Henry James and Mikhail Bakhtin on the Art of Fiction

José Antonio Álvarez Amorós Universidad de Alicante

Abstract The object of this paper is to draw a parallel between Henry James’s and Mikhail Bakhtin’s views of narrative art by considering how they reacted in this specific field to the general atmosphere of relativization that signalled the onset of the Modernist revolution. I will try to argue that the Jamesian idea of epistemological limitation and the Bakhtinian faith in novelistic dialogism —both powerful antidotes to the roundly stigmatized notions of omniscience and monologism— are simply two idiosyncratic manifestations of the philosophical principle that the nature of the self is relational rather than substantial. Thus, James underlines the individual, psychological and perceptual side of human personality and its mimetic correlation in the fictional character, whereas Bakhtin opts for the social paradigm and its stress on voices, linguistic intercourse, and the emphatic rejection of mental solipsism, in agreement with the Marxist root of his thought.

I Ever since Joseph Warren Beach and Percy Lubbock published their pioneering studies in 1918 and 1921 respectively, Henry James (1846-1916) has been looked upon as the essential forerunner of the technical feats of strength that characterize Modernist narrative.* Countless scholars have scrutinized his critical and literary works with a view to determining his kinship with later writers who, like Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, or James Joyce, had an unquestionable bent for the well-executed and artistically rigorous novel.1 As we all know, English Modernist narrative can be, and has been, described from a great many theoretical perspectives. If looked at from a psychological angle, its concern and fascination for the workings of the fictional mind have to be emphasized. This interest naturally led in time to the introduction and perfection of techniques such as the interior monologue and stirred up much discussion about the role of language in the shaping and representation of novelistic
The research leading to the publication of this paper was made possible by grant no. PB98-0181 of the Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología. 1 This topic has given rise to many generalizations, but also to detailed analyses; see Fogel 1984 and Fogel 1990.


consciousness. If viewed through the prism of stylistics, Modernist narrative becomes the locus of systematic linguistic foregrounding, and tends to exhibit a highly polished surface and a textural elaboration nearing that we have come to associate with lyrical poetry. Style becomes moreover a functional component that, skilfully manipulated, can provide tacit comments on plot and character of a kind incomparably more subtle than those furnished by the traditional omniscient narrator. Another touchstone contributing to the characterization of Modernist narrative is plot, or rather its absence in conventional form. The new novel is thus distinguished by its openness, by the indetermination of incident and character, by its almost pathological avoidance of a consistent story-line and of a final rounding-off of events. Lastly, if Modernist fiction is analyzed from a narratological viewpoint, it becomes the chronicle of a progressive constraint on what James himself memorably called “the mere muffled majesty of irresponsible ‘authorship’” (1984: 328) or, in other words, the weakening of narrative authority as a necessary step towards the dramatic novel. All of these perspectives have been instrumental in illuminating the technical nature of Modernist narrative, but, to my mind, none of them can exhaustively account for such a complex literary body. What one would ideally need is a general feature or common factor that could be discerned, in the ultimate analysis, at the core of Modernist fiction. Difficult as it is to work within the realm of abstraction, it seems reasonable to assume the hypothesis that this common ground is the intense relativization of reality occurring in this kind of narrative. There is relativization in subordinating the presentment of events to the shifting quality of the mind on which the narrative is focused, in the ambiguous interplay of styles and voices that casts a doubtful ironic light on the elements of the represented world, in the looseness of plot that tends to turn Modernist narratives into sequences of scenes interconnected by elliptical gaps to be filled in according to the reader’s individual response, and also in the lack of an authoritative frame of reference capable of giving unwavering significance —moral or otherwise— to the characters themselves and to their deeds. In agreement with this overall hypothesis, and with the many qualifications to be discussed later, the purpose of this essay is to draw a parallel between Henry James’s mature views of the narrative art and Mikhail Bakhtin’s conception of the novel.2 Modernist fiction, however, is not the only field in which the idea of relativization took root at the turn of the twentieth century. It can be argued that both the arts and the sciences —as well as the general cultural atmosphere— were largely affected by this principle.3 The psychological discoveries made by Sigmund Freud and published under the title of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) subverted the nineteenth-century common-sense assumptions about the workings of the mind and, still more importantly, introduced the distressing notion that human behaviour is subjected to

For another parallel between James and Bakhtin, this time founded on the notion of “social formalism,” i.e. the common ground shared by formalist and cultural-ideological approaches to the novel, see Hale 1988. 3 See for instance Craige 1982; Mikhail Bakhtin is surprsingly absent from both her discussion and her final bibliography.



uncontrollable forces. But it was in the field of physics where the idea of relativization became explicitly articulated. In 1905 Albert Einstein put forward his special theory of relativity, whereby reality only exists in conjunction with a specific standpoint, and later, in 1916, he revised this hypothesis and published the final version of his general theory of relativity. In 1927 Werner Karl Heisenberg formulated his principle of uncertainty, according to which any act of observation is intrinsically inaccurate because it is distorted by the conditions in which it occurs. The charges against the common-sense view of reality also extended to the field of philosophy, since it was maintained that what we take for actual is simply the outward projection of mental categories and, therefore, the constitution of the “real” world may be as fictitious and changeable as that of a novel. However, the greatest twentieth-century theorist of relativism in the field of the humanities is the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975), whose work —discovered in Western Europe in the late sixties— ranges over the whole breadth of philological thought and has been repeatedly acclaimed as the foundation of modern pragmatics or, more exactly, of a “pragmatically oriented theory of knowledge . . . that seek[s] to grasp human behaviour through the use humans make of language” (Holquist 1990: 15). Bakhtin has bequeathed memorable notions and terms to contemporary literary theory and criticism, such as his bewildering concept of the novel, his Einsteinian idea of the chronotope as the basis of a historical poetics, the crucial role of otherness in the definition of the subject, the importance of concrete placement in the formation of experience, and his opposition between sentence and utterance as the minimal units of linguistics and translinguistics, or pragmatics, respectively. At the heart of Bakhtinian thought there is a sense of everlasting struggle, of continuing dialogue between self and other that precludes the existence of any kind of absolute meaning enclosed in itself and independent of a specific frame of reference. Characteristic of the early years of the twentieth century and superbly articulated in Bakhtin’s philosophy, this persistent relativism is also embodied, I believe, in Henry James’s views on the novel and in his later narrative practice. Consequently it seems appropriate to engage both James and Bakhtin in dialogue with each other in order to discover and analyze areas of coincidence and disagreement and see the critical views of the former in the light shed by the latter. I will try to show that they can be taken to represent, in spite of glaring discrepancies, Western and Eastern views of the same cultural climate that provided a context for the development of Modernist fiction in Britain.

II To find Henry James and Mikhail Bakhtin placed side by side in the prolegomena to this essay immediately gives a very broad hint of its theoretical context. On the one hand, James has always been pointed out in the Anglo-American world as the originator of a new novel and a new way of looking at it both critically and professionally; on the other, Bakhtin is usually considered the remote ancestor of today’s post-structuralism and cultural criticism, even though his philosophical foundation is purely neo-Kantian and his long working life covers more than fifty years, from his early philosophical writings to the final revisions he 3

. two novels commonly held as paradigms of dramatic narrative. that of the speaker and that of the observer. his role is not so absolute and unchallenged as we have been given to believe. .” “poor man. seriously misinterpreted. 5 Tilford (1958) pulls down the myth that The Ambassadors is consistently narrated from Strether’s internal perspective. the occasional frank presence of a first-person narrator well above Strether’s knowledge of the situation. James particularly retained a penchant for the occasional deployment of an omniscient narrator in order to clarify for the reader some situations in the plot which might well surpass the character’s powers of understanding. the study of the novel within the Anglo-American critical tradition had failed to distinguish between two radically different narrative roles. although it is true that James can be seen as the patriarch of Modernist narrative both in theory and practice. James greatly admired many novelists for the very way in which their thoughts and reflections helped to broaden the scope and meaning of their story and so to increase their value” (1979: 260-61). I. they dislike rationalism and the abstract workings of pure logic. the existence of prolepsis and comments on the unfolding of discourse. but cautious and progressive. 6 This thesis is maintained in Bock 1979. tend to hail him as the fountain-head of a so-called Anglo-American theory of the novel and. a school that first developed in Germany as a reaction to nineteenthcentury positivism. and that time and space are the basic categories of the human mind. Nor would James have agreed with Percy Lubbock that the use of the ‘recording and registering mind of the author’ .made just before his death in 1975. and the frequent shifting of perspective from Strether to an omniscient observer and backwards. and overwhelming evidence can be mustered to that effect simply by comparing the degree of the narrator’s presence in The Ambassadors and in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 4 4 . Kagan in the introduction of neo-Kantianism in Russia. where she asserts that “it is not true that he [James] totally rejected the omniscient narrator technique and those who employed it or that he disliked the use of an ‘intrusive narrator’ . . In addition to this. on the contrary. This “composite” idea of point of view —which comprises such different concepts as voice and point of view proper— has been prevalent even in the works of reputable critics. . and allegedly can be traced back to Henry James’s See Holquist and Clark 1984.5 Likewise. as I have tried to show elsewhere (Álvarez Amorós 1994). to my mind. see Clark and Holquist 1984. Neo-Kantianism and Bakhtinian thought share a taste for idealism. here they examine the role of M. For instance. . two of the earliest reverberators of James’s views.” “our friend”). and he does so by drawing attention to the patronizing way in which the protagonist is referred to (“poor Strether. James’s opposition to narrative omniscience is stronger in his critical statements than in his novel-writing activity. to say the least. as well as the belief that ethics and axiology are at the root of all philosophical activity.4 Beach and Lubbock. and this gave rise to critical readings that. For a full account of Bakhtin’s life and his intellectual context. James’s role as the founding father of an Anglo-American theory of the novel formulated round the concept of narrative perspective is. For many decades. . has an ‘inherent’ tendency to make the novel weak or thin . James’s rupture with the Victorian novel is not in the least violent.” “our hero. do not appear particularly percipient upon close consideration.6 He also used to foreshorten the presentation of irrelevant events so as to economize on novelistic space without giving up his much cherished dramatic inclination (Roberts 1946).

