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Henry James and James McNeill Whistler : representing modernity Maclean, Lisa Anne 1997

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HENRY JAMES AND JAMES MCNEILL WHISTLER: REPRESENTING MODERNITY by LISA ANNE MACLEAN B.A., The University of British Columbia, 1980 B.F.A., Open University in conjunction with Emily Carr College of Art and Design, 1990 M.F.A., The University of British Columbia, 1991 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Interdisciplinary Studies [English / Fine Arts / Sociology]) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA February 1997 © Lisa Anne MacLean, 1997 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. x Department of \ r^TJ9^U>^>Vp\-^ r The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada DE-6 (2/88) Abstract This thesis is an examination of Henry James and James McNeill Whistler as cultural analysts of modernity. Using the theoretical work of Peter Burger, Jurgen Habermas and Theodor Adorno as a frame, I analyse James's and Whistler's theoretical and artistic responses to modernity and the problematic status of autonomous art and the modernist artist in late nineteenth century industrial capitalism. In so doing, I place both figures in their social and historical context and show how their work not only reflects but itself participates in the complex social and cultural transformations of late nineteenth century society. While Henry James has continued to attract critical attention from many quarters, those who have studied him in the larger context of nineteenth-century avant-garde culture are still relatively few. Of those contextual studies, none has examined James's career and work in the light of parallel developments in avant-garde visual art during this important and complex period. James McNeill Whistler, like Henry James an American expatriate working in late nineteenth century London, has been the subject of many studies describing his formal achievement; however, he has not yet attracted the attention of critics interested in theories of modernist representation, gender and sexuality. Because modernisation was a phenomenon which had an impact on all aspects of late nineteenth century culture, as both James and Whistler themselves acknowledge, my interdisciplinary, contextualist approach to cultural production can illuminate aspects of cultural theory and practice which might remain hidden in analyses contained within disciplinary boundaries. The present thesis is not primarily a work of art-historical scholarship nor is it an in-depth textual analysis of the Jamesian canon; it is an analysis of the ways in which two individuals deal with the conditions of their artistic practice. My thesis is original in its bringing together of two important figures - a writer and a visual artist - whose theory and practice reveals the complexity of early modern art's dialectical relationship with modernity. In so doing, I offer a critical reevaluation of the work of Henry James and James McNeill Whistler in light of its engagement with the discourses of modernity and modernism. T A B L E OF CONTENTS Abstract ii Table of Contents iv List of Figures v Acknowledgements vi INTRODUCTION 1 CHAPTER I Modernism and Modernity 10 CHAPTER II Henry James's Literary Theory 34 CHAPTER III James McNeill Whistler's Aesthetic Theory 66 CHAPTER IV Realism and Human Subjectivity: At the Piano. The Music Room, and The Portrait of a Lady 105 CHAPTER V High and Low: The Tragic Muse and Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks 145 CHAPTER VI Modernity and Masculine Subjectivity: In Venice 187 CHAPTER VII Aestheticism and Commodification: A Problematic Resolution 235 CONCLUSION 280 BIBLIOGRAPHY 283 iv LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1 At the Piano (1859s) 112a Figure 2 Harmonv in Green and Rose: The Music Room (1860-61) 126a Figure 3 Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (1863-4) 175a Figure 4 Black Lion Wharf (1859) 217a Figure 5 Little Venice (1879-80) 217b Figure 6 Nocturne (1879-80) 222a Figure 7 Two Doorwavs (1879-80) 223a Figure 8 Nocturne: Furnace (1880) 223b Figure 9 The Lime-burner (1859) 223c Figure 10 Nocturne in Blue and Silver (1871) 239a Figure 11 Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge (1872-3) 239b Figure 12 Harmonv in Pink and Grev: Valerie, Ladv Meux (1881) 255a Figure 13 Arrangement in Flesh Color and Black: Theodore Duret (1882-4) 255b ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am deeply indebted to my supervisor, Ross Labrie, for his support throughout the preparation and writing of this thesis. I would also like to thank committee member Jeff Wall for his very useful suggestions and detailed comments on an earlier draft of this project. In addition, I want to acknowledge committee member Roger Seamon for his helpful comments and criticisms. Roy Turner, the fourth member of my committee, also provided important support for this project. Finally, for his many years of unfailing support and encouragement, for his sense of humour, and for his patience, I would like to dedicate this thesis, with many thanks, to my husband, Vlad Konieczny. vi INTRODUCTION This thesis is an examination of Henry James and James McNeill Whistler as cultural analysts of modernity. Using the theoretical work of Peter Burger, Jurgen Habermas and Theodor Adorno as a frame, I analyse James's and Whistler's theoretical and artistic responses to modernity and the problematic status of autonomous art and the modernist artist in late nineteenth century industrial capitalism. In so doing, I place both figures in their social and historical context and show how their work not only reflects but itself participates in the complex social and cultural transformations of late nineteenth century society. While James has continued to attract critical attention from many quarters, those who have studied him in the larger context of nineteenth century avant-garde culture are still relatively few. Some examples of contextual studies which have been useful to my project include Ross Posnock's Trial of Curiosity in which James is placed in the context of nineteenth and twentieth century critical theorists such as Adorno, Dewey, and Santayana and Jonathan Freedman's fascinating analysis of James's complex relationship with British Aestheticism, Professions of Taste. Although the subject of many studies describing his formal achievement, Whistler has not yet attracted the attention of critics interested in theories of representation, gender and sexuality, a lack which is surprising considering his connections with other avant-garde artists and the complexities of his theory and practice. By examining these two complex individuals and their conflicted careers in tandem, I hope this study will make a contribution to a critical reevaluation of 1 Henry James's and James McNeill Whistler's work in light of its engagement with the discourses of modernity and modernism. K James and Whistler were the first American artists to whom "modernity" was both an imperative and a problem. Both artists have been seen by some critics as effete aesthete expatriates whose works are flawed by their lack of interest in "social reality" and immersion in an enervated art-for-art's sake aestheticism. For example, the American cultural historian Vernon Parrington condemned both James and Whistler for their over-fine sensibilities and the thinness of their art: Life, with James, was largely a matter of nerves. In this world of sprawling energy, it was impossible to barricade himself against the intrusion of the unpleasant. His organism was too sensitive, his discriminations too fine, to subject them to the vulgarities of the Gilded Age, and he fled from it a l l . . . . And so, like Whistler, he sought other lands, there to refine a meticulous technique, and draw out ever thinner the substance of his art. (239-40) Maxwell Geismar, in Henry James and the Jacobites, has a comparable assessment of James's contributions to literary culture: And perhaps never in the history of humane letters had a novelist done so much with so little content as Henry James himself: the Dark Prince of the American leisure class, the self-made orphan of international culture, the romantic historian of the ancien regime, the European inheritor, the absolute esthete, the prime autocrat of contemporary (and contrived) art. (410-11) 2 A similar point was made in 1920 by the English critic Charles Marriott with respect to Whistler: Whistler stood for that impossible thing, a cosmopolitan a r t . . . . it is art divorced from life and depending entirely upon culture . . . . lacking the imagination, or perhaps the courage, to translate the facts of nature boldly into terms of his medium, he waited for or reinvented conditions in which the facts would not be too obvious, and made them "decorative" by arrangments that were entirely lacking in the logic of design. (Spencer, Whistler: A Retrospective 370-71) However, although Whistler may be outside the main trajectory of modernism as it has been constructed and James may still be condemned by some critics for his focus on the lives and exploits of the super rich, I will argue that the work of James and Whistler perfectly articulates its historical moment and reveals the complexity of early modern art's dialectical relationship with modernity. My study is interdisciplinary and contextualist. It is not primarily a work of art historical scholarship nor is it an in-depth textual analysis of every nuance of James's fiction. It is an attempt to analyse the ways in which two individuals deal with the conditions of their artistic practice. Although it would have been possible to look at one or the other of James and Whistler on his own, so to speak, I believe that each of these figures is more fully illuminated when placed in relationship with the other. Both James and Whistler were theorists of the aesthetic as well as practitioners. This in itself is not unusual; what is unusual in their case is that their theorisations and their creative work (not that theory is not creative in its own way) were self-conscious attempts to grapple 3 with the relationship of art and the artist to modernity. While Baudelaire and Mallarme were also artists who theorised about the modern, they did so from a location at the cultural centre of nineteenth century modernism. James and Whistler, in contrast, although each did spend time in Paris and had colleagues in French avant-garde circles, wrote and practiced from a more marginal location. As American expatriates based in London, James and Whistler saw themselves as outsiders, engaged in a competitive struggle for cultural legitimacy with their peers and with other cultural products. For the American high modernists who would follow them, James and Whistler provided a model for them to emulate. However, the complexity of their careers is such that James and Whistler can also provide late twentieth century artists and critics, if not necessarily models to emulate, mirrors in which to see our own similarly conflicted careers. It is surprising, perhaps, that Whistler and James have not yet been studied together. While James and John Singer Sargent have been linked by some critics, James and Whistler have not proved to be an intriguing pairing for critical analysis.1 Although Sargent's representations of the world of wealthy expatriates may initially make him a possibility as a visual art analogue of James, he is ultimately unsuitable because he was not in any sense a modernist nor was he a part of the cultural avant-garde. In contrast, Whistler is, like James, both an early modernist and a most vocal member of nineteenth century avant-garde culture. However, the only critic to link James and Whistler together in their contributions to culture thus far has been Ezra Pound who wrote the following in 1912: 4 America is the sort of country that loses Henry James and retains to its appreciative bosom a certain Harry Van Dyke . . . [In] our own time the country has given to the world two men, Whistler, of the school of masterwork, of the school of Durer, and of Hokusai, and of Velasquez, and Mr. Henry James, a follower in the school of Flaubert and Tourgueneff.... But what Whistler [and James] ha[ve] proved once and for all is that being born an American does not eternally damn a man or prevent him from the ultimate and highest achievement in the arts. (Spencer, Whistler: A Retrospective 367-8) That this "ultimate and highest achievement in the arts" is James's and Whistler's contributions to modernist discourse is the unstated but implicit assertion of Pound's comments in Patria Mia. And as individuals who were the beginning of America's "Great Tradition" James and Whistler will repay being examined together in their complex articulations of and responses to modernity and modernist aesthetics. Having said that, however, this thesis is not a study of James as the aloof grand-master of fiction and Whistler as the cosmopolitan dandy-who-painted; it is an examination of their struggles and inconsistencies as well as their considerable achievements. My linking of James with Whistler would perhaps have been approved of by the author himself. That James saw the need to align the art of fiction with developments in the visual arts is evident from his literary theory. In "The Art of Fiction", as I shall discuss in chapter two, he pressed for the equality of fiction and painting when making his arguments in favour of fiction as art. In order to argue for the importance of fiction and his own place in the history of Anglo-American letters, James asserted that the novelist 5 and the painter were equals who pursued the same aims with the same means. As a model of how to create a modem art and an audience for that art, James had the example of James McNeill Whistler in the field of visual art, arguably the only avant-garde Anglo-American visual artist working in London in the late nineteenth century. And indeed James acknowledged Whistler as one of his "Brothers" in an 1897 letter to the painter and declared his artistic solidarity with him: For the arts are