A literary work is not a machine that can be dismantled with this or that tool, its workings exposed. In reading literature, the tool turns into the machine and vice versa. To put this less metaphorically, both speech act theory and James’s fiction are made of language. Nothing is more problematic and tricky than the intersection of theory and literature in an act of reading the latter. In this chapter I shall attempt to bring together speech act...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Story of a Kiss: Isabel’s Decisions in The Portrait of a Lady
    (pp. 30-83)

    A recent popular romance by Danielle Steel, whose books are read by millions worldwide, is entitledThe Kiss. The cover blurb says: “a single shattering moment can change lives forever….” Almost the last thing that happens inThe Portrait of a Ladyis Caspar Goodwood’s kiss of Isabel. The last thing of all is Caspar’s discovery from Henrietta Stackpole that his kiss has precipitated Isabel’s decision to return to Rome and to her despicable husband. Caspar “averts” himself to hide his dismay at this news (4:437).¹ He then walks away with Henrietta, thereby completing the series of “turnings” that are...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Unworked and Unavowable: Community in The Awkward Age
    (pp. 84-150)

    According to J. L. Austin, and for standard speech act theory generally, the felicity of speech acts depends on the existence of a viable community. A viable community is one with fixed laws, institutions, and customs, accepted and acted on by all its members. For a performative to work, says Austin inHow to Do Things with Words, “there must exist an accepted conventional procedure having a certain conventional effect, that procedure to include the uttering of certain words by certain persons in certain circumstances”(HT, 14). Later on, speaking of legal decisions, Austin says, “The whole point of having such...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Lying against Death: The Wings of the Dove
    (pp. 151-227)

    To what reality doesThe Wings of the Doverefer? All language has an ineluctable referential function. It refers to something that the activity of referring makes us presume to be real, extralinguistic. It ought to be possible to identify in a given case how that referential function works. The reader should be able to discover what substantial, nonlinguistic entities a given piece of language names, describes, or refers to, as a road sign indicates something that really exists but just happens to be at a distance, over there.

    It may be easier to answer this apparently straightforward question by...

  10. CHAPTER 5 “Conscious Perjury”: Declarations of Ignorance in The Golden Bowl
    (pp. 228-290)

    The turning point or, to give it its austere Greek name,peripeteia, ofThe Golden Bowlis a moment of double perjury. The wordperjuryis James’s own, or, rather, that of his deputy and delegate, the narrative voice. In a carefully planned private encounter, Charlotte has found Maggie alone and asks her if she has anything to complain of in her (Charlotte’s) behavior. Though Maggie knows, or thinks she knows, knows “more and more,” that Charlotte, her stepmother, has betrayed her by renewing her old affair with Maggie’s husband, Prince Amerigo, she, Maggie, swears that she has nothing to...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The “Quasi-Turn-of-Screw Effect,” or How to Raise a Ghost with Words: The Sense of the Past
    (pp. 291-326)

    I begin with an apparent detour, an account of Jacques Derrida as a critic of English literature and of my admiration for that criticism. This is in acknowledgment of Derrida’s influence on my own work. Sometimes, however, the longest way round is the shortest way home. Derrida and literature in English! It is a fathomless subject. I adduce three reasons for that abyss. Each is another turn of a screw that goes down and down into unplumbed depths.

    For one thing, Derrida has written or given seminars on a surprising number of literary works in English—works by Shakespeare, Defoe,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 327-344)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 345-350)