he had become such an influential figure in Western Europe and the 7 See Mark Shorer’s almost glosematic view of the novel in his 1948 seminal essay “Technique as Discovery. rhetoric. Among the latter.7 They are also very much concerned with questions of narrative transmission. Precisely on the grounds of its formalistic stress and its belief that narrative technique is an element of paramount importance. the carnivalistic rites. has a very feeble connection with his critical views on this literary form and rather derive from Lubbock’s dogmatic interpretation of them. The first noteworthy mention of Bakhtin outside the circles of Slavonic specialists came from Julia Kristeva (1980). and also with that of their Western heirs. one has to mention Gérard Genette. for relying on purely aesthetic standards in judging the quality of a narrative work. or Booth —to mention only outstanding examples— that allow us to see them as integrated in a larger whole. The discrepancies between Lubbock and Booth on the aesthetic and ethical values of the dramatic novels became a critical commonplace several decades ago. an essential element in the study of the Anglo-American novel commonly attributed to James. more often than not. of particular interest to my point here are pp. the social dimension of verbal activity. to the detriment of the narrator. Beach. 185-211 on focalization and perspective.” 8 For a partial English translation of his 1972 work. namely the dialogue between texts and voices. 5 . her essay “Word. nevertheless. though their area of coincidence is more reduced here. and textual construction. the arguments and counter-arguments put forward by each side in defence of their respective positions are simply divergent points of view within the same narrative system. and Novel” is a general exposition of the most characteristic aspects of Bakhtinian literary theory. this tradition has much in common with the work of early Russian formalists such as Shklovsky.critical writings and narrative practice under the widely employed denomination of “Jamesian theory of point of view” or words to that effect. or Eikhenbaum. The fact that James is only relatively at the head of a so-called Anglo-American theory of the novel does not mean. Tomashevsky. Originally published in 1967. Dialogue. of course. After analyzing James’s prefaces to the New York edition of his novels and tales and Lubbock’s comments in his The Craft of Fiction. Knowledge and appreciation of his works gained ground very slowly. the ambivalence of cultural practices. the concept of dialogism versus that of monologism. This Anglo-American tradition of novelistic study can be likened to other theoretical developments in continental Europe. it was concluded that the “composite” conception of point of view. and the novel as the most subversive of genres. the French structuralists. but. that this theory is non-existent. Lubbock. by the end of the eighties. Their main distinctive feature is a strong leaning towards technical and formalistic approaches to the novel and. There is a series of features shared by critics such as James himself. or centre of consciousness. This well-established formalistic climate was disturbed in the late sixties by the discovery of Bakhtin’s works in Western Europe. see Genette 1980. Schorer. who devised in 1972 a powerful narrative model that advocated the separation between the speaker and the observer.8 improving considerably on the rather confusing treatment given to this question by Anglo-American critics and returning —perhaps unwittingly— to James’s original scheme dominated by the reflector.

particularly if one bears in mind that his earliest writings (1919) were almost contemporary with James’s last ones (1915). Clark and Holquist (1984: [146]-70) maintain that Bakhtin was the author of these three works. the statement of a joint authorship. there is a heated controversy over the authorship of some Bakhtinian writings produced between 1925 and 1930. Leaving aside nine minor works (eight articles and one review). and structuralist linguistics. Among others. the recurrence in his essays and books of exotic examples and allusions to almost unknown writers. from 1936 to 1941 he reinterpreted the history of the novel according to his guiding idea of the chronotope. in which he attacked the Russian formalists. 10 9 6 . N. however. among them. Bakhtin seems to have composed three major essays. self and other. N. and. Bakhtin’s best-known face to Western intellectuals. as the best way to solve the problem. and Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (1929). from 1926 to 1929 he published his methodological and critical writings.9 One wonders. Freudian psychology. and Bennett-Matteo 1986. from 1929 to 1935 he carried out his research on the nature of utterance and novelistic polyphony. until late revisions of his extensive essays on Rabelais and Dostoevsky were translated into English as Rabelais and His World and Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics in 1968 and 1973 respectively. All of these factors conspired to keep his writings in obscurity. from 1942 to 1952 he published nothing.United States that few literary studies written within the bounds of current intellectual “pluralism” failed to quote him or adhere —somewhat mechanically— to his proposals. P. which appeared under the names of two of his disciples. Before 1926 he had produced several works of a general theoretical or philosophical nature in the great German tradition of neo-Kantianism. Freudianism: A Marxist Critique (1927). In the early twenties he adopted a firm philosophical position based on the relations between mind and world. his ponderous abstract style probably due to the German roots of his education that rendered problematic the translation of his works. the very adverse circumstances in which he wrote his main works (the aftermath of the Russian civil war and the Stalinist period). the intrinsic difficulty of the Russian language (Holquist 1992: [xv]-xvi). In addition to this. while Tzvetan Todorov (1984: 6-11) argues that both Medvedev and Voloshinov played a very important role in the composition of these books and suggests. why several decades had to elapse before Bakhtin’s works were circulated in translation. and used it as a frame of reference to approach a large variety of topics over more than fifty years. The range of Bakhtin’s works is impressive. Medvedev and V.e.10 Bakhtinian textology is not at issue here. see Morson 1986. heavily influenced by Marxism and signed by Medvedev or Voloshinov. This dispute over authorship is not closed yet. The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship (1928). which yielded his book Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics and his celebrated essay “Discourse in the Novel. of course. See also Perlina 1983. Voloshinov. but was involved in an intense scholarly activity and in the political controversy aroused by the defence of his For a discussion of this phenomenon.” i. his tendency to ignore the conventions of Western literary history. but it is curious to note that the authorship of a significant part of his work is affected by the ambivalence and indetermination that he always championed in his philosophy. which were published under different names for a variety of reasons (mainly political reasons). Medvedev/Bakhtin and Voloshinov/Bakhtin. This considerable delay was due to several reasons.

the social infrastructure reflected by that order. First. a philosopher. these translations of early Bakhtinian writings foreground the philosopher —rather than the literary theorist— working in the wake of German philosophy. but the appearance of later translations contradicted and enriched this rather simplistic image. 12 See Bakhtin 1990a and Bakhtin 1993. see Clark and Holquist 1984: [353]-56. finally. Bakhtin was generally considered a theorist of the dialogical novel. As indicated above. he may have changed his focus or even the way of formulating a particular problem. Hirschkop names Michael Holquist. . and this decomposition of his image into several diffractions can be attributed to the appearance of successive translations of his works into Western languages. on a par with Yuri Lotman or Boris Uspensky. particularly to those contained in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics and in the four essays of The Dialogic Imagination. but. his thinking remain[ed] fundamentally the same” (1984: 12). and Caryl Emerson —all of them distinguished Bakhtinian scholars— as members of a bourgeois conspiracy bent 11 For a comprehensive bibliography of Bakhtin’s works. Those who favour this perspective consider Bakhtin a narrative theorist exclusively concerned with the compositional dimension of the artistic text. denounces what he calls the “domestication” of Bakhtin. from 1953 to 1975 he revised some of his early works —for instance. Bakhtin’s work is so multifarious that. a scholar who has devised a panoply of subtle instruments for the analysis of narrative works. his book on Dostoevsky’s poetics— and returned to the great theoretical and philosophical subjects of the twenties.” or the idea of dialogism —a whole philosophical system— to that of polyphony —the manifestation of dialogism in the novel (1981: [109]-10). as when Jonathan Hall equates “the concept of the ‘dialogic’ in fiction” to “an extreme form of reported speech. a sui generis linguist. i. and so scholars tended to pin him down on the evidence of those works that were accessible to them at a given moment.12 Two methodological lines can be distinguished in the assessment of Bakhtin’s works as carried out in the West. he has been viewed as a prominent member of the Russian post-formalistic school. the transformation of a subversive doctrine endowed ab initio with a concrete social dimension into a series of analytical algorithms deliberately emptied of political significance. This reductive approach originates in artificially restricting the scope of his work to his reflections on the novel. Ken Hirschkop. “from his first to his last text . or an ideologue. This is precisely the Bakhtin whose proposals subvert the order of the humanities and.doctoral dissertation on François Rabelais. The philosophical. sociological and ethical aspects of this author are thus confined to the background or altogether ignored. revisions and translations. 7 . by extension.e. Katerina Clark. So Bakhtin can be viewed as a literary theorist. for instance. Until very recently it was impossible for a non-speaker of Russian to see him whole. since it was discovered in the West. in Todorov’s opinion. The second methodological line was developed later and entailed the reinstatement of ideology and ethics within the text in stark opposition to the mere compositional manipulation of meaningless entities. scholars of many different persuasions have tried to appropriate him for their own intellectual ends. Gary Saul Morson.11 What seems really surprising is that over this long period there is almost no development in Bakhtin’s work. .

the langue vs. we immediately notice that he does not care about individual novelists or individual novels. Bakhtin “is after the creative force. the parole if we resort to strictly linguistic terms. revolve “around the connection of criticism to the advocacy of larger social and political values” (1986: 85). For Hirschkop the terms “dialogic” and “monologic.e. he always flees from detailed linguistic analysis and from concrete falsifiable conclusions.14 The reader gets the impression that Bakhtin’s doctrine inhibits any approach to the uniqueness of a narrative work.” instead of denoting a technical opposition. 13 8 . he seems fated to remain a rara avis. see Todorov 1973: [73]. Anthony Wall’s statement that “[t]o arrive at our schematic picture of how Bakhtin viewed the concept of character. new historicism. 1992. the generic impulse that a novelist or a novel embodies. even in the case of his Dostoevsky book. this book is simply a compilation of fragments on narrative theory culled from James’s writings. Miller to piece together his so-called “theory of fiction” may also be described quite faithfully in Wall’s words. he is very reluctant to provide precise linguistic descriptions for the voices in dialogue” (1981: 144). By narrative control I mean For some books written or edited in this vein. that of narrative control.15 According to Emerson. see Hirschkop and Shepherd. it was necessary to paste together passages scattered about in different contexts of Bakhtin’s multifarious interests” (1984: 52). This procedure is naturally reminiscent of the working methods of European structuralism.on stripping Bakhtin of his ideological aspects “so that he may be securely placed in the pantheon of Western liberal thinkers” (1986: 77). and the method followed by James E. If we choose to focus on his facet as a narrative theorist and critic. 16 See Miller 1972. . this quality contributes to aligning him with Henry James rather than to emphasizing their divergences: James himself has been considered a very unsystematic critic. This politicized image of Bakhtin has been readily adopted by neo-Marxist criticism. promoting instead all kinds of generalizations about the cultural atmosphere in which it is engendered.13 No matter which Bakhtinian image one may assume. women’s studies and cultural theory. eds. eds. He never performs systematic close readings of the texts he mentions and. He then uses that force as a prism through which to focus a philosophy of language . Two concepts drawn from the former field guide my approach: on the one hand. 1989. that of epistemological restriction. i. and is a welcome complement to the compositional perspective examined above. Bakhtin’s notorious unsystematism is also proverbial: we have. Curiously enough. or an understanding of a particular cultural period” (1985: 68). since this school prescribed the use of inductive thought in order to discover the abstract structure that underlies all specific manifestations. at least by Western standards. Bauer and McKinstry. 14 Roger Fowler underlines this same point from his own methodological perspective: “Although Bakhtin refers liberally to ‘voices’ and the ‘word’ as components of polyphony. 15 For a discussion of the viability of a structuralist criticism as applied to the elucidation of individual works. Gardiner 1992. . on the other. for instance.16 The following discussion is placed astride the fields of the Anglo-American theory of the novel —as broadly characterized in the preceding paragraphs— and of Bakhtinian thought.