one, and with the artist the artist communicates. [You are] one who knows. You know, above all, better than anyone, how dreadfully few are such . . . You have done too much of the exquisite not to have earned more despair than anything else; but don't doubt that something vibrates back when that Exquisite takes the form of recognition of a not utterly indelicate brother. (Edel, Letters IV 43) Parallels exist in both James's and Whistler's aesthetic theory and in their practice. As I shall demonstrate throughout this study, their response to the problems posed by modernity takes similar forms and addresses similar issues. The following chapters will examine those forms and issues. Chapter one provides the theoretical skeleton for my project. In it I discuss the characteristics of the modernist artifact, the socio-historical conditions that created the climate for modernism and lastly, using the work of Peter Burger and Jurgen Habermas, the complex dialectical relationship between socio-cultural modernity and aesthetic modernism. Having erected the theoretical framework for subsequent discussion, in chapters two and three I analyse James's and Whistler's aesthetic theories, pointing out 6 their connections with and responses to competing cultural theories and forms and to the burgeoning late nineteenth century cultural marketplace. I argue that both James and Whistler actively tried to position themselves within the expanding cultural sphere as aesthetic professionals and in so doing participated in the very phenomena they critiqued: the industrialisation of art and the commodification of the aesthetic. By "industrialisation" I am referring to the modernisation of the cultural sphere and by "commodification" I mean the processes by which art and literature, and indeed the producers of cultural artifacts themselves, become commodities for sale dependent upon the open cultural market. In chapter four I examine James's and Whistler's early realist work Portrait of a Lady, At the Piano and The Music Room. Using Michael Fried's work on "absorption" as a template with which to analyse James's and Whistler's achievement, I will demonstrate that these works have formal and thematic similarities in their critiques of modernity's physical-psychic effects on human subjectivity. Chapter five focuses on the similar ways in which James and Whistler appropriate low culture for their high art experiments in form: Whistler's Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks and James's The Tragic Muse use the raw material of what nineteenth century Britain saw as low culture -Japanese prints and the theatre respectively - to transform their work. Linking the painting and the novel further is the figure of the actress who epitomised for the male avant-garde the seductive lures of a popular culture against which they must guard themselves. I will argue that while Whistler's painting and James's novel are not technically successful in 7 their assimilation of their low cultural sources, their very aesthetic failure successfully reveals the complex entanglement of high art and a modem commodity culture. While modernity certainly had its negative aspects, it also offered new and exciting possibilities for experiments in masculine subjectivity. Chapter six concentrates on the work James and Whistler produced in and about Venice, showing how it expresses what Stephenson has called the "delirious multiplication of the possibilities of the male sel f (275) that modernity allowed. I will show that both James and Whistler articulate an imaginary femininity that enables them to critique the compulsively masculinist values of nineteenth century Britain. In so doing, I argue that both participated in British Aestheticism's project of expanding the conventional limits of masculinity within late nineteenth century Anglo-American culture. In chapter seven I consider the fully-elaborated aestheticism of James's Golden Bowl and Whistler's nocturnes and two portraits of the 1880s which represent the culmination of their careers. In the case of both artists this late work revisits and reworks earlier concerns and brings them to a problematic resolution. I will demonstrate that Whistler's nocturnes and portraits and James's Golden Bowl perform modernism's project of reimagining the world; they glorify the values of individual subjectivity, of beauty, of art for its own sake, and in so doing they stand in opposition to the lack of those same values in the "life-world". However, this opposition is not without its problems. As a revelation of the enmeshment of aesthetic in the culture of consumption and of the aesthete as intensely acquisitive, James's novel registers with uncanny accuracy the connections between aestheticism, with its valorisation of intense states of perception and beauty, and 8 commodity culture, with its transformation of the aesthetic into consumable commodity. Similarly, Whistler's nocturnes and 1880s portraits, with their articulation of beauty and technical experimentation embodied in objects which were for many indistinguishable from "mere fashion", record the problematic ability of modem consumer culture to transform critiques of itself into objects of consumption themselves. Although James and Whistler both argue for the aesthetic as a transcendent autonomous realm of value above and beyond the social world and its commodities, I will show that it is especially in their aestheticist work that the inability of the aesthetic to transcend the social is articulated. 1 See David Lubin, Act of Portrayal: Eakins, Sargent. James; Adeline R. Tintner, The Museum World of Henry James; Viola Winner, Henry James and the Visual Arts and Albert Boime, "Sargent in Paris and London: A Portrait of the Artist as Dorian Gray". 9 CHAPTER ONE Modernism and Modernity This study will trace the parallel careers of the novelist Henry James and the artist James McNeill Whistler in their engagement with modernity. In their response to the complex social and cultural transformations of late nineteenth century society, their articulation of technically innovative aesthetic forms, and their representations of the anxieties and dreams of the bourgeoisie, James and Whistler were the first American artists to whom "modernity" was both an imperative and a problem. This thesis will examine how and why this is the case. Modernism as an aesthetic movement began in the mid-nineteenth century. It is dialectically related to the socio-historical development that is modernity. Following Peter Burger I see nineteenth century modernism as inherent in the developmental logic of the institution of art in capitalist society.1 As I shall discuss below, the development in the arts leading from autonomy in the late eighteenth century to Aestheticism2 in the late nineteenth was an intensification of high art's separation from bourgeois society. From this perspective late nineteenth century Aestheticism, of which both Whistler and James were a part, represents the end point of art's social ineffectuality, its conversion of content into form. However, before I outline this position, I would like to note that although the term modernist can be applied to many stylistically diverse aesthetic products, modernist art forms in general are characterised by a break with past traditions and a focus on contemporary experience. In both literature and art, modernist artists reveal in their work an altered conception of the nature of the physical world, a new attitude toward aesthetic 10 tradition and a preoccupation with art's formal or technical properties. In order to comprehend the ways in which James and Whistler responded to modernity, we need to have some grasp of the techniques, materials and subjects of modem art. Let me emphasise that no attempt will be made here to be exhaustive. What follows will be a description of those modernist features that both figures will explore in their work and that I shall analyse in the coming chapters with respect to their dialectical relationship with modernity. First I will discuss the characteristics of the modernist artifact, then the social and historical conditions that produced modernism in the arts and lastly, following the work of Jurgen Habermas and Peter Burger, the connection between socio-cultural modernity and aesthetic modernism. With this foundation in place, I will then in the remaining chapters of this study examine the complex and contradictory nature of James's and Whistler's engagement with modernity. I While modernism represents neither a uniform artistic vision nor a unified artistic practice, the characteristics of the modernist artifact have tended to be viewed over the past several decades as including the following features.3 1. The work is autonomous and, while claiming to be totally separate from the realms of mass culture and everyday life, is also complicit in that culture. I will discuss the genesis of modernist art's autonomy below; here I just want to observe that, unlike the art of earlier periods such as the high Middle Ages, the modern art object has been viewed as not serving an overt social function. What I mean by "social function" will be clarified by comparing modernist with sacral art. Sacral art served the church as a cult object and was 11 completely integrated into the social institution of religion. Its production and reception were collective. Modernist art, in contrast, occupies its own sphere, serves no explicit social function and is the expression of a purely individual consciousness. Its production and reception are individual acts.4 Where sacral art existed to articulate religious ideas to a community of believers, modernist art is seen as existing only to express the individual subjectivity of the artist and is often inaccessible to the larger community. Modern art also defines itself in opposition to other (lesser) cultural forms that emerged during the nineteenth century such as mass market literature, advertising and kitsch painting. The reasons why this should be the case will be discussed below. Here I want to note that both James and Whistler held the position that the best of modern art must be autonomous and that art exists in its own separate sphere, the consequences of which will be discussed further in chapters two and three in my examination of their aesthetic theories. 2. The modernist art work is self-referential, self-conscious, frequently ironic, and rigorously experimental. Modern artists and writers often draw attention to the materials and procedures of creation in their works. Writers, for example, will express doubts about the ability of conventional language to express individual subjective experience. They will attempt to create a new language capable of articulating their new experiences. Writers will also explore the difficulties of novelistic creation in their books (e.g. Joyce's Ulysses) while poets will reveal a heightened self-consciousness about the nature of poetic language and see words as objects in their own right (e.g. Mallarme and Gertrude Stein). Visual artists will use colour's evocative or symbolic properties as legitimate subjects for expression (e.g. Whistler and Kandinsky). Artists will also emphasise their brushwork and 12 allow areas of bare canvas to show in their paintings in order to make the viewer aware of the image as paint on fabric and representation, therefore, as 'made', as artifice (e.g. Manet and the Impressionists). In doing so, modernists reject the notion of art as a mere reflection or representation of an already pre-existing reality. Instead, they assert that the artist creates his or her own world. In addition to being a repudiation of naive realism, the modernist aesthetic is also a departure from the earlier expressions of feeling found in art that is associated with "Romanticism". Rather than attempting to reveal some kind of authentic emotional response to external stimuli as in Romanticism, the modernist art work will often reveal its own reality as artifice; this display of artifice may take the form of visual or literary distortion to convey intense subjective states of mind or an emphasis on the "constructedness" of both the artifact and, by extension, the world. Modernist literature since Flaubert is a persistent investigation of and encounter with language and modernist painting since Manet is an equally persistent elaboration of the medium itself: the flatness of the canvas, the structuring of paint and brushwork, the problem of the frame. In the later James this encounter with language is evident in his use of what his brother William called "narration by the interminable elaboration of suggestive reference" (qtd. in Hocks 20). In The Golden Bowl in particular, as I shall discuss in chapter seven, language is fetishised and played with for its own sake. Chapter seven will also address itself to Whistler's attention to colour, framing, stylistic experimentation and his preoccupation with the materials and techniques of the creative process. 