In Henry James and the Language of Experience, Collin Meissner examines the political dimension to the representation of experience as it unfolds throughout James's work. Meissner argues that, for James, experience was a private and public event, a dialectical process that registered and expressed his consciousness of the external world. Adapting recent work in hermeneutics and phenomenology, Meissner shows how James's understanding of the process of consciousness is not simply an aspect of literary form; it is in fact inherently political, as it requires an active engagement with the full complexity of social reality. For James, the civic value of art resided in this interactive process, one in which the reader becomes aware of the aesthetic experience as immediate and engaged. This wide-ranging study combines literary theory and close readings of James's work to argue for a redefinition of the aesthetic as it operates in James's work.
"...an exquisitely rendered and lucid response to postmodern skepticism about the creatuve construction of human identity in Henry James's fiction." Henry James Review "Meissner's study fruitfully applies the insights of hermeneutics and phenomenology...to reexamine the crises of interpretation that form the central dramas in James's fiction...The value of Meissner's focus on this drama of hermeneutic crisis and "epiphany" is evidenced by his cogent readings of the novels. He offers particularly valuable insights into how and why their conclusions deliberately resist conventional expectations of narrative closure." American Literature "...Meissner navigates adeptly through the ficton,autobiographical works, and theoretical writings to posit that James's textual mission extends experience's self-liberating potential beyond fictional limits to the writer himself and to the reader." Modern Fiction Studies