James’s criticism and. to some extent. There are. James’s critical and theoretical writings have generated. In his introduction to James’s prefaces. above all. and also his Complete Notebooks (James 1987: 91. James is a novelist first and foremost. his theoretical statements are simply byproducts of his novel writing and do not enjoy the consistency one would expect from scholarly work. . on the contrary. Blackmur calls them “the most sustained and I think the most eloquent piece of literary criticism in existence” (James 1984: xvi). however.18 Since much was to be expressed in few words. III To my mind. This difference between James and Bakhtin is just methodological and. He argued that “[a]rt is essentially selection” (James 1970: 398). selection and intensity became assets of the new novel espoused by James in opposition to the structural and stylistic looseness of the Victorian novel. his activity was directed towards a single goal and he ultimately achieved a coherent body of doctrine —albeit through uncoordinated methods. of course. which arose well after the fact as mere introductions to the eighteen volumes of this edition supplying information on the origin and development of the narratives collected therein. in James’s case. To begin with. superficial.17 This. for instance. the effort to do the complicated thing with a strong brevity and lucidity —to arrive. led to the stylistic elaboration that distinguishes his later fiction. at a certain science of control” (James 1984: 231). however. The writer needs a point of reference in order to make coherent decisions about which material is essential and which dispensable. For this reason. and invoked as its “main merit and sign . Risking a generalization. D. and passim). whereas Bakhtin is a thinker and a scholar without any known literary activity. 95. one could say that the main contribution of Bakhtinian thought to the concept of epistemological restriction in the novel is to have disclosed for us its vast relativizing potential. But this idea of narrative control cannot be implemented arbitrarily. 9 . whereas D. Todd sets out to demonstrate in a 1976 essay that James never devised anything that could pass for a coherent theory of fiction. . This is obviously the case with his prefaces to the New York edition of his novels and tales. Richard P. contradictory opinions. which should not be obscured by the fact that the same abstract principle appears to animate their respective concepts of narrative. Bakhtin. see. though he treated his ideas and writings in a cavalier unsystematic fashion. 18 The most comprehensive stylistic analysis of this fiction can be found in Chatman 1972. the instrument that effects this epistemological restriction is the fictional mind in any of its possible manifestations. as has been widely recognized. other divergences —deeply ingrained in their respective 17 His prefaces and notebooks give ample evidence of this painful laborious process.the rigorous imposition of form on the materials that caused James to cut out superfluities and squeeze the verbal development of his données into the spatial limits set up by his editors. and. 123. the first stage of the dialogue to be established between James and Bakhtin consists in pointing out and assessing their discrepancies. the notions of economy. on behalf of the multiplicity. James 1984: 219-20. was a scholar and.

ideológica)” (1984: 139).” and “point of view” as denoting the same idea. for whom he must make up a suitable plot. Bakhtin. this friction between self and other can only literally take place in the realm of society and not in the field of individual psychology. As a result of their respective alignments with the individual and the social sides of human activity. it is widely assumed that expression and perspective go side by side in the narrative text. and this precludes the existence of a self-contained notion of individuality. however. trends. and two types of evidence can be adduced in support of this basic formalistic attitude. for instance. the workings of the mind— “is nothing more than what . . . he admits that many of his works originate in the vision of a finalized character en disponibilité. Boris Uspensky’s analysis of naming as a clue to point of view (1973: 27-32). For James. which can be viewed as a specific case of the general opposition between art and life. Furthermore. viewpoints. It is obvious that mental processes primarily occur within the bounds of individuality. the suffusion of the social into the supposedly personal” (Polan 1983: 149).19 and so it seems reasonable to say that both James and Bakhtin approached the same phenomenon of narrative mediation from different angles. In this respect. the possibility of another’s point of view breaks through this play of the symbol . For James the frontier between both is very clearly marked. and opinions always have verbal expression. of course. . James emphasizes matters of perception and understanding in his comments on the narrative art. 48). We know.” “accent. James consistently rejects any breach of the fictional illusion. whereas vocal communication requires an interpersonal context. He believes in character as a unique mental essence and.” “world view. rather than in a tangle of events or a specific situation (James 1984: 42. the guiding opposition is that between the individual and the social aspects of human activity. . on the other hand. Bakhtin himself appears to authorize this interpretation because he often mentions the terms “voice. and that the former is an excellent index to determine the latter. the individual and his mind is the focus of interest. see also Bakhtin (1986a: 94): “World views. 47. has the social as his prime referent. we call the internalization of externality. The very basis of dialogism is the unceasing struggle between self and other.20 Another area of significant contrast between James and Bakhtin is the delimitation of character and author.” “viewpoint. nothing can acquire meaning if it is not confronted with otherness. It is precisely along this line that Bakhtin’s arguments moved in the severe attacks made against Freudian psychology in the 1927 book Freudianism: A Marxist Critique. any encroachment made by external reality upon the represented world. First. 20 See Bakhtin (1992a: 328): “As soon as another’s voice. that both aspects are closely connected in the narrative text. And. relegating the speaker and his discourse to a secondary position. psicológica. See. for his part.e. what is more. another’s accent. Nothing exists in itself. Even the innermost core of personality —i.”. the organizing pivot on which the structure of his narrative turns. as well as Graciela Reyes’s assertion that “[l]a apropiación expresiva acarrea la apropiación de una perspectiva (espacio-temporal. Since he believes in the existence of a radical This is not at all new.” 19 10 . or closely related ideas.Weltanschauungen— that determine their views on what mechanisms novels deploy to carry out the relativization of represented reality. Bakhtin constantly refers to voices or speakers and very rarely to technicalities of perception or comprehension.

Secondly. then so much the worse for that life” (1984: 222). that is in the germ” (1984: 122).e. . since the latter “has no direct sense whatever for the subject and is capable. and so “[i]f the life about us for the last thirty years refuses warrant for these examples [i. James’s narrative art is basically representational or mimetic. . As I will indicate later. but this quality can only be applied to the earliest stages of the process whereby he obtains his donnée or novelistic germ.e. of nothing but splendid waste. It would be arduous to find. . author and hero. he refuses to discover how it developed in reality and subjects its elaboration to a logic of its own. to incompatible modes of existence. Ralph Limbert. originates in his desire to remove all obstacles lying in the way of a dialogical relationship of author to literary hero. under the formalistic dogma. . We can see this process at work in two of his prefaces: when he recalls the composition of The Spoils of Poynton and when he comments on the treatment of real-life characters in the preface to “The Lesson of the Master” (1984: 119-39 and 217-31. luckily for us. of frontiers is essential on two counts: on the one hand. and thus be able to expand it according to his a priori standards of the well-made novel. Once his sensibility —that “huge spiderweb of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness. to James “[s]uch a betrayal of a sacred office” seems “a terrible crime” (James 1970: 379). remote from “clumsy Life again at her stupid work” (James 1984: 121). In the case of the real-life characters. He rather seems to revel in the existence of an unusual continuity between life and art. James presents himself as a thorough formalist by asserting that the purpose of art is not to reproduce life but to improve upon life. Hence the opportunity for the sublime economy of art . This blurring. two figures usually confined. his creative method also discriminates rigorously between these two domains. his conviction that “the author is as much a category of literature as of real life” (Weststeijn 1992: 463). and catching every airborne particle in its tissue” (James 1970: 388)— has apprehended the initial hint for a narrative work. at the turn of the century. In Bakhtin’s writings this unequivocal frontier has never been drawn. a parenthesis or an aside .discontinuity between these realms. or even erasure. Bakhtin’s stress on the authorial role. In James’s opinion. and that he can give his narrative any turn the reader may like best”. if arrested in the right place.” (1984: 120). because it facilitates the intercourse between the author and his character. respectively). i. . he recounts how he came by the germ for the Spoils at a Christmas Eve dinner and how he endeavoured to close his senses so as to ignore the actual growth of “the excellent situation —excellent . This erasure of frontiers between life and art is deeply rooted in Bakhtin’s neo-Kantian doctrine that ethics and axiology should be the cornerstone not only of art but of scholarly 11 . . though he occasionally indulges in minor inconsistencies that critics have pointed out in the most circumspect of manners (Tilford 1958). In the first case. His scrupulous frame of mind abhors any confusion between two spheres of existence he deems incompatible. it is the central idea of selection and control that differentiates art from life. his ‘supersubtle fry’: Neil Paraday. real world and fictional world. on the other. which he considers a manifestation of the universal intercourse between the categories of self and other. or Hugh Vereker]. a more final statement of autonomy for the narrative art. he cannot suffer a novelist like Anthony Trollope who “[i]n a digression. admits that the events he narrates have not really happened. because it turns Bakhtinian thought into a perfectly contemporary issue.

21 The two main divergences between James and Bakhtin just sketched (i. I will try to make clear that these two divergences. on which agreement can be taken for granted: the novel. important as they are. is an artistic genre and should be respected as such. For both authors. As to Bakhtin. their own tradition. and at the same time provoke diametrically opposed reactions. secondly. because James’s most eloquent essay on this topic bears the general title of “The Art of Fiction” (not “The Art of the Novel”) and the principles upheld herein were equally applicable to his tales. on the contrary. One can actually describe his novelistic career as a succession of In Zylko’s interpretation of Bakhtin. It should be pointed out that James’s protestations are not to be viewed as a mere display of wishful thinking. offers highly idiosyncratic arguments and definitions which. and discontinuity vs.22 James developed his ideas in tune with the so-called Anglo-American theory of the novel. but rather “discovers” him in real life. individual vs. his denomination roman “novel” is even less precise by our standards than the Jamesian reference to “fiction” in the title of his essay. however. First. the hero “is independent of the purely artistic act” (1990: 70) and not only pre-exists the literary work in which he appears but also the author’s creative effort. continuity between art and life will become pertinent when discussing the status of the Bakhtinian character as an instrument of narrative relativization. do not affect the fundamental affinity that exists between James and Bakhtin. whatever its limits and nature. and also of how “problems of literary theory are linked with the basic issues of human life” (Weststeijn 1992: 462). contributes to an understanding of humanity” (Zylko 1990: 67).activity as well. Bakhtin. more inclusively. but a true artistic work on an equal footing —to say the least— with poetry. . the dichotomy between the individual and the social aspects of human activity will arise again as I examine the means whereby the notion of placement is realized in both authors. There is one point. the author does not “invent” the hero. 22 I think it is legitimate to use the more comprehensive expression. on the subject of the narrative genre. novellas and full-length novels. instead of developing within a given context. . Bakhtin’s works have been generally considered “an outstanding example of how literary theory . and even when he held views opposed to those of his fellow practitioners or critics (as is the case with Walter Besant) he willingly remained within this system and engaged his adversaries on easily recognizable grounds. the novel is not sheer entertainment or a vehicle for pure moralizing. painting. architecture” (1970: 380).e. the opposition of discontinuity vs. IV Both James and Bakhtin had many an occasion to discourse on the subject of the novel —or. James argues that “fiction is one of the fine arts. 21 12 . seem to create their own frame of reference. deserving in its turn of all the honours and emoluments that have hitherto been reserved for the successful profession of music. continuity between art and life) will reappear later in connection with two important issues. as he demonstrated in his narrative practice. social. and insists that “the novel seems to me the most magnificent form of art” (1970: 402). poetry.