13 3. The modernist art work can use simultaneity, juxtaposition, or montage. The modern literary artifact sometimes seems to take on the attributes of painting, stressing stasis and spatiality. In much modernist literature, narrative and time sequence are weakened in favour of a presentation that gives priority to synchronicity or "spatial form".5 Rather than emerging from the interaction of characters in a conventional linear narrative, modernist literary unity is often created by the juxtaposition of various points of view on a single situation. Instead of a traditional representation of events unfolding in a sequential progression, the modernist art work represents what Lunn calls a "continuous present" (35) in which multiple experiences or objects are juxtaposed (e.g. Joyce, Woolf, and Proust). We see this characteristic revealed in James's use of point of view, in his frequent refusal to give conventionally satisfying closures to his fictions and in his linguistic experimentation in the late work. In The Golden Bowl, which will be discussed in chapter seven, James's novel approaches the condition of spatiality in its use of language. In art, the attempt to realistically render a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional canvas using the conventions of perspective and modelling is given up in favour of an emphasis on the juxtaposition of different points of view, contradictory or conflicting realities and on flatness itself. In Whistler, modernist ambiguous space makes its appearance early on in his work and reaches its apotheosis in the "nocturnes", night-time views of London as a poetic, aestheticised fantasy. In their use of these techniques, modernist artists repudiate a traditional literary art of sequential narrative, or the codes of Renaissance perspective, in favour of what Ernest Lunn calls an art "without apparent causal progression and completion" (35). In so doing, modernists hoped to escape from 14 historical thinking and conventional modes of expression, "'defamiliarising' the expected and ordinary connections between things in favor of new, and deeper, ones" (Lunn 36).6 4. The modernist art work deals with paradox, ambiguity, and uncertainty. Confronted with the collapse of religious, philosophical and scientific certainties in a post-Darwinian world, modernists explore the "paradoxical many-sidedness of the world" (Lunn 36). Since there no longer appear to be any transcendent truths, the modernist art work presents reality as constructed by multiple or fallible viewpoints. These viewpoints are often contradictory, irresolvable and incomplete, hrmodernist art, these multiple or contradictory viewpoints may appear as different and irreconcilable spatial perspectives or unrecognizable environments. Both James and Whistler make use of ambiguity and uncertainty as subject and as means of representation in their work. The connections between their ambiguous aesthetic forms and modern subjectivity will be the focus of chapters four and six. 5. The modernist art work deals with "dehumanisation" and the demise of the integrated individual subject. In much nineteenth century literature, individual characters have well-developed personalities and evolve through an interaction with a realistic and recognisable social world. In contrast, for the modernist writer, character is not a stable coherent entity but, as Irving Howe has written, a "psychic battlefield, or an insoluble puzzle, or the occasion for a flow of perceptions and sensations" (qtd. in Lunn 37). In modernist visual art, the human form is often distorted or disfigured or removed altogether, as in abstract art. James's use of multiple points of view and exploration of his character's inner psyches and Whistler's manipulation of the human body and its 15 environment represent a movement towards the "crisis of individuality" most clearly articulated by later modernists such as Joyce and Faulkner in literature and the cubists in art. The issue of modernity's physical and psychic effects on human beings as they are expressed in aesthetic form will be taken up in chapters four to seven of this study. To summarise, the major premises of the modernist art work are the rejection of all classical systems of representation, the effacement of "content" in favour of "form", the erasure of coherent, stable subjectivity, the repudiation of verisimilitude and the acknowledgment and often embrace of ambiguity and uncertainty. However, it is not only the innovative techniques of the artifact that make it "modernist", it is also the subject matter (or apparent lack thereof). Modernist art is dialectically related to the new social conditions of modernity. And what were these new social conditions? Having given some idea of the characteristics of aesthetic modernism, I will now briefly describe the social and historical environment in which these aesthetic forms developed. II In "Modernism in Comparative Perspective", Eugene Lunn notes that modernism developed in its initial stages, between 1850 and 1880, within the larger context of the decline of religious faith that occurred partially as a result of discoveries in science, particularly in biology and geology.7 This decline encouraged artists and writers to substitute a "religion of art" for the vanishing religious certainties of the institutional churches. In addition, science itself was increasingly seen by artists and intellectuals as unable to fully account for what it meant to be human. With its emphasis on the material and the objective, science was seen by many, including Henry James, as limited and partial 16 in its understandings. In "Is there a Life After Death?" (1910), James meditated on the "human condition" as revealed by positivistic science: "Whatever we may begin with we almost inevitably go on, under the discipline of life, to more or less resigned acceptance of the grim fact that 'science' takes no account of the soul, the principle we worry about. . . " (qtd. in Crowley and Hocks 472). While acknowledging the embeddedness of the temporal body in the quagmire of the "abject actual", James refused to believe that this material substance was the final arbiter of "humanity". The "perishable" matter of which his "personality [was] composed" James saw as merely the "encasement or sheath, thicker, thinner, coarser, finer, more transparent or more obstructive" of the soul (472). James and many other artists yearned to "reach beyond the laboratory-brain" that was science and the individual as understood by science. According to Lunn, the loss of faith in religion and in science was brought on in part by a political and intellectual crisis of liberalism. Middle class radicalism had largely declined by 1880, and a protracted depression between 1873 and 1896, which prompted governments to turn away from free trade, caused many people to feel that the economic system was running down. Expansions of the franchise and the rise of new mass movements caused anxiety for the bourgeoisie who saw their own power and privilege threatened by others. Darwinian determinism and the decline of the middle and upper class birth rate created a fear of degeneration and race-suicide that replaced earlier expectations of indefinite progress. Initially prompted by the Origin of Species (1859),. these fears were increased after the 1871 publication of Descent of Man in which Darwin emphasised the 17 hereditability of characteristics and mentioned the possibility of using sexual selection as a way of improving Victorian society: Yet [man] might by selection do something not only for the bodily constitution and frame of his offspring, but for their intellectual and moral qualities. Both sexes ought to refrain from marriage if they are in any marked degree inferior in body or mind. . . 8 In Darwin's words here we see the two conflicting possibilities that evolution presented to the Victorian mind: either progressive development or degenerative decay. While many asserted that middle class Victorian society occupied the top rung of the evolutionary ladder, an undercurrent of anxiety and fear of degeneration can be detected in the work of taxonomists, medical specialists and criminologists who attempted to scrutinise and classify human behaviour and social structures.9 The characteristics of the modernist art work were a response to this sense of cultural crisis. Decline of belief in unending linear progress, fears about the rise of the masses, religious uncertainties, industrialisation and mechanisation all contributed to the modernist emphasis on "present consciousness", paradox, ambiguity and the formal properties of art. In addition to the decline of faith and fears of degeneration, a changed conception of nature influenced modern artists and their art. Artists and intellectuals could no longer see nature as the source of inspiration and refuge from the wasteland of urban-industrial life it had been to the Romantics. By the later nineteenth century, nature was increasingly being gobbled up by urban expansion, industrial growth and suburban housing developments. Nature was now a source of fuel for the industrial machine or of wealth for 18 the property owner. Converted into slag heaps and slums or the privatised paradise of the urban rich, nature could no longer be the uncontaminated pure realm for authentic individual aesthetic and spiritual experience that it had been for Romantic artists and writers. While Romantics such as Wordsworth and Turner sought to express the beauty and sublimity of nature and the intensity of their own response to the natural world, modernists saw nature remade by culture and technology. As articulated by Lunn, "[the] technical ability to master and control the given environment, the 'humanization' of nature through the modem city and its various technological extensions, was also a source of the tendency since Baudelaire to view art and science as objects in their own right - as self-reflexive constructions, instead of. as more or less direct expressions of feeling or as representations of outer or inner reality (as they had largely been seen in romantic aesthetics)" (40). If the natural world was transformed by technology and commerce, remade in the image of the machine and the market, then why should not artists remake a world in their own image? Faced with the pervasiveness of technology and its instruments, and their accompanying colonisation of physical and psychic space, modernist artists and writers responded by emphasising art's constructive and reconstructive abilities. The changes that industrial capitalism brought to the bourgeois social landscape of the nineteenth century also changed the physical-psychic makeup of human beings and their cultural products. Marx noted this fact in the Communist Manifesto where he described how the new economic system differs from older systems: The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole 19 relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones . . . . A l l that is solid melts into air. (161-2) Marx here identifies some of the changes that modernism will articulate: fragmentation of earlier organic totalities, estrangement, alienation. These changes will then be compensated for in the elaboration of a realm of purely individual and private subjective freedom celebrated in idealist philosophy and articulated in modernist cultural products. The paradox of modern subjectivity - that as we become more subject to social determinants in the form of technology, industry and bureaucracy, we more forcefully assert our own individual subjective freedom - arises historically. In chapter four I shall discuss the ways in which this historically-specific paradox is articulated in Whistler's and James's early realist work. The emphasis by modernist artists such as James and Whistler on "subjective" vision, the ways in which the individual artist's consciousness constructs his or her world, can thus be seen as a result of the same modernisation processes at work in the realms of technology and commerce. In Techniques of the Observer, Jonathan Crary outlines the ways in which this modernist artist/observer comes to be formed by societal modernisation. As a subject required to function within and thus formed by "disjunct and defamiliarized urban spaces, the perceptual and temporal dislocations of railroad travel, telegraphy, industrial production, and flows of typographic and visual information" (Crary 20 11), the modern individual's subjectivity is qualitatively different from earlier modes. In this development what Crary calls a "separation of the senses" occurs as a result of the modern "remapping of the body" (19). Sight becomes isolated and autonomous and its objects come to assume a "mystified and abstract identity" (19). Interestingly, while objects in the modem world become increasingly abstract and mysterious, they also become more intertwined and interdependent. In the world of urban modernity, new technologies and images come together to create a spectacular world in which all is in circulation.10 The modernisation of bourgeois society entails the uprooting of previously entrenched value systems and the mobilisation of previously fixed social forms and conditions. Hence, as we shall see in the work of James and Whistler, the formal characteristics and subject matter of modernist art are a response to the changed historical and social conditions of the late nineteenth century. I l l As I have outlined above, late nineteenth century modernism's new forms and subjects are dialectically related to the new social and historical conditions of modernity. In summary, these include scientific discoveries that altered the understanding of material reality, increasing secularism, an altered conception of time, and most importantly for this study, capitalism and consumerism. Traditional art forms, seen by modernist artists as incapable of expressing the new reality, were rejected in favour of experimental, subjective and difficult to understand forms. Although some critics, such as the later Clement Greenberg, have argued that the forms and techniques of modem art evolved independently of social and historical conditions, others such as Peter Burger and Jurgen 21 Habermas have insisted that the emergence of modern art cannot be understood without understanding the conditions of socio-historical modernity.11 This is a view with which I agree and I will argue that the work of Whistler and James as analysts of modernity can only be fully understood if it is seen as a response to the complexities of its particular social and cultural moment. These complexities include, in addition to the above-mentioned, the development of an oppositional avant-garde culture.12 The modernist artist increasingly saw him or herself as neglected by and alienated from the larger social world and cultivated his or her own community of peers to whom manifestos were addressed and appeals made. However, even though society at large was often demonised as philistine, illiterate and materialistic, modernist artists continued to occupy a position within it, albeit one which was contradictory and uncomfortable. It was this conflicted space that was occupied by Henry James and James McNeill Whistler. How and why such artists should stand at the same time outside and inside their society is examined by