Testimony without Life
Although his tendency has not often been taken seriously, Henry James persistently portrays ordinarily inanimate entities—from hotels to corpses to candles—as speaking. This chapter argues that James inherits Emerson’s assumption that the world testifies, and that he develops a related premise that written images, representations, and metaphors become part of the world of expressive things. James’s images of the dead become, in turn, not simply a way of figuring death, but a conduit that ties dead to living, allowing the dead to participate in the language of life. With readings of The American Scene, The Wings of the Dove, “The Friends of the Friends,” and “The Altar of the Dead,” as well as James’s non-fiction writings on death and life after it, this chapter offers an alternative to the critical tendency to view James as primarily occupied by loss.
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