24 See James 1984: 135. and the straightforwardness of its theoretical message is not marred by the responsibilities of the reviewer towards the work under scrutiny —either his own work in the prefaces or somebody else’s in his reviews. in contradistinction to the organized structure of poetry. he refuses to let his données 23 A full bibliographical account of James’s critical works can be found in Veeder and Griffin.efforts to endow the narrative genre with an artistic status and a rigorous poetics based on the ideas of narrative control and epistemological restriction mentioned above. He staunchly maintains that “[t]he only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life” (1970: 378) and also that a “novel is in its broadest definition a personal. James is categorical. 300. the supreme virtue of a narrative work amounts to its “air of reality (solidity of specification)” (1970: 390) and he unabashedly likens the novelist’s task to that of the historian not only because their respective callings are equally serious but also by reason of the fact that “the novel is history” and “must speak with assurance. 415. We have for instance his constant use of the adjective “artistic” when offering definitions of the novel (Bakhtin 1992a: 262. He also aired maturer views in his prefaces to the New York edition of his novels and tales and in countless reviews and studies of contemporary novelists. with the tone of the historian” (1970: 379). structuralism. Obviously.23 But “The Art of Fiction” remains his programmatic statement on the narrative genre. 361. that the novel. the narrative work. Naturally. Bakhtin expressed like opinions very often. the close relation that James establishes between fiction and history can be interpreted as part of his attempt at bestowing respectability on the former. In his opinion. i. . According to this essay.” Bakhtin formulates the methodological dilemma of stylistics concerning the artistic status of the novel: either this genre is definitively dismissed from the area focused by stylistics due to its lack of structural interest.e. however. James is easily carried away by the sense of reality given off by his characters and by the situations he makes up for them. the main features of the narrative genre are its mimetic or representational purpose and the organic quality of the finished product. In this essay. or this discipline has to modify its methods and assumptions as to what kind of discourse merits close study (1992a: 267). and the contributions of the Anglo-American theory of the novelistic genre.24 but. rather than scientific. 1986: 491-502. and its consequent polemical. On the one hand. This over-mimetic view of the novel is not. where James explains his invention of the Moreen family in “The Pupil. as well as his antagonism against what Pomorska calls “the outdated idea . a direct impression of life” (1970: 384).” 13 . As regards the first of these features. eds. In his essay “Discourse in the Novel. tone seems to exclude the existence of comprehensive definitions. free from massive reservation. this dilemma was solved long time ago by the advances of formalism. . since the author confines his task to commenting on selected aspects of the art of fiction in order to neutralize Walter Besant’s arguments. and passim). represents a ‘randomness’ of structure and is concerned primarily with a ‘message’” (Pomorska 1978: 381). he responds to a homonymous lecture delivered by Walter Besant. James articulated the main body of his early opinions on the novel in his much quoted essay “The Art of Fiction” (1884). on the other.

on the other.” and prefers to deal with them in isolation according to his compositional logic. . and consequently he assumes that novels develop from representational germs in the same way as plants grow from seeds. in that proportion do we lose our sense of the story being a blade which may be drawn more or less out of its sheath. which could be spoilt by adjustment to real life standards —or rather to accepted conventions for preternatural phenomena. so that every word and every punctuation-point contribute directly to the expression. . there are “true” ghosts and “artistic” ghosts and. make poor subjects. is the only one that I see in which it can be spoken of as something different from its organic whole. in full organic vein.’” “producing my impression. Not only does he decline to accommodate his narration to the way in which the donnée for The Spoils of Poynton developed in actuality. so that. and. I cast my lot with pure romance. as one can expect. without any mechanistic or external imposition of form and with a strong emphasis on the harmonious arrangement of parts. In “The Art of Fiction. my pair of abnormal agents. This conception of the narrative work leads him to contemplate the novel as a whole and not as a mere combination of detachable parts. we have the values derived from the observance of conventionalized principles. and to argue. the starting-point. Good ghosts. The second central feature of the narrative genre is the organic character of the verbal work of art. that in each of the parts there is something of the other parts” (1970: 392). of the novel.” “[g]ood ghosts” and “true type” to those of “having my story ‘good. the appearances conforming to the true type being so little romantic.” James adheres —with frequent inconsistencies— to the organic doctrine of literary creation. all one and continuous. informs and animates it. briefly. my designed horror. He opposes the ideas of “having my apparitions correct.grow as they would in “clumsy Life. Such contradictions between mimetic and formalistic procedures are very common in James’s writings. . One could venture to explain them as the result of an evolution from the mimetic ideas exhibited in “The Art of Fiction” (1884) to the obdurate formalism of the prefaces (1907-09). speaking by book. (1970: 400) 14 . like any other organism. a “novel is a living thing. For him. I think. would have to depart altogether from the rules . and it was clear that from the first my hovering prowling blighting presences. from the rules.” On the one hand. and in proportion as it lives will it be found. and since in proportion as the work is successful the idea permeates and penetrates it.” For him. but he even sets up a bold dichotomy with reference to the apparitions in “The Turn of the Screw.” “my designed horror” and “depart . (1984: 174-75) We can note here how he manipulates his materials to arrive at a preconceived narrative effect. This is how James puts the matter in the preface to “The Turn of the Screw”: I had to decide in fine between having my apparitions correct and having my story “good” —that is producing my impression of the dreadful. the necessity of ignoring these values in order to attain an artistic effect. but the scope of this essay does not leave space for a detailed verification of this hypothesis. both types are incompatible. that [t]his sense of the story being the idea. or to give up his “supersubtle fry” (James 1984: 221) in favour of true-to-life characters. .

for. he wonders if “a picture can be moral or immoral” (1970: 404) and. I undertook the brevity. the donnée] expresses itself” (James 1984: 248). the search for form. particularly when he recalls the compositional contortions to which he submitted his subject in order to accommodate it within a previously given word limit or within the accepted confines of the short story. .e.26 One last point in James’s essay is his firm opposition of artistic qualities to mere entertaining or moralizing purposes in the narrative genre. forms of composition in general use” (James 1984: 239-40.This idea of organicism is complemented. James’s notebooks are again irrefutable proof that his theoretical statements were put into practice in his creative task. he asserts that “[t]he execution belongs to the author alone. and again arrived at it by the innumerable repeated chemical reductions and condensations that tend to make of the very short story. once more. He grants the novelist a relative freedom in selecting this germ from his flux of experience. like the hard. For a full discussion of this topic. in James’s opinion. surprisingly enough. and will you [Walter Besant] not let us see how it is that you find it so easy to mix them up?” (1970: 405). of execution. see Álvarez Amorós 1993. of the transfusion. however. 26 See the preface to “The Author of Beltraffio”: “The merit of the thing is in the feat.” and he believes that “there is in many minds an impression that these artistic preoccupations. . the receptacle (of form) being so exiguous. but James becomes even more explicit towards the end of his essay. it is what is most personal to him. this is hardly the discourse a true organicist would use to describe the creative process. shining sonnet. so often undertaken on a like scale before. Instead of drawing attention to the representational or organic nature of narrative. with that of self-generation. beset with contradictions. 27 “The term in current usage that would correspond best to Bakhtin’s aim probably is pragmatics. “the subject just noted [i. the brevity imposed so great.27 and. as I indicated above. my italics). but. as I risk again noting. see also Trevor Pateman 1989. one of the costliest. even if. Having stated that a novel is like a picture. The adoption of this metaphor of the creative process is. questions of morality are quite another affair. 25 15 . he emphasizes the linguistic and vocal side of this phenomenon. After having skimmed over the Jamesian conception of the narrative work. inflexible as to the quality and conscientiousness of the execution. and one could say without exaggeration that Bakhtin is the modern founder of this discipline” (Todorov 1984: 24). contribute to neither end. Bakhtin is usually considered the founder of pragmatics and the creator of the sociolinguistic study of narrative. this view of the creative process is antagonistic towards the idea of spontaneous self-generation. It is easy to see the sharp contrast between this aseptic position and Bakhtin’s emphasis on the axiology and utilitarianism of art. For James. but. in a typically formalistic delimitation of art and ethics. the two essential components of the narrative work are the donnée or representational germ and the artistic execution of this donnée. quite naturally. This is obviously another attempt at imparting artistic prestige to the narrative work.25 Of course. one of the most indestructible. He stands against the notion that “[l]iterature should be either instructive or amusing. in accordance with his sociological background. and we measure him by that” (James 1970: 385). though he seldom gives precise analyses in support of his views. interfere indeed with both” (1970: 381). one can find both side by side in “The Art of Fiction” and later in the prefaces. he insists that “questions of art are questions . Bakhtin’s ideas on the same issue emerge as strikingly different.

it is very difficult to pin down the precise nature of the genre to which it gives its name. 16 . Bakhtin argues that the novel’s main distinctive feature is precisely its capacity to incorporate this linguistic multifariousness into its structure. that it has no approach of its own.e. There is no such thing as the style of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or of Ulysses —not even of Hard Times or The Mill on the Floss. as if they were on the same ontological plane. the recurrence of the adjective “artistic. two less obvious cases— but rather a linguistic multiplicity that veils the novelist’s stylistic face. In the same way as the novel cannot be said to have one single language or style. Secondly. and. First of all.” which was pointed out as evidence of Bakhtin’s high opinion about the aesthetic value of narrative. as will be seen below. This is one of the foundations of Bakhtinian general relativism: since every language embodies a belief system or Weltanschauung and since one can only know one’s own language as it reflects and refracts in someone else’s speaking habits. it is pointless to analyze the style of a novelist or of a particular novel: by definition neither one nor the other have a single style.28 Given that the narrative work is a system of different languages. and also as “an artistically organized system for bringing different languages in contact with one another” (1992a: 361. now another. “the author utilizes now one language. and dependence on. and therefore requires the help of other genres to reprocess reality” (Bakhtin 1992a: 321). So narrative appears to be a kind of composite genre —and the Modernist 28 For a detailed account of this process. artistically organized” (1992a: 262). in order to avoid giving himself up wholly to either of them” (1992a: 314). etc. see Kershner 1986. the concept of otherness. let alone an instance of what we may recognize as a classical Western novel.he defines the novel “as a diversity of social speech types (sometimes even diversity of languages) and a diversity of individual voices. when it comes to a strict scientific definition we find that the novel “is denied any primary means for verbally appropriating reality. According to Bakhtin. but in close relation to. if a narrative work had to be mentioned to exemplify this process. professional jargons. in which intellectual maturity is explicitly reached by constant confrontation with the language of the other. Bakhtin’s italics). it would be Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). i. For him. much to the contrary of what happens in lyrical poetry. they are internally stratified into dialects. the bewildering anticanonicity of these definitions to be discussed in more detail later: a novel is anything that fulfils the condition of allowing the artistic interaction of a variety of registers and languages. Of course. Characters in the novel possess their own distinctive languages that enter into dialogue with one another and also with the authorial voice. languages of generations. all the era’s languages that have any claim to being significant” (1992a: 411). and this denomination provides us with a sufficiently operative frame of reference. Although we intuitively refer to the narrative genre. At least two aspects of these definitions deserve commentary. it need not even be a prose work. “the novel must represent all the social and ideological voices of its era. the locus of an unceasing confrontation of languages and voices. one cannot look at the world and comprehend it from an absolute vantage point. that is. and thus become a “microcosm of heteroglossia” (1992a: 411). It is a basic tenet of sociolinguistics that languages are not homogeneous either from a social or a spatial perspective.