Jurgen Habermas in "Modernity - An Incomplete Project". Habermas argues that in the course of the nineteenth century a radical consciousness of modernity emerged out of earlier conceptions of the "modern". Enlightenment thinkers had characterised the modern as "the infinite progress of knowledge and . . . the infinite advance towards social and moral betterment" (Habermas "Modernity" 4) as revealed by modern science. In contrast, Romantic artists and thinkers conceived of the modern as in opposition to the "antique ideals" of the late eighteenth century classicists and located the modern spirit, paradoxically, in an idealised Middle Ages. From these two earlier formulations came the mid-nineteenth century notion of 22 "modern" of which we are still the beneficiaries, that of a modernity freed from any and all historical ties and associations. Habermas, following Max Weber, describes this culture, our culture of modernity, as a result of the dissociation of the previously united spheres of science, morality and art. Prior to the Enlightenment, according to Habermas, science, morality and art were largely unified in religious and metaphysical world-views that integrated theoretical knowledge, morality and cultural expression. Since then, with the collapse of the unified world-views of religion and metaphysics, these three spheres of activity have become differentiated. Questions of truth, morality and beauty are now, post-Enlightenment, handled separately as issues belonging to clearly-delineated and unattached realms of knowledge. Once separated from one another, scientific discourse, moral theories, and art production and criticism could be "institutionalised". Each separate and distinct field of enquiry now becomes a specialty with its own rules and practitioners. As articulated by Habermas, each of these separate domains of culture "could be made to correspond to cultural professions in which problems could be dealt with as the concern of special experts" (9). As these spheres become autonomous domains, each with its own experts, the distance between the experts and the larger public grows. With this increasing distance comes alienation and the impoverishment of what Habermas calls the "life-world", that is the real material world in which we exist. As formulated by Habermas, aesthetic modernity and the separation of the sphere of art from other cultural spheres is a function of the logic of modernisation in which the division of labour required by industrial capitalism is manifested in all aspects of life. 23 With this dissociation of spheres during the nineteenth century, art theory and practice took on greater and greater autonomy. Whereas prior to the Enlightenment art had been a function of and dependent upon sacred and courtly life, during the late eighteenth century literature, the fine arts and music were institutionalised as activities independent of church and court. From there, according to Habermas, an "aestheticist" conception of art emerged in the mid nineteenth century, a conception that "encouraged the artist to produce his work according to the distinct consciousness of art for art's sake" ("Modernity" 1 0 ) . As a result of this, artistic autonomy becomes what Habermas calls a "deliberate project": "[The] talented artist could lend authentic expression to those experiences he had in encountering his own de-centered subjectivity, detached from the constraints of routinized cognition and everyday action" ("Modernity" 1 0 ) . In other words, the artist makes art that expresses his own sense of alienation from the social world around him as well as celebrates his special and unique position as artist. Consequently, after the mid nineteenth century "color, lines, sounds and movement cease to serve primarily the cause of representation; the media of expression and the techniques of production themselves became the aesthetic object" ("Modernity" 1 0 ) . Artistic autonomy gives the artist his own special subjects and objects; it also gives him alienation from a life-world that neither understands nor appreciates him. By eliminating art's earlier social function, such as to serve the king or the church, autonomy allows the modernist artist the freedom to be socially and politically marginal. As I will discuss in chapters two and three with respect to their aesthetic theories and in the remainder of this study with respect to their practice, the significance of art's 24 autonomy for both James and Whistler is enormous. Because modem art occupies its own separate sphere of activity and knowledge with its own codes and understandings, questions of "morality" are no longer applicable to, or even a consideration of, art. Theories of morality belong to the sphere of ethics or the institutions of religion, not to the domain of art. Autonomous art concerns itself only with questions of aesthetic form, beauty, taste and the like. Hence, as James will argue in his literary theory, art has its own field with its own concerns: "[When] discussing the Art of Fiction . . . questions of art are questions (in the widest sense) of execution; questions of morality are quite another affair" ("Art of Fiction" 181). In other words, art's morality, a subject that obsessed many of James's critics and readers, was irrelevant. What was relevant, according to James and other modernists, was not the "morality" of the novel's story but the artist's ability to create a unified aesthetic whole from whatever materials with which he or she chooses to work. Similarly, against Ruskin's insistence that art be moral, Whistler will assert that art is "occupied with her own perfection only" (Thorp 80) and those who look not at a picture but "through it, at some human fact, that shall or shall not, from a social point of view, better their mental, or moral, state" (81) are sadly mistaken. The realm of the aesthetic is separate from all other realms and from the social world and does not enact any social function. Habermas' account of the separation of the spheres of culture under modernity offers a theorisation of the modem that illuminates the position in which'James and Whistler found themselves in the late nineteenth century. However, Habermas' theorisation cannot completely account for the position of modern artists at that moment, 25 because his explanation deals with individual art works rather than with the institution of art itself. For a consideration of modernist art that historicises Habermas' account we may turn to Peter Burger's Theory of the Avant-Garde. Burger argues that, while the institution of autonomous art was fully developed by the end of the eighteenth century, there remained within this sphere art works whose contents retained a political and social character which "militate[d] against the autonomy principle of the institution" (26). Speaking about the historical avant-garde, Burger suggests that their criticism of the social subsystem "art" was only possible once the content of art works had lost their political character and became "nothing other than art" (27).13 This he sees as occurring at the end of the nineteenth century with Aestheticism. For Burger, Aestheticism is the culmination of art's autonomy status within bourgeois society. In his formulation, the development leading to Aestheticism can best be seen as a transformation of form into content. As art becomes increasingly and uncomfortably separate from life, aesthetic form becomes the art work's content: "The apartness from the praxis of life that had always constituted the institutional status of art in bourgeois society now becomes the content of the works" (27). Art's concern with its own forms and materials and the inability of the larger public to understand or appreciate those forms and materials lead to an aesthetic and philosophical crisis for the artist. Burger describes this crisis as follows: "As institution and content coincide, social ineffectuality stands revealed as the essence of art in bourgeois society, and thus provokes the self-criticism of art" (27) that would be articulated by the historical avant-garde in the twentieth century. For Whistler and James, whose cultural production culminates in 26 Aestheticism, Burger's account of the characteristics of that form of art is especially suggestive. Whereas sacral and courtly art had been integral to social life, sacral as cult object for a community of religious believers and courtly as the "glory of the prince and the self-portrayal of courtly society" (47), bourgeois art, of which aestheticist art is the culmination, no longer has a specific social function. Rather than being produced and received collectively, bourgeois art is produced and consumed by isolated individuals. Bourgeois art, which portrays bourgeois self-understanding, occurs in a sphere that exists outside the "praxis of life". This "praxis of life" Burger describes as the "means-ends rationality of the bourgeois everyday" (49). A l l the needs that remain unsatisfied in everyday life, because competition, division of labour, and mechanisation pervade all aspects of life, can be satisfied in aestheticist art. According to Burger, values such as humanity, joy, truth, and solidarity, while removed from actual life, are preserved in art. The individual who in everyday life has been reduced to a cog in a large impersonal machine can be discovered in art as a "human being". Therefore, within bourgeois society, art plays a contradictory role. First, while offering in art an image of a better world and thus protesting against the existing world, it also relieves the existing society of actually creating such a better world in practice by realising the better world as a;semblance only. Second, because art is separate from life, it has the freedom and the means to critique life. Autonomy is the necessary precondition of such critique. However, also because of its distance from life, modern art's criticism of the existing order remains ineffectual, unable to effect any real change. Modern art also runs the risk of becoming so absorbed in its 27 own means and processes that it loses any connection to the world outside itself and thus any relevance to an audience to which it tries to speak. As we shall see in the following i chapters, these contradictions and complexities inform the position of advanced nineteenth century artists such as James and Whistler. However^ a further twist on these problems emerges when we look closely at the concept of autonomous art itself. For, while James and Whistler will maintain, rightly, that they and their art are autonomous, that very autonomy is itself a social institution. To see why this is so we need to examine Burger's explanation of the institution of autonomous art. In Burger's account the autonomy of art is a function of historical processes. The relative dissociation of art from other aspects of bourgeois society has produced the erroneous notion that the modern work of art is independent of society. According to Burger, the aestheticist work of art, the end point of this historical development, is not thus entirely independent from society but rather operates within a social institution, that being the institution of autonomous art which is itself a category of bourgeois society. Such art's social status, its function and prestige in society, is itself institutionalised as commodity, as investment, and as object of bourgeois "self-understanding". As such, modernist art, especially aestheticist art such as that of James and Whistler, occupies a position both within and in opposition to the larger social order. These art works celebrate the values of individual subjectivity, of beauty, of art for its own sake, and in so doing they stand in opposition to the lack of those same values in the "life-world". In addition, as autonomous individual producers, James and Whistler are free to create whatever and however they please and sell the products of that creativity on the open aesthetic market. 28 " The very autonomy of their art and themselves as artists thus becomes a commodity for sale. Therefore, autonomy itself, while necessary for art to critique society, is also the means by which art becomes commodified. As shall be examined in the pages that follow, the art of James and Whistler is both opposed to and enmeshed in the culture of the commodity, to be continuously appropriated by that culture as investment, advertisement and affirmation. In their attempt to separate themselves from a materialistic, industrialised society and its mass culture, by an ongoing negation of that culture's appropriative impulse through a search for new subjects and forms, modernist art and artists make the problems and contradictions of modernity visible. In the work of Henry James and James McNeill Whistler the contradictory and transitory nature of modernist art is articulated. Their moment, the moment of late nineteenth century Aestheticism, is an historically specific moment; it represents the culmination of art's transformation of form into content and inaugurates the dialectical dance of aesthetic and commodity that modernism performs. IV Having established the bare bones of the characteristics and evolution of modernist art as a field, what remains to be established is the impact of modernity on James and Whistler with respect to what I shall call their experiments with alternative subjectivities opened up by modernity's transformations of social, political and sexual relationships. For some male modernists, among them Oscar Wilde, James and Whistler, as I shall discuss in chapter six, modernism also allowed an imagining of masculine identities which were alternatives to the mode of masculinity required by the dominant culture. I will argue that i 29 both James and Whsitler articulate an imaginary femininity that allows them to critique the compulsively masculinist values of nineteenth century British society. Iri so doing, both participated in British Aestheticism's project of expanding the conventional limits of masculinity within late nineteenth century Anglo-American culture. This imaginary femininity was also problematic, however, because the feminine, as I will discuss in chapters