While James concerned himself with mimesis and the representation of life in the narrative work. he exemplifies his theoretical inferences by means of the most unexpected and exotic texts.novel supplies many an excellent example— or. . situation. For him. and this exposure becomes the universal and only valid donnée of narrative discourse. that is. in the context of the thirties.” (1992b: 161). if we adhere to Bakhtin’s view of this phenomenon. to a “certain linguistic homelessness .000 words and 200. which no longer possesses a sacrosant and unitary linguistic medium for containing ideological thought” (Bakhtin 1992a: 367). In addition to this. The concept of the novel is so crucial to Bakhtin that. 17 . particularly if we look at it in its temporal context.” “fictional. and it is precisely in this way that one can interpret the usual dictum that the only protagonist of the modern novel is its language —or rather its languages. this Bakhtinian conception of the novel seems rather extravagant. the most subversive of genres. Consequently. This uncertainty as to whether Bakhtin coincided with our current idea of the novel when he used the term roman has originated two divergent critical positions: those who think Bakhtin was inconsistent and rather capricious in his formulations. in other words.” Bakhtin comments on the structural flexibility of the novel to the effect that “[y]ou may publish your own real-life diary and call it a novel. when the Anglo-American theory of the novel was dominated by James —as interpreted by Beach and Lubbock— and the Modernist ideal of the dramatic novel. He insists that plot. for Bakhtin. . By traditional Western criteria. in Todorov’s opinion. It is curious to note that Bakhtin never uses what we have learned to regard as basic assumptions about this genre such as “prose work. under the same label you may publish a packet of business documents. personal letters . the “novelistic plot must organize the exposure of social languages and ideologies” (Bakhtin 1992a: 365).” and so on.000. a “secondary syncretic unification of other seemingly primary verbal genres” (Bakhtin 1992a: 321). which we can hardly identify either with novels or even with shorter narrative works. and those who believe he was perfectly coherent and thus blame our Western centredness for failing to read him in his own cultural and intellectual context. however tenuous” “length between 60-70. “it escapes his own rationality” and becomes “an attachment of a primarily affective nature. the speaker and his discourse. .29 lacking in intrinsic identity and thus lending itself very well to the principle of narrative relativism. and character —either taken en disponibilité from life or developed according to a strict compositional logic— are subordinated to the representation of linguistic variety in narrative discourse. while he advised his fellow novelists to “select none but the richest” données among a variety of them (James 1970: 396).” because what he calls “naked plot” or “brute adventure” cannot aspire to be the “organizing force in a novel” (1992a: 390).” “presence of plot. . but rather a secondary means to the end of representing a system of languages and voices in unresolved conflict. its principal purpose being the exposure of conventionality through the relativization of all social practices as they are couched in their respective languages and registers. he rejects the “novel of pure adventure. that does 29 In “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel. Bakhtin can only be said to have a single general subject. The novel is.

midway between the novel proper and the philosophical or historical treatise.000 to 200. where all the forms and all the genres are mixed and interwoven. are conventional constructs that can be changed simply by applying new criteria (1986: 78). however. There is. a novel is a prose fiction in the range of 60-70. In his eagerness to turn the novel into the locus of linguistic diversity. hence its unstableness and relativism. The novel absorbs all genres —whether literary or not— and all types of social registers into its structure. or Friedrich Schlegel. we have a progressive rejection of these “large loose baggy monsters” (James 1984: 84) in favour of more concentrated narrative products like those cherished by James himself. Bakhtin’s view of the novel is not so original or revolutionary as we have been let to think. There is a common core of novelness that practically permits critical discussion in general and the existence of this essay in particular. in order to read Bakhtin. This is the course taken by Hirschkop. Hegel. such as lyric poetry. narrative. Bakhtin endangers the conceptual definiteness of literature.000 words— do not need to blame him for not conforming to these notions. Bakhtin’s ambivalent views on narrative might have been formed under the anticanonical influence of the nineteenth-century Russian novel. there is the fiction by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. and thus erases frontiers which were deemed permanent.” qtd. have usually sought to suppress. Todorov argues that Bakhtin’s idea of this genre arises from an uncritical and inorganic borrowing of the Romantic conception of the novel held by Goethe. in Holquist’s witty reductio ad absurdum.not bother about the reasons of its fixation”. who draws attention to the fact that the generic boundaries between poetry. try to overcome their a priori cultural notions —for instance. it foregrounds this multiplicity which other genres. however. etc. 18 . character of Bakhtin’s description of the genre of the novel” (Todorov 1984: 425 and 86.30 From this perspective. which. It should be noted. it is precisely for this reason that he censures the “not very coherent. And this is precisely what Bakhtin does when he resorts to linguistic multiplicity to define the novel. as Morson has suggested.” and would sound “less idiosyncratic to a Russian audience than to a Western one” (1978: 424). it is rather a poorly digested appropriation of earlier notions. that the novel is “a romantic book. drama. does allow us to call The Waste Land “a distinguished novel of the Modernist period” (1992: xxviii). Bakhtin’s conception of the novel is so wide 30 Schlegel states. Those who. Similarly Morson qualifies this genre as no more than “a ‘valorized category’” applicable “to whatever embodies the worldview Baxtin approves of” (1978: 425). Quite possibly. for instance. another critical position which makes an effort to assume Bakhtin’s cultural background before judging his concept of the novel. instead of adhering to alternative standards. simply because it is an eminent example of heteroglossia. in Todorov 1984: 86 (my italics). on the other. expository prose. a romantic composition. On the one hand. and this fact —and not the workings of a subversive will— might explain its almost perverse indetermination. Moreover. respectively). that controversy over the novelistic or non-novelistic nature of a specific work does only extend to doubtful border-line cases. It seems reasonable to say. and he quotes the latter to evince that many features of the Bakhtinian novel can be traced back to the end of the eighteenth century. that Bakhtin’s conception of the novel “implicitly constitutes a retrospective justification of Russian literature. and ultimately irrational. and.

more importantly. and isolated 31 19 . and this is precisely the basis of his linguistics of the utterance or translinguistics —as opposed to the linguistics of the sentence— and the main disagreement with structuralist thought. . however. more than anyone else. if transferred to the field of linguistics. say. requires a second consciousness to supply boundaries and impose external integrity” (1985: 70). we should stop thinking of the novel as a literary product —a static ergon— or even as a genre in the sense of a collection of such products. exhibits the verbal unfolding of a single unmediated consciousness and is doubtlessly one of the most original literary pieces of the twentieth century. or mind-styles.” that “the very fact of expression . There are. and this. It is not hard to realize that the relational conception of the self —which lies at the heart of Bakhtinian thought— is highly congruous with the methods employed by Modernist narrative to perceive and represent fictional reality by means of shifting fields of reference divested of absolute authority. but its compositional value and its density of meaning are immeasurably lower than any fragment from.” the last episode of Ulysses. Bakhtin pragmatizes linguistic thought by enlarging the limits of this process. The relativization of reality in the narrative genre is just a consequence of the relational nature of the self. among the actual users of the code.that it covers a vast number of texts from antiquity to our day and age. according to Holquist. but. “Penelope. is a great advantage because it allows him.31 Bakhtin’s philosophy of literature is This second consciousness of which Emerson speaks is essential in any meaning-making process. According to Holquist. V Before focusing on how James and Bakhtin approach the concept of narrative relativization from a concrete textual angle. In order to understand Bakhtin’s views. ample discrepancies. Viewed from this relational perspective. While Saussure consistently opposed the notion of system to that of its concrete realization. “Novel” is rather the denomination Bakhtin applies to “whatever force is at work within a given literary system to reveal the limits. . whereas Emerson asserts that “we cannot form authoritative images of ourselves from within. This emphasis on the relational status of the self certainly smacks of structuralism and. at once invokes a typically Saussurean view of language. from within. “Calypso” or “Nausicaa. For him. to see the novel as continually new (1992: xxvii). relations occur not only within an abstract langue. from inside its own unfolding as an event” (1990: 31). This is precisely the reason why the idea of the novel is so unstable and relative: because it will be one thing or another according to the different periods or systems whose limits or conventions must be exposed and renewed. and this basic tenet has been differently formulated by Bakhtin’s interpreters. For instance. and confined the meaning-making process to the play of relations and differences within the system itself. cannot be seen. Nothing can be known in itself. the artificial constraints of the system” (Holquist 1992: xxxi). it seems convenient to define this phenomenon and discuss its philosophical bases given its essential importance in the development of this paper.” in which several consciousnesses contend by parading their characteristic languages. “[a]n event cannot be wholly known. which can only be conceived as a function of the other and never in solipsistic isolation.

worded in a homely way. an empathetic stage wherein the author identifies himself with his character and looks at the world through the latter’s eyes. in order to comprehend a foreign culture. immersing ourselves in this foreign culture. the surplus of seeing of the former with respect to the latter should not be excessive. full and permanent identification leaves no space for a differential of perspective (Todorov 1984: 99).” of course. This process of detachment should not be absolute either.” even in isolation.” in Bakhtinian phrase. Naturally. would be an excellent methodological guideline to help us to examine Henry James’s tales of two cultures. when it becomes conscious of itself as only one among other cultures and languages” (1992a: 370). In this way. “Penelope” is an uninteresting monological text.thus founded on a principle which. Here Bakhtin takes culture as the arena of exotopy and formulates the seeming paradox that “[i]n order to understand [a foreign culture].” But this general principle of outsideness is occasionally made explicit. how he himself realized it in his works. we must forget our own mental habits and.” because “outsideness is a most powerful factor in understanding” and “[i]t is only in the eyes of another culture that foreign culture reveals itself fully and profoundly” (1986b: 7). second. How James apprehended the dialogue between Europe and America. “would merely be duplication and would not entail anything new or enriching” (1986b: 7). to be confronted from the outside with an unabsorbed foreign culture gives the observer a “surplus of seeing. The idea of outsideness is also essential if we are to understand the intricacies of artistic creation and artistic apprehension. since. something which cannot be said of “Calypso” or “Nausicaa. runs “it always takes at least two to make one. it is immensely important for the person who understands to be located outside the object of his or her creative understanding —in time. This. as has been noted. for this circumstance would contribute to the finalization and from the preceding episodes. Needless to say. a process of detachment that leads the author to occupy his original position vis-à-vis his fictional materials. recovers its undeniable polyphonic nature when read as an organic part of Ulysses. His sympathy towards cultural creolization is apparent in his statement that “verbal-ideological decentering will occur only when a national culture loses its sealed-off and self-sufficient character. his injunction that cultural differences must be preserved at all costs as the best way to mutual understanding and his position against an absolute cultural absorption place him at the forefront of certain branches of cultural studies flowering nowadays in countries with a deep-seated racial diversity. in culture. the notion of cultural outsideness. Bakhtin flies in the face of the commonsense notion that. “Penelope. Todorov considers the existence of two successive phases in every creative act: first. how the surplus of seeing generated by exotopy contributes to mutual understanding —all of these questions can certainly benefit from a Bakhtinian reading. those narratives in which there is a confrontation between European and American worldviews. 20 . in space. look at the world through new eyes. Obviously. as for instance in his celebrated “Response to a Question from the Novy Mir Editorial Staff” (Bakhtin 1986b). for Bakhtin. But this is obviously the subject for another piece of research. In order to keep a true two-way dialogue between author and character. a wider frame of reference that throws into relief a whole set of cultural automatisms invisible to those fully identified with this culture. As far as the narrative genre is concerned. or exotopy. that is.