two and five, was also constructed as inferior. This difficulty is dealt with by James and Whistler in the alignment of certain stylistic innovations with qualities I culturally-coded as masculine: consciousness and superior acuity.14 In the construction of modernism as a field, discourses of gender are also mobilised to differentiate high art from low, popular or mass cultural products. While Peter Burger does not devote his attention to the persistent gendering of certain kinds of art work and writing as either "masculine" or "feminine", others such as Andreas Huyssen have examined this issue, an important one for any consideration of James and Whistler as will be addressed in later chapters. Andreas Huyssen's discussion of modern art's resistance to its excluded "others"; - mass culture and femininity - will be of help here to briefly outline issues I shall be addressing in fuller detail later. In "Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism's Other", Huyssen argues that the "masculinist mystique" of modernism is dialectically related to the persistent gendering in the late nineteenth century of mass culture as feminine, inferior and threatening. For Huyssen, the autonomy of the modernist art work is always "the result of a resistance, an abstention, and a suppression - resistance to the seductive lure of mass culture, abstention from the pleasure of trying to please a larger audience, suppression of everything that 30 might be threatening to the rigorous demands of being modern and at the edge of time" (55). He notes that there seem to be obvious homologies between Freud's privileging of the ego over the id, Marx's privileging of production over consumption jand the modernist artist's privileging of modem art's complexity, rigour and self-contained organicity over mass culture's dreams, delusions and desires. In order to maintain its purity and autonomy undefiled by the "seductive lures" of mass culture and the feminine, modem art must continually fortify its boundaries against the fluidity and waste of the pseudo-aesthetic. However, even as modernists hold themselves together and apart from these excluded others, these others remain beguiling. As I shall discuss in chapter five, James's and Whistler's modernist will to mastery coexists with their interest in low culture and the l feminine. And in chapter six I shall address the issue of avant-garde imaginary femininity in connection with James's and Whistler's Venetian work. Both James and Whistler saw themselves as outsiders within the world of late nineteenth century Europe, engaged in a competitive struggle for cultural legitimacy with their peers and with other cultural products. And both used the position of avant-garde outsider as one from which to express their disgust for and alienation from what were perceived to be the bad aspects of modernity - industrial capitalism, materialism, burgeoning mass culture, filth, waste - and to celebrate the good aspects; the "delirious multiplication of the possibilities of the male self (qtd. in Stephenson 275). In this study, I will look at the similar ways in which "modernity" as a social formation and a state of mind are dealt with in James's and Whistler's work. 1 Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde. 2 1 capitalise Aestheticism here to indicate that I am talking about a particular style and historical phenomenon, not simply about some features of art that are generally or transhistorically apparent. 3 1 3 For the following discussion of the characteristics of modernist art, I have closely followed the concise and interesting accounts of Andreas Huyssen, "Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism's Other", After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. 53-4 and especially Eugene Lunn, 34-7. The characterisations of modernist art described here are a result of successive canonisations by various historians and critics of aesthetic styles and artists. The characteristics of the modernist artifact, and the values of modernist art history (that approach that sees art as developing within its own sphere unaffected by history and the social), have in recent years been contested from a variety of perspectives. For an analysis of modernist criticism and a critique of canonical modernism from a feminist perspective see, for example, Griselda Pollock and Roszika Parker, Framing Feminism: Art and the Women's Movement and Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference: Femininity. Feminism and histories of art. For a post-structuralist perspective, see Victor Burgin, "The Absence of Presence: Conceptualism and Postmodernisms", The End of Art Theory: Criticism and Postmodernity. 29-50 and Donald Preziosi, Rethinking Art History: Meditations on a Coy Science. In the chapters that follow I shall be paying attention to issues of gender, sexuality, and class in my analyses. , 4 On the differences between socially-integrated art and modernist art, see Peter Burger, 47-50. 5 On the idea of spatial form in literature, see the pioneering article by Joseph Frank,' "Spatial Form in Modern Literature", The Widening Gyre. 3-62 and also, by the same author, The Idea of Spatial Form. 6 "Defamiliarisation" is the term used by the Russian Formalist literary critic Victor Shklovsky to define what art does. Art makes objects strange (ostranenie) and thus renews perception. On Structuralism and Russian Formalism, see Fredric Jameson, The Prison-House of Language. 7 For interesting discussions of the influence that science had on literary form in the nineteenth century, see Gillian Beer, Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot, and Nineteenth Century Fiction: L.J. Jordanova, ed., Languages of Nature: Critical Essays on Science and Literature and U.C. Knoepflmacher and G.B. Tennyson, eds., Nature and the Victorian Imagination. 8 Charles Darwin, "The Descent of Man", Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition. 9 This anxiety is perhaps most apparent in the discourse of eugenics articulated by Darwin's cousin Francis Galton. See Francis Galton, Hereditary Genius and Essays in Eugenics. According to Galton, the perfection of the British nation would be ensured by instituting measures to reduce the reproductive rate amongst the so-called lower orders of society and to increase the rate of reproduction amongst the higher orders. Eugenics reformers saw themselves as simply performing more humanely what nature would inevitably do - eliminating the lesser components of humanity from the struggle for which they were i l l -adapted anyway. As noted by Allan Sekula, eugenics was a kind of twisted Utopian ideology, but a utopianism haunted by a sense of social decline and exhaustion. See Allan Sekula, "The Body and the Archive", The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography. 343-89. 1 0 On the spectacularity of modernity, see Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle. In the following passage, Debord describes one of the spectacular society's primary characteristics: "Since the spectacle's job is to cause a world that is no longer directly perceptible to be seen via different specialized mediations, it is inevitable that it should elevate the human sense of sight to the special place once occupied by touch; the most abstract of the senses, and the most easily deceived, sight is naturally the most readily adaptable to present-day society's generalized abstraction" (sec. 18). I shall take up the issue of modernity's proliferations of spectacle and illusion in chapters five and seven. 1 1 For Greenberg's views on modernism, see John O'Brian, ed., Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism. On modernist criticism in general and Greenbergian modernism in particular, see Benjamin H.D. Buchloh et al, eds., Modernism and Modernity: The Vancouver Conference Papers and Francis Frascina, "Greenberg and the Politics of Modernism". 1 21 am using the term "avant-garde" interchangeably with the term "modernist" to describe advanced nineteenth century artists and writers. Nineteenth century modernists occupied an avant-garde position within bourgeois society. However "avant-garde" as a descriptive term for nineteenth century figures is not the same as what Burger calls the "historical avant-garde", that movement in the 1920s which, in his analysis, was the first movement to understand the position of high art in bourgeois society - social inconsequentiality as a result of its autonomy - and to turn against the institution of art and the way that institution functions in society. Nineteenth century modernists accepted art's autonomous status whereas 32 i i the historical avant-garde sought to alter it by reintegrating art with life. While I persist in using the term avant-garde to describe nineteenth century modernists whom Burger would simply call "modernists" I do so because the term was used by the artists and critics themselves and still proves useful as a descriptive term for this social phenomenon. This issue will be discussed further below. 1 3 By "historical avant-garde", Burger means the avant-garde of the 1920s in Europe: the Futurists, the Dadaists, the Surrealists and the left avant-garde in Russia and Germany. 1 4 Interestingly, as Andreas Huyssen has pointed out, the imaginary femininity of the male avant-garde, which often grounds their opposition to bourgeois society also goes hand-in-hand with the exclusion of real women from the cultural enterprise and with the "misogyny of bourgeois patriarchy itself (45). 33 CHAPTER TWO Henry James's Literary Theory In "Metropolitan Perceptions and the Emergence of Modernism", Raymond Williams argues that it was the "new and specific location" of the artists and intellectuals of the modern movement within the changing cultural space of the large urban city that was the important factor in their modernity rather than any thematic response to the new experience of the city (44). In the complex and mobile environment of the metropolis, new opportunities existed for artists of divergent interests and ideologies to develop an audience for their work. Groups of artists and writers competed within this shifting social field for the available opportunities. As an entrepreneur, the artist needed to establish a position by whatever means possible, to mark out a territory which could be claimed as his or her own. Both James and Whistler did just that in late nineteenth century London by setting themselves up in opposition to a materialistic society and its degraded mass cultural products. 1 The novelist and the painter traveled similar paths, from an early engagement with realism, the aesthetic form that was most clearly "modem" in mid-century art and literature, to a late aestheticism which was, as I suggested in chapter one, the art form that represents the culmination of the modernist transformation of content into form. Their aesthetic theories, articulated by James in literary reviews, essays and the prefaces to the New York edition, and by Whistler in letters to other artists, exhibition pamphlets and the "Ten O'Clock" lecture, reveal many similar beliefs and strategies. As aesthetic producers, Whistler and James functioned within the social institution of autonomous art. Both saw 34 themselves as professionals possessing specialised knowledge and both, actively attempted to create a market for their own work. By elaborating a rhetoric of mastery and originality, James and Whistler established a position within the competitive late century cultural marketplace. This chapter will examine Henry James's literary theories and the context in which they were written, while chapter two will look at Whistler's aesthetic theories and their context. I will show that James and Whistler shared fundamental ideas about art and the nature and function of the artist, ideas which distinguished them from their English and American contemporaries and situated them at the forefront of late nineteenth century aesthetic debate. Their artistic practice was underpinned by a fully-elaborated aesthetic theory that provided support for their own work and participated in the public discourse about the nature of modem high art. I will also analyse the contradictions of their position as aesthetic professionals that inhere in their theory and practice, contradictions that clearly indicate the uneasy relationship of the modernist artist to modernity. I In the 1870s James was both a popular and critical success with realist works such as Daisy Miller, The American, and Roderick Hudson. To his dismay, his work became increasingly less popular as the century progressed. Although there were a few critics and fellow artists who appreciated the late work, most agreed with William James's assessment: [The] method of narration by the interminable elaboration of suggestive reference . . . goes agin the grain of all my impulses in writing . . . why won't you, just to 35 I i please Brother, sit down and write a new book, with no twilight and mustiness in the plot, with great vigor and decisiveness in the action, no fencing in the dialogue, no psychological commentaries, and absolute straightness in the style? (qtd. in Hocks 20) The oblique and aestheticised world of The Golden Bowl. James's last published novel, represented to most readers an unfortunate decline with its metaphoricity, indirectness and stylistic distortions. However, although he was often unappreciated by many of his reading public, for James's elite audience, his peers in literature and the arts, his experiments in literary form paved the way for high Anglo-American literary modernism.1 His very financial failure could be, and was, seen by James and his supporters as evidence of the Philistinism of his audience and the superiority of his own work. Although apparently resigned to his lack of wider success in later years, the problem of audience was one that James addressed from the beginning and continued to address until the end of his career. His position was a paradoxical one. He aspired to popular as well as critical success but was unwilling to give the public the kind of work it demanded. He was sceptical of his audience's ability to understand what he was doing but continued to put'forward his theoretical principles in articles and reviews throughout his career. He did not withdraw into cynical silence but continued to exhort, to cajole and to contradict the cultural status quo. Henry James's literary theory was intended to establish the criteria for literary art and to educate an audience for his own writing.2 Theoretical statements such as "The Art of Fiction" (1884) and the prefaces to the New York edition of his fiction written between 3 6 1906 and 1908 explain his own production and try to create a receptive public. In these writings he will identify his work as new and different from the established norms of British and American literature, while at the same time linking himself to those two traditions, positioning himself as heir to both. He will also differentiate his work from that of masses of what Hawthorne had earlier described as "scribbling women" and others whom he sees as churning out vast quantities of inferior popular writing. The "Art of Fiction" was written in the context of increasingly intense debates about the nature of Anglo-American literature. Its immediate inspiration was a lecture given by Walter Besant also entitled "The Art of Fiction" in which Besant detailed the importance of virtuous, happy, and lively "stories".3 For James, however, it was not the "story" that was important, it was the form which the story takes that distinguishes literary art from non-art, or popular, writing. James begins his article by commenting on the lack of self-consciousness in the practice of literature in England, particularly in comparison with France. The English novel is not "discutable", it "ha[s] no air of having a theory, a conviction, a consciousness of itself behind it" (165). James identifies this lack of theoretical framework as detrimental to English literature. For James, the practice of any art requires theory, discussion, debate, self-conscious awareness of what is being undertaken: "Art lives upon discussion, upon experiment, upon curiosity, upon variety of attempt, upon the exchange of views and the comparison of standpoints" (165-66). Such authorial self-consciousness is necessary because modem literary art in the nineteenth century is a specialised field with its own rules and codes. An awareness of and engagement with these rules and codes is a prerequisite for the production of literary art. 37 The domain of serious literature is concerned only with questions of aesthetic form, beauty, and taste not with questions, such as those of morality, applicable to other spheres of inquiry. Against Besant, James asserts that literature's content, the subject matter of its stories, is irrelevant. What is relevant, and worth debate, is literary form. However, for Anglo-American audiences the question of the morality of art continued to be important in assessing the value of literature, a consideration which James argued was misplaced. With the dissociation of the spheres of science, morality and art in the nineteenth century, the problems applicable to each field could be treated separately as the domain of specialised experts. Within the sphere of autonomous art the applicable problems become those of what Habermas calls "aesthetic-expressive rationality" ("Modernity" 9). These problems - beauty, taste, expressive form - can then be solved by aesthetic professionals such as James who are "more adept at being logical in these specialised areas than other people are" (Habermas "Modernity" 9). James sees this separation of art from morality as necessary and argues that the emphasis by English critics and novelists on the story and its moral implications is naive and evidence of an "evangelical hostility" to the novel ("Art of Fiction" 166). To James, the novel's goodness does not inhere in its "representing virtuous and aspiring characters" or in having a "happy ending" but in its ability to create an aesthetic whole out of whatever materials it takes on. To support his point he uses the example of the visual arts: "You wish to paint a moral picture or carve a moral statue: will you not tell us how you would set about it? We are discussing the Art of Fiction; questions of art are questions (in the widest sense) of execution; questions of morality are quite another affair" ("Art of Fiction" 181).4 James insists, against the older view of I 38 literature represented by Besant, that a modern literary art exists in its own separate field, with its own concerns, those of form and technique: "We must grant the artist his subject, his idea, his donnee: our criticism is applied only to what he makes of it" (175). James's insistence on granting the writer his donnee was, for critics such as Besant, a radical and dangerous proposition. "The Art of Fiction" articulates James's reaction against prevailing literary and moral orthodoxies represented by Besant, orthodoxies which were making the relations between advanced writers,and their critics and audience increasingly tense. In addition, "foreign" writers such as Flaubert, Zola and Ibsen were greeted in the Anglo-American world with an outrage that James saw as evidence of the public's lack of understanding of what literature was. His attacks in "The Art of Fiction" on the public's and critics' desire for virtuous characters; happy endings, lively incidents and sympathy are responses, as William Veeder and Susan Griffin have noted, to precisely what contemporary reviewers found lacking in James's own fiction.5 Criticism of his work because of its lack of morally-uplifting themes and often ambiguous endings was to James entirely inappropriate because the function of literary art was not to educate or uplift but to offer a well-crafted aesthetic artifact for the reader's consumption. However, how was James to convince readers and critics of this critical point? As a field which in the Anglo-American world had a lack of both status and theoretical self-consciousness, fiction-writing heeded to be linked with other intellectual activities which were seen as having those attributes. One such field was that of visual art. 39 In "The Art of Fiction" James presses hard for the equality of fiction and painting. By doing so, he hopes to give the relatively new art form of the novel the same status as that of painting. Like painting, the novel exists to "represent life": The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life. When it relinquishes this attempt, the same attempt that we see on the canvas of the painter, it will have arrived at a very strange pass. It is not expected of the picture that it will make itself humble in order to be forgiven; and the analogy between the art of the painter and the art of the novelist is, so far as I am able to see, complete. Their inspiration is the same, their process (allowing for the different quality of the vehicle), is the same, their success is the same. They may learn from each other, and the honour of the one is the honour of the other. (167) James emphasises the novel's need to "represent life" in order to distinguish it from the stories which Besant had praised. Fiction is not make-believe or fantasy; it is an art that deals with the real world and its problems through the application of a body of theoretical knowledge. Rather than being simply an inconsequential piece of make-believe, James argues that the novel is a form of serious art like painting. Throughout the "Art of Fiction" James also attempts to differentiate literary art from its non-art competitors. Unlike popular writing, literary art is serious. James makes a case for the novel as a serious form by linking it to historiography: "[A]s the picture is reality, so the novel is history" (167). Like painting and history, the novel represents life and does not apologise for it. To make the case for the seriousness of fiction even more clear, James goes on to link the novelist with the philosopher: "It seems to me to give him 40 [the novelist] a great character, the fact that he has at once so much in common with the philosopher and the painter; this double analogy is a magnificent heritage" (167). Near the end of the article, James goes as far as saying that the novel is the most magnificent art form, more magnificent even than painting because it offers "innumerable opportunities" and "few restrictions" (182). In comparison with the other arts which "appear confined and hampered" because the "various conditions under which they are exercised are so rigid and definite" (182), the novel represents artistic freedom. Anything may be said within the expansive form of the novel. The novel is of all pictures the most comprehensive and the most elastic. It will stretch anywhere - it will take in absolutely anything. A l l it needs is a subject and a painter. But for its subject, magnificently it has the whole human consciousness. ("The Future of the Novel" 244) In his theoretical statements James identifies the field of literary art as one which has its own particular concerns and characteristics, qualities which constitute it as a separate sphere of intellectual activity. These characteristics include attention to aesthetic form, seriousness and freedom, all characteristics which James will use to distinguish literary art from other degraded cultural forms. Just as the field of literary art has its own characteristics, so too does the practitioner of such art. Interestingly, when he comes to identifying the qualities peculiar to the writer of literature, James brings back the previously excluded notion of morality to underpin his conception of the ideal artist. Although morality is not, according to James, a concern of literary art, it can be used to identify the true literary artist. 41 For James, the only sense in which the question of morality is applicable to the novel is that in which the quality of the artist's mind is at stake. James links morality with intensity of consciousness, the ability of the writer to capture the "illusion of life" in his work. The intensity of this "illusion of life" is then held to be evidence of the artist's moral quality. The greater the artist's intellect and ability, the greater the work of art and the greater its "moral sense": There is one point at which the moral sense and the artistic sense lie very near together; that is in light of the very obvious truth that the deepest quality of a work of art will always be the quality of the mind of the producer. In proportion as that intelligence is fine will the novel, the picture, the statue partake of the substance of beauty and truth. To be constituted of such elements is, in my vision, to have purpose enough. No good novel will ever proceed from a superficial mind . . . (181-82) The equation that James wants to make here is artist=superior mind=accurate vision=moral truths. In this essay, James is concerned to establish certain fundamental characteristics necessary for legitimate, serious writers to have. They must be intensely conscious, they must be perceptive, they must be bright, and if they are, they must be i moral. As I shall discuss below, these particular attributes are characteristics which James will use to differentiate himself and his work from competitors. In the "Art of Fiction", James argues that literary theory is vital to literary practice. A modern literary art is self-aware and self-critical and the practice of fiction writing requires a theoretical framework to support it. It is not enough simply to write - one must 42 be conscious of the context within which one is writing. Modern fiction writing, like any other serious sphere of activity, has, or should have, a body of knowledge which must be assimilated in order to properly practice it. Unlike earlier "men of letters" who were cultured amateurs, the modem writer is a professional pursuing a specialised career with its own concerns and interests. As an aesthetic professional, James is himself the one best able to establish the characteristics of the field of fictional art and impart these characteristics to a public. "The Art of Fiction", in addition to laying out the criteria for novelistic art, also establishes James's own credentials as a theorist of the aesthetic within a specialised disciplinary field. II As we have seen, James was concerned to identify the necessary characteristics of a modem literary art. Although he argues for fiction's autonomy, the characteristics he identifies take on social significance when they are examined in light of the instability of the expanding Anglo-American cultural marketplace. In'James's modernist literary theory, literary art must be resolutely marked off from the mass cultural products produced and purveyed by competitors. These competing forms include popular women's writing, romance novels and new mass market productions such as newspapers and magazines. James's literary theory carves out a place for the writer of serious fiction that is above and beyond the contaminations of these lesser cultural artifacts. As we have seen, James was intent upon defining literary art as "serious". Seriousness was important because it was this quality which identified a cultural product as an art rather than merely an entertainment. Seriousness was the province of high art 43 such as painting and of the important intellectual activities of philosophy and historiography, activities which were in the nineteenth century gendered categories largely restricted to men. James's linkage of fiction with painting, philosophy and history attempts to give fiction-writing a legitimacy it did not yet have in the minds of many observers. That fiction was somehow "illegitimate" was perhaps the result of its being written largely by and for women. The position of the male writer in nineteenth century America where James began his career was an unstable one because writing was a suspect activity associated with the female sphere of culture and domesticity. Novels, in particular, were seen in mid-century America as appealing mostly to women.6 In the 1850s, when James came of age, the best-selling American novelists were primarily women writers of sentimental and domestic fictions against