Bakhtin establishes a fundamental difference between Tolstoy’s author-centred world and Dostoevsky’s character-centred world. not even our own. is not at heart dialectical but dialogical. but at the cost of losing their essentiality in a vast web of interdependence and of becoming relative entities. “No self. therefore.closure of character. and it is in this sense that he speaks of “Hegel’s monological dialectic” (qtd. The method is. in Dostoevsky death accomplishes nothing because the cessation of consciousness on the part of the dying character prevents the continuation of dialogue. it rather achieves a notable degree of emancipation resulting from the surplus of seeing he has obtained at the author’s expense. and so the former can cross the frontier between life and death without the collaboration of the 21 . the character. and argues that. a play of differences that creates meaningfulness. by definition. as remote as possible from a final unification. It is precisely when we come to deal with this kind of dialogue that the erasure of frontiers between art and life examined above acquires full significance. the latter by turning them into the key figures of polyphony in the narrative genre. the surplus of seeing disappears and flat empathy reigns supreme. In the narrative genre. his ideal is to preserve contradictions perpetually. we can only be completed from without. Character can be thus considered the common denominator of James and Bakhtin. whereas for Bakhtin this essence is. however. but also with the fictional world to which he belongs and with other characters. the point of convergence of their respective —and very different— methods of relativizing the representation of reality. nothing is in itself and. analogous to that of understanding a foreign culture. The notion of outsideness —and the surplus of seeing originated by it— is inseparable from the dialectic between self and other already mentioned as the neo-Kantian basis of Bakhtinian philosophy. since the relationship of self and other is made impossible by the annihilation of consciousness. impossible. It is only by this continuous friction that all of them can exist. since consciousness is not unique and selfcontained but relational and interactive. For Bakhtin. Both James and Bakhtin emphasize the concept of character. Character for James is basically a psychological essence. while in Tolstoy death consummates personality because the surplus of seeing is largely in favour of the author. This relation. but a relational process that combines identification with estrangement in order to obtain a reasonable surplus of seeing. existence can only be defined as the so-called event of “co-being” (Holquist 1990: 25 and 41): the endless reciprocal relation between self and other. And. This means that the author knows more about the character than the character himself. The Tolstoyan surplus of seeing with respect to character is immense. Bakhtinian character is never finalized or objectified by the author. of course. He enters into dialogue with the author. of course. these two phases are also necessary in the act of apprehension: understanding should not be full empathy. in Todorov 1984: 104). in fact. it is larger than the surplus anyone can enjoy in ordinary life. the pivot of this relation is.” says Emerson paraphrasing Bakhtin (1985: 74). this question leads to a discussion of the representation of death in literature. since Bakhtin abhors anything definitive or static. The aim of dialectic thought is to reach a static synthesis out of contradictory positions and. Obviously. can be controlled or created from within. At the very moment stasis is reached or identification obtained. naturally enough. the former by making his characters the basis of his creative method to the detriment of action or adventure.

VI Up to this point I have examined the master discrepancies between James and Bakhtin —which will re-emerge presently— and have argued that they are only different methods of manifesting the same abstract principle. and hypothesizing their probable sources. dialogism is best suited to this task for two reasons: on the one hand. because it tends to erase the conventional boundaries between art and life. on the ontological dependence of the former on the latter.latter. and if these external conditions are modified the self will change accordingly. Since the characters of his narratives are not objectified by the author’s superior knowledge. on the other. with the belief that fictional reality can be apprehended from an abstract. The first step in this direction will be to introduce the so-called “law of placement” and assess its bearing on the subject in hand. inaccessible frame of reference. only a relational notion. This is not the case in Dostoevsky. because it is nothing substantial in itself. Of course. whose consciousness is on the way to extinction (Emerson 1985: 74). which is all-pervasive in Modernist fiction. i. It is founded on the unceasing dialogue between self and other.e. is simply the projection of the law of placement onto the structure of the narrative text. indicating contradictions and inconsistencies. The scientific revolution that contextualized the formulation of the law of placement and its application to the humanities was briefly touched upon at the beginning of this essay. unless the self is defined from without in relation to otherness. In this section I propose to explain how James articulated the idea of Bakhtinian relativism in his narrative works by means of the instruments and notions he himself developed or had at his disposal within the Anglo-American literary tradition. Obviously the so-called internal point of view. If philosophy and literary theory must be useful and deal with human issues. The perception of any object is essentially incomplete unless the conditions of observation are specifically stated. I have inquired into Bakhtin’s notion of outsideness and into its generating force —the perpetual and relativizing dialogue between self and other. I would like to lay emphasis on the ethical implications of outsideness and the related idea of dialogue between self and other. Newtonian physics set up a universal 22 . The abolition of mental solipsism that follows from Bakhtinian thought is indeed a large contribution towards an ethics of art founded on human solidarity. finally. The true theoretical core of this paper and the common ground for both James and Bakhtin in questions of narrative relativization is the law of placement. because it promotes a feeling of “scientific” humility based on the conviction that nothing exists in itself and everything needs the collaboration of otherness in order to occur. universal. and establishes that every phenomenon “is perceived from a unique position” and so that “the meaning of whatever is observed is shaped by the place from which it is perceived” (Holquist 1990: 21). the application of the law of placement to the field of narrative technique plays havoc with traditional omniscience. death cannot be apprehended in an authentic two-way dialogue and remains an event only for the other not for the self. I have briefly reconstructed their respective views on the narrative genre. In order to close these remarks on the Bakhtinian notion of relativism.

ideological. and to state that “the locality can be understood only from the standpoint of man the builder” (Bakhtin 1986c: 35). plots. it has been made. When discussing Goethe’s fictional worlds. that could occur anywhere or nowhere” (1986c: 42). language cannot be studied in itself. generic. is unknowable unless concretely embodied and subjected to the law of placement. i. or temporal motifs that are not related in an essential way to the particular spatial place of their occurrence. the novelist has a whole gamut Bakhtin’s theory of the utterance as a unit of translinguistics. she stresses the fact that soul and body are inseparable “not because the body has a soul but because souls must have bodies” (Emerson 1985: 72). and the phenomenon in question will be actually different according to the selected point of view. he sets up man as the basic standard for fictional evaluation. After Einstein. In the mystery of incarnation she finds proof that abstract authority. Bakhtinian thought is heavily influenced by the situatedness of all experience. in an identifiable context. the language will be an entirely different thing. and. which means that its internal structure of fictional addressers and addressees can reach a considerable degree of complication. Christ becomes what Emerson calls “a symbol of the necessity for enfleshment” of all experience (1985: 71). in addition to this. according to Bakhtin.32 From a critical angle. or contentual overtones. precisely as a reaction against the abstractness and systematism of structural linguistics. is formulated in “The Problem of Speech Genres” (1986a). and emphasizes the “social concreteness of living discourse. Whereas the author of lyrical poetry is supposed to wear a very thin mask. This ideal of man as homo mensura leads him to dislike the abstract notion of locality when separated from human activities or needs. the description of every phenomenon must state from what point of view. The parole. Accordingly. the law of placement can be best realized in the novel because of its highly indirect nature. Of all literary genres. but only as a function of its specific users. or no mask at all. devoid of professional. Bakhtin’s craving for a specific yardstick against which to measure and comprehend all experience. however great or absolute. or pragmatics. In this way. is also formulated in theological terms by Emerson. and thus things were right or wrong according to this absolute scheme. no words ‘belonging to no one’” (1992a: 401). there are no words with meanings shared by all. he stresses that “there are [in them] no events. this same relativistic thrust of Bakhtin’s philosophy is manifested in his celebrated study “The Bildungsroman and Its Significance in the History of Realism: Toward a Historical Typology of the Novel” (1986c). for instance. and characters in drama are left to speak out on the stage with a minimum of mediation. For him. If these elements change. either physical or spiritual. the only component of language that merits analysis on account of its rootedness in a specific situation. dismissed by Saussure as an object unfit for scientific study. the remote founder of pragmatics.e. among many. He is. He claims that “[e]very discourse has its own selfish and biased propietor. 32 23 . because no word is neutral.standard —a sort of god-like perspective— that was valid to describe all phenomena. as well as its relativity” (1992a: 331). and with reference to a concrete situation. is.

33 creating various perspectives. several narrators placed on different levels.of discursive figures at his disposal to play one against the other. in a memorable initial section called “The Problem of the Author’s Relationship to the Hero. I will elaborate on this below. 24 . I have already spoken of James’s character-oriented inventio. it remains. needless to say. the embodiment of a field of vision in a character implies the existence of an epistemological limitation commensurate with the perceptive powers of this character —not only physical (i. and of the correlation between these two figures as a specific case of the general dialogue between self and other. narratees. It is surprising to realize the coincidence of the two functions attributed by Wall to the Bakhtinian character with the two guiding concepts drawn from the Anglo-American theory of the novel in the initial paragraphs of this essay. and implied readers. and with James’s reasons for his interest in a theory of compositional centres to be mentioned later. The result is the absence of an unequivocal reality shaped a priori with reference to an abstract system of coordinates. argues that Bakhtin contemplates character as “essentially the literary incarnation of a field of vision. Whereas the fact that characters stand as organizational centres of narrative works links up directly with the notion of narrative control and the rejection of inorganic superfluities. surpluses of seeing. when dealing with James’s compositional centres as instruments of relativization. each with its own relativizing potential. for instance. but it is worth drawing attention to two points in particular: first. and hiding his authorial face in the process. “The novelistic perception of the world is deeply relativistic. in other words. however.” and. A token of the importance of character in Bakhtinian literary theory is the long monograph “Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity” (1990b) devoted to this figure in the early twenties. characters. arrangers. In the preceding section I referred to the character as the basic area of coincidence between them and as their prime relativizing instrument. alternative exotopies. Here Bakhtin presents his idea of character and. second. further on. as is the case with James and Bakhtin. and this relativization is precisely achieved by holding the fictional world at several removes from the ultimate interpreter —the reader— and interposing successive screens between them. counter-perspectives.” says Morson (1986: 419). Wall. focalizers. character also counts as the textual vehicle for the law of placement.e. This is not the place to expound Bakhtin’s theory of character at length. between character and author. a fundamental principle shared by both. or. But we can also come across interpretations of the Bakhtinian character that could be easily viewed as purely Jamesian. spatio-temporal) but also ideological and psychological. to the compromise reached by Bakhtin between positivistic and formalistic views of character. he claims that “[c]haracters can also be the organizational centre of the novel” (Wall 1984: 47 and 48.” casts doubt on the traditional frontier between life and art by arguing in favour of the existence of a true nonmetaphorical dialogue between author and character as one aspect of the general dialogue between self and other. respectively). of Bakhtin’s erasure of frontiers between art and life. to his classification of character and the illuminating links that can be established between his 33 Some of these figures are the implied author. The law of placement can be realized differently in the narrative genre according to various frames of mind or Weltanschauungen.