whom "serious" writers such as James were competing. Many male writers and critics railed against the prevalence of sentimentality and domesticity in contemporary writing. In early book reviews written between 1864 and 1867, James was no exception. Many of his reviews of works by women have a tone described by one critic as "ranging from condescension to outrage" (Habegger Woman Business 9). Against an insurgent crowd of women writers - Hawthorne's "scribbling women" - James's literary theory is partially an attempt to define a legitimate public role for the male novelist. The idea of becoming a great "man of letters" was appealing to James because it offered an escape from an impossible norm of masculinity represented by the American world of commerce and business.7 As a legitimate public role, "man of letters" also helped to contain the threat of becoming feminised, a threat prompted particularly by i 44 l contemporary critical discourse which characterised James as effeminate. In order to differentiate his own work from that of popular women writers, James elaborates a rhetoric of mastery in which the popular writings of American women are seen as lacking in the essential qualities of "art" and, as I shall discuss below, an authentic literature is aligned with capabilities and qualities culturally-coded as masculine - vision, consciousness, mastery.9 In chapter six below I shall address the question of James's, and Whistler's, appropriation of the feminine and the ways in which they strategically deployed feminine qualities and a feminised aesthetic as a social critique. However, here I want to concentrate on the complexity of James's theoretical position. In addition to the sphere of popular literature which, in both the United States and Britain, was dominated by women, the sphere of "serious literature" - that written by men and the occasional exceptional woman - was also competition for James. As an expatriate in London, James was concerned with asserting himself within a nationalistic American context as well as establishing his credentials in Europe. Serious American literature in the nineteenth century was preoccupied with the question of its own independence and originality. American writers yearned to be free of the memory, history, and representations associated with European literary tradition. In the early 1870s, Henry James acknowledged his own awareness of the "problem of Europe" with his comment that "It's a complex fate, being an American, and one of the responsibilities it entails is fighting against a superstitious valuation of Europe" (Edel, Letters 113). This "anxiety of influence", as Harold Bloom has called it, is expressed as the American effort to escape from the pressure of history and the weight of the past.10 As James so clearly notes, 45 American literary and artistic independence necessitates a struggle with a European double with whom the American is juxtaposed and from whom his or her identity is derived, an identity predicated on difference from this originary source. For John Carlos Rowe, the American insistence on "self-begetting" is the characteristic which constitutes its modernity." In his search for a new and distinctive literary form that will incorporate and supersede the nascent literary tradition represented by Hawthorne, as well as the established European tradition represented by Balzac and Eliot, James is actively engaged in creating a modern literary art. The form which this literary modernity takes, as outlined in the "Art of Fiction", is realism: One can speak best from one's own taste, and I may therefore venture to say that the air of reality (solidity of specification) seems to me to be the supreme virtue of a novel - the merit on which all its other merits . . . helplessly and submissively depend. If it be not there they are all as nothing, and if these be there, they owe their effect to the success with which the author has produced the illusion of life. The cultivation of this success, the study of this exquisite process, form, to my mind, the beginning and the end of the art of the novelist. (173) The realism theorised by James is not, however, the realism of Hawthorne, Eliot, or Flaubert. For James, Hawthorne's romanticism and "thinness" of specification make him unable to convey the "air of reality" so necessary to the novel, while Eliot's intrusive authorial omniscience mars her novels' "illusion of life" and Flaubert's low-life characters have insufficient "consciousness".12 "The Art of Fiction" is a polemic against both the overt moralising of the English novel and what James sees as the inartistic worldliness of 46 the French novel. Fiction should be, in James's account, neither a didactic, quasi-religious tract, nor the expose of the tawdry activities of the lower classes favoured by Flaubert and Zola. Neither should it be the "loose and baggy monster" that James characterises Tolstoy's creations as. Instead it must be a "sublime economy" of form that illustrates the growth and progress of a superior consciousness. The function of the modern work of literature, according to James, is not to offer a moral or reflect a pre-existing, and in the case of Zola, degraded reality but to create a coherent organic whole that represents the interior experiences of the aesthetic consciousness. Modern literary art must be engaged with modern life and must use the forms appropriate to that engagement. Overt authorial omniscience which presupposes a totalising "God's-eye" view of the world cannot articulate the experience of modernity nor can the naive documentary realism of the American literary realists such as William Dean Howells and Frank Norris. Just as the contemporary debates surrounding the morality of literature were active and heated, so too were the debates about the form literary realism should take. Realism was both a necessity and a problem in nineteenth century American fiction, necessary because the older romanticism of, say, Hawthorne was outdated and incapable of representing the "everlasting uncertainty and agitation", in Marx's words, of modern America, and problematic because the complexity of life in a rapidly changing society made reality itself seem uncertain, something to be "sought after rather than merely lived". 1 3 Realists try to construct a coherent social world from their confrontation with a contradictory and complex reality and in nineteenth century America the complexities were particularly acute. The rapid changes in post-civil war society produced fragmented 4 7 and competing social realities, while the simultaneous development of mass culture seemed to offer an equally threatening homogeneity. Confronted with these developments, realism was a strategy for managing the threats of social change. Realist works were in competition with older literary forms such as the romance, with the popular novel, and with emergent forms of mass media such as newspapers, magazines, and advertisements. If we consider realism as in competition with other cultural practices, it also becomes a strategy for defining and legitimating the position of the author. To call oneself a realist means to make a claim, as we have seen James do, for the cognitive value of fiction and for one's own cultural authority to possess and dispense access to the real. Within the expanding and modernising literary marketplace, James makes a case for his own realism as the most advanced fictional form and the one most able to capture the look and feel of modern social circumstances. As I shall discuss in chapter four, James's experiments with realism in The Portrait of a Lady do articulate the complexities of bourgeois female subjectivity. In addition to the elaboration of an intelligible public sphere, realists also formulated a new public role for the author in a mass market. James and Howells were both instrumental in this process, although their definitions of the art of fiction differ sharply. For both, however, romance and popular fiction were equally inadequate for representing the new social conditions of modern life. While James and Howells both considered themselves realists, they articulated conflicting ideas about the nature of realism and the form it should take. For Howells, James's primary competition in the field of American literature, romance, with its enslavement to past conventions, idealization of 48 subject matter, and aristocratic pretensions, was the "last refuge" of that "aristocratic spirit" which was fast disappearing from American politics and society.14 Realism, in contrast, was "democracy in literature" and able to represent a contemporary life beyond the limited range of the "cultured classes". Popular fiction was also attacked by Howells as a coarse form of amusement for the "unthinking multitude".15 Realism stands in opposition to the elitism of romance and the mindless entertainment of popular culture - it is productive work for both readers and writers. For Howells, realism is connected with industriousness and self-discipline. The realist novel depends for its effect upon the "faithful, almost photographic delineation of actual life" but without any unnatural straining after the "intenser and coarser emotions of flood and fire". The "standard of the arts" to which the writer should aspire was "the simple, the natural, the honest". To Howells, the proper subject of literature was the "everyday world", not the "superstition of the romantic, the bizarre, the heroic". Howells' realism emphasises the direct observation and recording of facts, effacing authorial presence through its directness of presentation.16 He was unconcerned with the author's role in shaping fiction into a harmonious aesthetic whole and to James his work seemed formless and weak. In contrast, James stresses the role of the controlling consciousness of the author in constructing a compelling artistic vision. Against Howells' advocacy of a "democratic" realism, James advocates an aristocracy of artistic vision. For James, Howells' insistence on a documentary realism was evidence of his enslavement to the "abject actual". In contrast, James insists on the importance of the mind's role in shaping reality. 49 While Howells' realism was an attempt to objectively record the material world, James's approach emphasises the subjective nature of all experience. This emphasis on subjectivity, as I have discussed in chapter one, is characteristic of modernist aesthetic production. Subjectivity for James meant a unique individuality through whose heightened consciousness we perceive the world. The quality of the perceptions of this unique subject - who is the author's surrogate - makes a novel worth reading. Recall with respect to this point James's assertion that "In proportion as [the artist's] intelligence is fine will the novel, the picture, the statue partake of the substance of beauty and truth" ("Art of Fiction" 181). Since James's own work features individuals of acute perception and elevated consciousness through whose subjectivity we apprehend the fictional world, we may safely assume that it is his own work that most clearly manifests that "beauty and truth" of which literary art should partake. If the modernist project is not simply to record the world but to construct the world in one's own image, then Howells' and Norris' feeble and unconscious subjects can in no way compete with James's superior ones in this endeavour. In the late work James's movement away from realism towards a stylistically advanced aestheticism can be seen as the problematic culmination of his engagement with modernity. As will be argued in chapter seven, James resolves the problems dealt with in his earlier work by at the same time internalising the commodification of culture and asserting that it is the aesthetic that is the ultimate source of value. However, while James argues for the aesthetic as a transcendent autonomous realm of value above and beyond the social world and its mass cultural commodities, The Golden Bowl demonstrates the 50 enmeshment of the aesthetic in that which it purports to stand above. In The Golden Bowl, his last novel, James describes a world in which people treat one another like commodities but whose narrative of objectification is redeemed by being molded into the static perfection of a smooth, symmetrical golden bowl. James's stylistic innovations and use of language itself reinforce the content of the novel. Rather than being the realistic representation of an external world required by readers accustomed to clearly-articulated stories, The Golden Bowl places us inside an authorial consciousness that is itself consumption-oriented. With the increasing complexity of late nineteenth century life, realism as an aesthetic strategy was no longer able to represent a society in which "all that is solid melts into air". In the 1890s the full implications of the new cultural market situation, as well as the broader social changes outlined in chapter one, made themselves apparent in the radically changed forms of aestheticism with its emphasis on art as an expression of a unique subjectivity rather than a mirror of the natural or social worlds. Instead of revealing some objective truth about the external world, aestheticist art reveals the mind of its producer. However, that such art is explicitly devoted to an articulation or examination of heightened consciousness does not, as I shall demonstrate below, mean that James's aestheticist art is unconnected with or unaffected by the social world. Ill In "The Art of Fiction" James had begun to stress the importance of consciousness as an attribute of the artist. He will go on in the prefaces to the New York edition to assert that human consciousness is the most important factor in producing a piece of literature. 