but finds or discovers him or her in reality” (1990: 71-72). Bakhtin. Nevertheless. 35 Please note that in the following discussion I give the term “character” between inverted commas only when it translates Bakhtin’s denomination for a particular type of novelistic hero.categories of confessional and autobiographical hero and those of consonant and dissonant narration. the fusion of character and author in the pure form of confession (1990b: 138-50). more importantly. “character” (whether classical or romantic). however.34 Bakhtin’s classification of character into categories such as confessional hero.g. absolutely devoid of personality or individuality in isolation from these actions. autobiographical hero. the ontological continuity between the realms of author and hero. 34 25 . or for discourse figures such as the narrator. lyric hero. an unqualified support of the “autobiographical” view of character held by positivists. This fusion can be likened to the full identification of narrator and character —or. social dialects. never cared much for this formalistic differentiation of levels (e. Neither does he share the formalists’ disregard for character as a simple by-product of action. as put forward by Dorrit Cohn within the Anglo-American theory of the novel in the late seventies. he subordinates the former to the latter since he does not envisage the existence of a common field in which they can effectively enter into dialogue and confrontation.e. the kind of novel in which characters have become emancipated from the author’s monological influence through the confrontation and relativization of voices. registers. in other words. it seems worthwhile to examine the two first categories in the light of the distinction between consonant and dissonant narration (Cohn 1978: 145-61).” because “the author does not invent or contrive his or her hero. and hagiographical hero (1990b: 138-87) immediately recalls Borges’s transcription of a zoological taxonomy attributed to a Chinese encyclopaedia: neither of these classifications is guided by what we usually assume to be coherent criteria. the self-objectification of the “I. respectively. the hero enjoys what Zylko terms “extra-aesthetic existence. etc. Chatman liberates character from the Aristotelian bondage to action. on the contrary.35 type. instead he turns him into one of the interlocutors who participate in the great novelistic dialogue on the same footing as the author. for Bakhtin. styles. by all the means at his disposal. particularly in what he calls the Dostoevskian or polyphonic novel. the specific agent of a particular category of actions. see Don Bialostosky (1983). as he confines him to the story and the narrator and narratee to the discourse. the presence of a confessional hero in a narrative work implies the exclusion of the other. as mere appendages to his thought” (Wall 1984: 42). It is true that. This does not entail. the same term without inverted commas retains its ordinary meaning. but. more technically. For Bakhtin. but rather saw author and hero as occupying dialogical positions on shared grounds. and also the excesses committed by formalists and structuralists when they claim —in almost Aristotelian fashion— that character is simply a precipitate from event or. discourse). of “the reporting self and the experiencing self” (Riquelme 1983: 100)— For a percipient analysis of the differences between the views of character respectively held by Bakhtin in his essay “Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity” (1990b) and by Seymour Chatman (1983). i.” and. it is rather indicative of Bakhtin’s consistent movement towards emphasizing. Bakhtin rejects both the idea that characters can be looked at “as remnants of a writer’s past. story vs.

According to Weststeijn. in which he argues that the “direction of the interacting development of consciousness and reality is shown . because it is remote from the attribute of passivity usually associated with other types of heroes. a set of conflicting surpluses of seeing. In autobiographical narration. they tend to project the law of placement on the concreteness of the narrative text through different aspects of character —whereas James relies on his individual and psychological side. but it is also the point at which their respective methods begin to diverge widely.described by Cohn for first-person consonant narratives. no privileged judgement on the represented world from the reportorial stance. Kahler surveys the history of narrative from antiquity to the end 26 . and the inevitable subordination of all events in the represented world to the subjectivism of the fictional mind. being the embodiment of an idea and not of mere fate.e. . or as one of the fundamental tenets of Modernism. As a preliminary clue. and also to describe his particular view of the dialogue between self and other occurring in the narrative genre. to determine how James comes to grips with the challenge offered by the law of placement. .e. only that of “character” deserves further attention (Bakhtin 1990b: 172-82). Bakhtin calls these “characters” classical or romantic (1990b: 174): classical when their behaviour is determined by fate. This is precisely what Cohn calls dissonant narration. consequently. of course. So their essential relativistic impulse can be realized either as the suffusion into the novel of a variety of social voices. The expression inward turn is borrowed from Erich Kahler’s renowned book The Inward Turn of Narrative. a stretching of consciousness” (1973: 5). In works of this type the reporting self tends to be obliterated: there is no dialogical confrontation between narrator and character. “characters” become “active opponents of the author and try to free themselves of his influence” (1992: 468). on the contrary. the “reliance upon individual consciousness as the source of ‘truth’” (Chapman 1990: 10). an increasing displacement of outer events by what Rilke has called inner space. whose mutual and reciprocal refraction creates the sense of placement and. the author from the vantage point gained through the passage of time— originating the existence of an important surplus of seeing textually manifested by means of judgement and commentary (occasionally essay-like commentary). and romantic when they take matters into their own hands. to be a progressive internalization of events. in which the temporal gap between these two figures is almost non-existent. Bakhtin resorts to his social dimension. and we can even come across the adoption by the narrator of the character’s spatio-temporal system of coordinates. no vocal contrasts. a fact that can be textually attested by the occurrence of the well-known combination of past-tense verbal forms and “present-tense” spatio-temporal deictics. vocal differences. i. So far I have argued that character as an instrument of narrative relativization is the common ground for both James and Bakhtin. and even transgressions of the temporal boundaries in the form of anticipatory or proleptic accounts. The crucial question is. Of the other categories mentioned above. I would like to suggest that James adopts the process known as inward turn to found on it the relativization of reality that distinguishes his narrative works. the organizing pivot is not the idea of the isolated.” but rather the dialogical relation between author and hero (Bakhtin 1990b: 150-66). self-objectified “I. The self is now objectified from the position of the other —i. As I indicated earlier.

I have discussed the view that reality does not exist in itself and for itself. the act of contemplating a world in James is signally deficient. according to Wallace. however. For this reason. on the other. the appropriate backgrounds for reciprocal relativization. whether he be cosmic or novelistic. to the extent that. 37 Similar classifications offering their respective terminologies are proposed by Morrison 1961: 250. there is a circular trajectory. and this fact obviously increases the indeterminacy of the narrative representation carried out through their minds and senses. rather than in terms of a set of voices addressing one another and providing. the large variety of terms usually applied to these two concepts either by James himself in his prefaces This circularity is expressed thus by Strother B. on the one hand. “[f]aulty vision is a recurring theme of Henry James’s art” (1975: 52). 36 27 . One can distinguish.of the eighteenth century through the prism of subjectivization.” and. This is precisely James’s mature attitude towards the question in hand: the represented world does not exist until it is reflected and refracted in the mind of character. in the process. two types of centres. Wiesenfarth 1963: 42. is that of dealing with the terms of his own observation” (1977: 87). It is precisely the controlling and organizing function performed by these centres which prompted James to give them this denomination. of the commanding centre or the “point within a novel (necessarily the mind of a character) from which the action is dominated and ruled” (1976: 98). Charles W. I have argued that novelistic reality does not exist except as a function of a concrete and describable standpoint situated within the fiction itself. Mayer speaks. a priori frame of reference. to my mind. in a more specific way. This vision is usually limited and limiting. of a centre of interest or “single aspect of theme. Arguably. James’s interest in these centres —generally embodied in the characters’ minds— is based on their two main roles of narrative control and epistemological restriction. Purdy: “The central problem of the observer. which were mentioned above with reference to Wall’s dual interpretation of Bakhtinian character. a theory that can be pieced together out of materials collected from his prefaces to the New York edition of his novels and tales. a referential selfcontainedness. but. since this character is part of the represented world and shares the same logical mode of existence. the fundamental dialogue between self and other is articulated in terms of a consciousness contemplating the world. In preceding paragraphs. but only in perpetual dialogue with the other. and Isle 1968: 9. James articulated his particular concept of the dialogue between self and other by means of what is widely known as his theory of compositional centres. the term he uses to characterize this process is best suited to the Modernist period. because it is precisely at the turn of the twentieth century when the focus is sharpened upon the individual consciousness as the source of reality on account of the severe discredit suffered by objectivistic philosopy.37 The problem is. and. plot. that casts uncertainty on whatever is denoted by denying its authentication in an external.36 Furthermore. or character to which our attention is drawn. James’s observers are not paradigms of perceptiveness. for James loathes capricious omniscience as much as Bakhtin abhors monological dogmatism. For James. of course. but rather instances of what Richard Blackmur called the “correct proportion” between intelligence and bewilderment (James 1984: xxiv).

centre of vision. It is a kind of opaque medium which attracts the interest of author. and tried to stick consistently to the expressions “intransitive centre” and “transitive centre. indescribable stance of an omniscient observer. Apart from the many names given by critics to the transitive centres. being more descriptive than metaphorical. and not from the abstract. the generation of outsideness and perspective. his interpretation” (1984: 37). or that “the figures 38 For a more detailed discussion see Álvarez Amorós 1994: 49-50. or fictional observer. his conception. For instance. Everything is contemplated from a unique position within the fictional world itself. “reflectors” (1984: 300). on some concentrated individual notation of them” (1984: 69). central intelligence. or a particular situation. on which the reader’s attention is concentrated. consequently. The thematic focus of a narrative work. reader. who would divest the story of all its latent indeterminacy by applying to it his undifferentiated monological powers of vision. while the character’s consciousness which contemplates and thus relativizes the presentation of novelistic reality is called either commanding vision. and it can be. James was never interested in things in themselves. for any pictorial whole. and the occurrence of numerous assertions to that effect leaves little room for doubt. and even “analytic projector[s]” (1984: 228). the intransitive centre is not the instrument whereby narrative relativization is obtained: it is rather the object undergoing this process. This same preface contains equally clarifying statements. The law of placement is realized in the same way. for instance. or central consciousness. In an earlier attempt to clarify the terminological confusion surrounding these two ideas of centre. is known either as centre of interest. I put forward the notion of transitivity. James called them “registers. we have his comment that “the interest of everything is all that it is his vision.38 The intransitive centre is known in the prefaces as “centre of interest” (James 1984: 16). and this recurring duality of object plus concrete perspective endows his thought with a distinct Bakhtinian flavour some time before Bakhtin himself began to publish his philosophical reflections of the early twenties. an incident. interest-centre. citadel of interest (taken from James 1984: 126). a character. however. in which he confesses that he never saw “the leading interest of any human hazard but in a consciousness (on the part of the moved and moving creature) subject to fine interpretation and wide enlargement” (1984: 67). but in things as perceived and relativized from the particular standpoint of a character’s consciousness. James always maintained that “the only significant subject for a novel turns on someone’s consciousness of something” (Wiesenfarth 1963: 37). and “citadel of interest” (1984: 126). thus facilitating the dialogical friction and. a denomination which originates in its capacity to focus on the other and not to remain enclosed in itself.or by later critics. when explaining Christopher Newman’s role in The American.” which. The medium James used to effect the relativization of narrative reality is the character’s consciousness in the role of a transitive centre. 28 . “centre of the subject” (1984: 51). Obviously.” (1984: 300). In the preface to The Princess Casamassima he also emphasizes that “clearness and concreteness constantly depend. Their role in presenting fictional reality as a function of individual consciousness is profusely attested in the prefaces. especially. thus subordinating the function of the transitive centre to the attainment of his ideal of narrative economy and control. I thought better equipped to resist the arbitrary use to which many other expressions have been put in the past. or compositional centre.

The idea of “impression” is in itself 29 . what James did was to fuse the centre of interest and the centre of observation in a character’s mind. as well as a value intrinsic” (James 1984: 329). as well as his “preference for dealing with my subject-matter. witness or reporter . that amplifies and interprets it” (1984: 256). as determined by their feelings and the nature of their minds” (1984: 70). I would like to quote James’s view of Fleda Vetch’s role in The Spoils of Poynton when he says that “the progress and march of my tale became and remained that of her understanding” (1984: 128).’ through the opportunity and the sensibility of some more or less detached. whose quality and subtlety are painstakingly analyzed against the relativizing background provided by the main character. should avail me for showing them. And in the same vein. and of the finest order.” So he claims that “[i]t is an adventure —an immense one— for me to write this little article. . But James was not satisfied with the mere narration of “external” events —albeit through the relativizing prism of the fictional mind— and in his later works he tended to make both types of centre coincide in one single consciousness.in any picture. . when referring to “The Turn of the Screw. In accordance with these theoretical statements. Likewise. and further on he praises “the effort to show their [the characters’] adventures and their history . and Strether’s only. under penalty of not being a story. but the reader feels it as a mere pretext to display his inherent mental values.” (1984: 327).” he argues that there is no novelistic horror unless it is exerted on a “human consciousness that entertains and records. on their part. the agents in any drama. consist of ‘adventures’” (James 1970: 402). to my imagination. .” and concludes that a “psychological reason is. This fusion of centres can give rise to serious problems when one comes to determining the protagonist of a certain narrative. he admits that “Strether’s sense of these things. which is simply a literary manifestation of the relativistic opinion that experience is only apprehensible as a fact of consciousness. her value and becomes a compositional resource. I should know through his more or less groping knowledge of them. . since the consciousness. are interesting only in proportion as they feel their respective situations. some not strictly involved. . and for a Bostonian nymph to reject an English duke is an adventure. physical incident. in the preface to The Ambassadors. Finally. The world surrounding this character still matters. as it were. for ‘seeing my story.” in which he sets up a full refutation of Walter Besant’s position that “a story must. . of the complication exhibited forms for us their link or connexion with it” (1984: 62). an object adorably pictorial . For James. since his very gropings would figure among his most interesting motions” (1984: 317-18).” (1970: 402). since it is difficult to decide whether this distinction corresponds to the main character —he of whom the story is told— or to the observer’s consciousness. His inclination to develop his narratives out of mental germs or données is made clear in his essay “The Art of Fiction. as when the Princess in The Golden Bowl “duplicates. he highlights the transparent. relational nature of the transitive centre when. One of the best-known consequences of the inward turn of the novel and of the resulting relativization of reality is narrative impressionism. the term adventure encompasses more meanings than the obvious one of “external. though thoroughly interested and intelligent. The evidence adduced thus far —and much more that could be easily culled from the prefaces— presents James as the perfect supporter of the principle that novelistic perception must be concrete and specifically placed in the mind of a character.

The structure of impressionistic narrative works is typical: it consists basically of a succession of scenes (dialogic or descriptive) separated by indeterminate gaps. The term “point of view” has very limited meanings both in James and in Bakhtin.” Woolf. and so the duality of object and observer is once more actively present. I have no reason to doubt the consistency of the translations. intention. . outlook. Any point of view is interesting that is a direct impression of life” (1957: 46). But. James writes: “Oh. ed. For instance. the theory of compositional centres I have just sketched gave rise to what has been generally known as the Anglo-American —or even Jamesian— theory of point of view. whereas an early reviewer of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man states that “[t]he brushwork of the novel reminds one of certain modern paintings in which the planes interpenetrate and the external vision seems to partake of the sensations of the onlooker” (Deming. Many narrative authors of the Modernist period have been labelled as impressionist. likens experience to atoms falling on consciousness and creating a seemingly “disconnected and incoherent” pattern (1975: 190). James Joyce. In “The Art of Fiction. None of the occurrences of “point of view” in this fragment has any precise technical meaning. do something from your point of view. particularly if they tend to focus on the inner life of character rather than on external reality. and innumerable points of view” in the fact that a Bostonian nymph might reject an English duke (James 1970: 402). Here we have again the combination of externality and internality. plus a large proportion of direct modes for the reproduction of the character’s mental activity and a low influence of the narrative agent in terms of generalization or comment. 1970: 1: 115). and their occasional theoretical manifestos —as well as their narrative practice— generally confirm this epithet. Marcel Proust. but rather to the vaguer ideas of personal attitude. for instance. opinion. they are rather allusions to the authorial attitude towards the artistic representation of life. do something with life. a set of concepts that originally dealt only with matters of perception —and of relativization. However. and Virginia Woolf are frequently called impressionists. that generates a relativized reality. according to my view of them— became fused with the idea of narrative voice in a kind of “composite” notion of point of view that can be said to have dominated Anglo-American criticism of the novel for several decades. of object and observer. When narrative theory gradually developed new instruments and notions.transitive. its current technical sense). without the imposition of external a priori patterns. In her widely read essay “Modern Fiction. . I can only judge terminological matters by the translation into English of the original Russian text. an ounce of example is worth a ton of generalities. he sees “dramas within dramas . the criteria of reliability are self-contained and do not depend on any universal or absolute frame of reference.e. given the fact that Bakhtinian works have been published in widely acclaimed scholarly editions. 39 30 . discussing the pertinence of mental adventures as the basis of the narrative genre. Here again the expression “point of view” simply means either “attitude” In the case of Bakhtin. Since represented reality is created out of the dialogue between fictional world and fictional mind. Dorothy Richardson. since one can hardly conceive of an impression which is not exerted on somebody.39 In neither of them does it refer to any systematic theory of fictional perception comprising different categories or modes (i.” James also employs this term with a similar meaning when. or worldview. do something with the great art and the great form. in his much-quoted letter to the Deerfield Summer School.

can see and expose all this private life” (1992b: 160).” Bakhtin argues that “[e]very language in the novel is a point of view” (1992a: 411). . we already encounter a definition of point of view made by one of his disciples and containing a narrative figure almost non-existent either in James’s or in Bakhtin’s theoretical 31 . the term in question generally means “worldview” or “attitude. or “mental outlook” on. that the idea of fictional observation is absent from Bakhtin’s narrative system —as it is not from that of James— simply because neither of them used the expression “point of view” in the currently accepted technical sense. when literary works gave up the exclusive representation of the heroic. to the best of my knowledge. by creating the figure of the outsider.” In “Discourse in the Novel. it is never used in any other sense that might suggest its integration in a theory —however rudimentary— of fictional perception. public aspect of man and began to focus on private life in the Hellenistic era. In the first instance. . however. he speaks of “the development of society and consciousness from a point of view that was contemporary to Rousseau and others working in his spirit. and. . a particularly stirring adventure. In addition to his well-known emphasis on textual voices. he writes that “any point of view on the world fundamental to the novel must be a concrete. .” as is usually the case in the picaresque novel (Bakhtin 1992b: 124).” For him. socially embodied point of view” (1992a: 412). adventurer. yet who at the same time pass[es] through that life and [is] forced to study its workings. of course. But a few years after his death in 1916. when insisting in the necessary concreteness of experience. According to Bakhtin. who does not “participate internally in everyday life . Bakhtin was also concerned with the perception and narration of private life in the narrative genre —albeit in a more limited manner. . and also to determine “how and from what angle he . In his discussion of the influence of the idyllic chronotope on Rousseau’s sentimental novels. or by resorting to the character of the servant. This does not mean.” whereas in the second it denotes the idea of “opinion. external.” and. James’s theory of centres deals essentially with the fictional observation of a fictional world —hence the circularity and relativism of the procedure. and thus solve the contradiction between the public nature of the literary work and the private status of its content. Examples abound. to define the position from which he views life” (1992b: 161). or rogue. a point of view in which such time and such matrices had become the lost ideal of human life” (Bakhtin 1992b: 230). who enjoys easy access to the protagonist’s secrets. but I will only quote a few cases drawn from the two main essays of The Dialogic Imagination. the “novelist stands in need of some essential formal and generic mask .towards. some system of observation was needed to carry out the inevitable “spying and eavesdropping” (1992b: 124). This necessity was satisfied in several ways: by setting up a covert observer. Bakhtin’s thesis is articulated round the fact that. and further on he says that “even Rousseau himself had no single point of view on this” (1992b: 230). “point of view” simply means “perspective” or “viewpoint. It is precisely the creation and refining of this mask that constitutes one of the most fascinating artistic procedures depicted in James’s notebooks. . as James himself chose to describe it. whose presence would not lead the other characters to modify their usual behaviour (as in Apuleius’ The Golden Ass). in the sense of a Weltanschauung or worldview. Bakhtin also adheres to this non-technical usage of “point of view.

e. For him. i. he appears to do so because this “terrible fluidity” can be restricted and channelled better in the short story than “in the long piece. the narrator who is part of the represented world and tells his or her own story. he maintains a dual attitude: in his critical statements he disparages “the terrible fluidity of self-revelation” (James 1984: 321) attributed to this formal option. It can be easily ascertained that James’s first-person narratives usually feature two separate figures. There is. embodying simultaneously a concrete perceptual position vis-à-vis that world with all the relativizing consequences already discussed.40 That definition was given by Percy Lubbock. however. He needed to anchor the abstract principle of narration to some tangible being. Apparently. Towards first-person narrators. At times. however. contributes to the creation of exotopy and to the definition of the protagonist from without. standing on the periphery of plot. a strong dose of structural solipsism resulting from a lack of dialogical confrontation between the main character and the narrator. consequently. I have reached the conclusion that both novelistic monologism and omniscience are in fact kindred notions that were consistently rejected by two radically different 40 Although Genette (1980: 243-48) conclusively proved that the traditional terms “first-person narrator” and “third-person narrator” are meaningless. i. one important exception: the first-person narrator. there is no such figure as the structuralist narrator.reflections: the abstract. for whom point of view meant “the relation in which the narrator stands to the story” (1921: 251). non-personalized. but consistently uses it in his short narratives. particularly in his tales of literary life. that is.e. a protagonist —the self— who remains at the centre of fictional world and a marginal narrator-witness —the other— who. a textual stance posited to set in motion what Chatman (1975) has called the structure of narrative transmission. and thus requires at least an elementary conception of the immanent narrative agent that James was not in a position to provide. the latter becomes so obtrusive and manages to command the reader’s attention to such an extent that the attribution of the protagonist’s role becomes a problematic issue (Álvarez Amorós 2000). 32 . I use them here for the sake of consistency with the vast majority of James’s commentators. James was unable to reach abstractions that nowadays are very common in narrative theory. third-person narrator. he either refers to the real-life author whose job is to write narratives or to himself in propria persona. Yet it seems to me that James’s abhorrence is not directed at the long first-person novel. in which there is explicit “self-revelation” and.” as he puts it (1984: 320). but rather at narratives —whether long or short— in which the protagonist tells his or her own story.41 At first sight. since it combines aspects of perception and aspects of voice. whether a real life person or a well-defined character within the fictional world. When James speaks of the narrator. 41 So much so that I have used the first-person option as a formal criterion to define the canon of James’s tales of literary life in Álvarez Amorós 1996. VII After having related Bakhtin’s conception of relativism to James’s narrative ideas and creative methods. and it is precisely the origin of what I have previously labelled as a “composite” notion of point of view.

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