5 1 James's concentration on the role of consciousness here should be seen in light of contemporary post-Darwinian notions of evolutionary progress in nineteenth century Britain and America. While it is beyond the scope of this study to go into detail about the significance of the issue of consciousness to nineteenth century theories of gender, class and race, what is important to note is that in such theories, consciousness was seen as an attribute of the highly-evolved.17 In somewhat hysterical language, cultural critics and social scientists elaborated on the distinctions between the sexes, classes and races in terms of ability to think and be original. The most highly evolved individuals were those who were most capable of original thought and abstract reasoning. For social scientists such as Max Nordau and Harry Campbell, originality and individuality were what separated men from women and the "superior" classes and races from the "inferior".18 For James and some other avant-garde bourgeois male artists, these simplistic distinctions were complicated by their alienation from what they saw as the materialistic, compulsively masculinist values of their class.19 However, while the extent to which James himself subscribed to contemporary theories of evolutionary development is unclear, what is clear is that, just as evolutionary discourse saw consciousness as the attribute of the most highly evolved human beings, James emphasised consciousness as the most important characteristic of the artist. As a fully conscious being, the artist described in James's New York edition prefaces is the epitome of human excellence, one who, confronted with the anxieties of modernity, constructs a world in his own image. The series of works that make up the twenty-four volume New York edition, begun in 1906 and completed in 1908, were intended to be James's definitive literary and 52 theoretical statement. The New York edition was to be a deluxe production, carefully edited, and specially designed with prefaces to each volume written for the occasion and commissioned photographic frontispieces. As literary manifesto, aesthetic object and artistic self-portrait, the New York edition can be seen as a modernist creation par excellence. Although he was acknowledged as a "Master of prose fiction", James's work was neither selling well, nor receiving the careful, serious attention he felt it deserved. James wanted to give his works a coherence and unified form that would allow them to be properly understood by an ideal audience. The New York edition was designed to create the sort of critically sophisticated and intellectually acute readership he desired. It was the result of a particular thematic design, and its inclusions and exclusions of certain works, as well as their extensive revisions, were an integral part of that design, intended to give the entire body of work an overall unity of style and structure.20 As an aesthetic object, the New York edition is the fully-evolved organic whole for which the modernist aesthetic longs. It is also a testament to the modernist desire to erase history and context, to be self-originating and self-authenticating. The New York edition is a particularly compelling example of James's obsession with authority and originality. In this edition, the stylistic variations evident in a historical chronology of his work are minimised and particular aspects of character and voice are emphasised through revision.21 His entire body of work is reconstructed as a homogeneous, synchronic whole, rather than a diachronic record of change through time. Through his revisions James effaces some of the evidence of his development as an author 53 in favour of presenting his work as a self-portrait of achieved artistic excellence.22 In its self-contained, self-referential wholeness, complete with a photographic portrait of the master himself in the first volume, the direction of his head pointing the way for the reader to follow, the New York edition constructs James as an exemplary modernist artist - self-created, self-defined and self-aestheticised. In all his theoretical writings, including the early essays and the New York edition prefaces, James is concerned to present a picture of the artist as a kind of heroic figure who stands opposed to the materialistic industrialised society around him. The increasingly marginal position of literature and the arts in a society concerned with "traveling and shooting . . . pushing trade and playing football" ("Future" 247), coupled with that society's devotion to a flood of debased mass culture, meant that an artist such as James was doubly threatened. Elaboration of a theory of consciousness allows the artist to set himself apart from the vulgar, uncritical and unreflective bourgeois consumers and working class masses. For James, it is the artist who has the most highly developed consciousness and thus the greatest ability to penetrate the ambiguities of contemporary existence. For example, in the preface to the Portrait of a Lady. James tells us that The spreading field, the human scene, is the "choice of subject"; the pierced aperture, either broad or balconied or slit-like and low-browed, is the "literary form"; but they are, singly or together, as nothing without the posted presence of the watcher - without, in other words, the consciousness of the artist. Tell me what the artist is, and I will tell you of what he has been conscious. Thereby I shall 54 express to you at once his boundless freedom and his "moral reference". (AN 46-7) The questions to be asked of piece of fiction are "Is it valid, in a word, is it genuine, is it sincere, the result of some direct impression or perception of Life?" (AN 45). The qualities of genuineness, sincerity and perception distinguish the work of fictional art from the "story", that piece of insincere, inartistic "make-believe" that currently overwhelms the literary marketplace. It is the quality of the artist's sensibility that dictates the sincerity or genuineness of his perceptions: "There is, I think, no more nutritive or suggestive truth in this connexion than that of the perfect dependence of the 'moral' sense of a work of art on the amount of felt life concerned in producing it. The question comes back thus, obviously, to the kind and degree of the artist's prime sensibility, which is the soil out of which his subject springs" (AN 45). The artist's consciousness is active and acute. It is fully as highly developed as a scientist's or detective's. Indeed, in the preface to Portrait James describes the artist as a kind of detective, having a "pair of glasses" or a "fieldglass" which forms a "unique instrument" able to give a "distinct impression" (AN 46). In the preface to Roderick Hudson, James compares the artist to the mathematician; both create their own ideal coherent worlds: Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, a circle within which they shall happily appear to do so. (AN 5) 55 James sees the novel as the perfect art form because its "sublime economy" has the capacity to order and control an experience which is essentially disordered and uncontrolled. Life is messy but art is not: "There is life and life, and as waste is only life sacrificed and thereby prevented from 'counting', I delight in a deep-breathing economy and an organic form" (AN 84). The artist improves upon nature by converting the formlessness of life into the organic wholeness of art. "Life being all inclusion and confusion, and art being all discrimination and selection", the "sublime economy" of art redeems the "splendid waste" of life (AN 120). Here, the art of fiction is again opposed to the "contemporary deluge" of popular literature for whose audience "taste is but an obscure, confused, immediate instinct" ("Future" 244, 243). The taste and sensitivity of the artist is in stark contrast to the lack of sensitivity of the consumers who make up the primary audience for literature. In the New York edition prefaces James completes the picture of modern literary art and the literary artist which he began in "The Art of Fiction". Fiction is to be a self-conscious, self-contained aesthetic whole which is revelatory of a heightened consciousness. Rather than being content merely to reflect a pre-existing world, the literary artifact creates its own world, a world which is superior to the degraded materialistic insensitive world of late nineteenth century society. Having created this picture of what literature should be, James then used this creation as a means of marketing himself and his own work as that best equipped to correspond to this picture. IV 56 i As I discussed in chapter one, advanced artists such as Henry James occupied an uneasy position both within and in opposition to the larger social order. As an i i autonomous aesthetic producer, James is free to create whatever he pleases and sell the products of that creativity on the open market. His works and indeed he himself are commodities for sale. While James seeks to set his work apart from society's mass cultural artifacts and differentiate his art from other market commodities^ James finds himself ! enmeshed in the cultural marketplace. As only one voice among many others in an i increasingly crowded, competitive aesthetic marketplace, James must strain to sell himself i < as an avant-garde artist. I James's attempt to define a position for himself took place in a cultural sphere which was expanding and mutating. In his 1899 essay "The Future of the Novel" James remarked on the huge increase in reading material available to a newly literate audience by saying that "The flood at present swells and swells, threatening the whole field of letters, as would often seem, with submersion . . . The book, in the Anglo-Saxon world, is almost everywhere" (242).23 Indeed, the late nineteenth century literary marketplace in which i James found himself was significantly different from that of the first half of the century.24 Changes in the production and distribution of books in both England and the United States allowed cheap paper reprints of older works as well as contemporary foreign fiction to proliferate. The publication of inexpensive one volume books in England challenged the earlier custom of publishing new works in expensive three volume editions. By the nineties, bookselling had become a large and lucrative business and the last decade of the century was marked by an explosion of publishing houses, bookstores, and authors. In I i • 57 such a competitive situation, that a new and distinct literary form might also become a I sought-after commodity was not lost on James. His emphasis on stylistic considerations in his literary theory suggests that he also saw the potential for an innovative literary form as a means of capturing his share of this new reading public. However, given the proliferation of more inexpensive and accessible texts, James's authorial and financial, investment in the expensive New York edition was probably destined for failure from the start. Such failure, then, could be rationalised as evidence of the inadequate sensitivity and intellect of James's audience and confirmation of the avant-garde nature of his work. i Accompanying the increased availability of books was the growth of a new mass reading public. This modem public was a much different one than that addressed by the mid-century authors who stood as models for James. In his 1899 essay James indicated his own awareness of the changed nature of the reading public with the comment that "There is an immense public, if public be the name, inarticulate, but abysmally absorbent... [that] grows and grows each year" ("Future" 242). This broader cross-section| of readers meant i a new diversity of competing interests, with the majority of the readership composed of t newly educated classes who were unfamiliar with literary tradition and the monuments of English literature. In such a situation, James's literary theory serves two purposes. It asserts an avant-garde position within a changing cultural field and also 'attempts to convert some of these new readers to his own work. In fact, James suggests in "The Future of the Novel" that both the "admirable minority of intelligent persons" and the i "deceived and bored" audience for popular literature may come to appreciate the "great prose fable" that is the (Jamesian) novel (244). 58 With sophisticated methods of printing and distributing books and a greatly expanded reading market, the writing and publishing of books had by the late century become a modern commercial enterprise. With modernisation and industrialisation, separate spheres of cultural activity were articulated within which career paths were established. "Men of letters" such as James formed a new specialised class of professional writers and organizations such as the Society of Authors were formed to protect and promote writers' interests. As Rachel Bowlby points out in Just Looking, in the new world of images and signs that characterised the late century culture of consumption the status of writers became unstable. The "romantic genius" of the nineteenth century emerged at the same time as the industrialisation of literature attacked his authorial i freedom: Poetic genius pitted itself against the mechanical demands of the all-too-workaday commercial world, and neither side of the dichotomy, put this way, can be thought apart from the other. The same developments which were binding commerce and culture closer together, making commerce into a matter of beautiful images and culture into a matter of trade, a sector of commerce, also, paradoxically, led to the theoretical distinction whereby they were seen not only as heterogeneous terms but as antithetical in nature. The 'absolute' value of 'art for art's sake' versus the monetary values of commerce became a standard opposition in contemporary debates . . . (Bowlby 8-9)25 I The position of fictional art and the artist himself is threatened by the "monstrous I multiplications" ("Future" 245) of texts created by the literature industry. In "The Art of 59 Fiction" James had noted this threat with his comment that "good novels are much compromised by bad ones, and . . . the field at large suffers discredit from overcrowding" (169). Although the field in general "has been vulgarised . . . like everything else to-day", James maintained that "there is as much difference as there ever was between a good novel and a bad one" (169). And the good novel, one concerned with "observation and perception . . . art and taste" ("Future" 250), will resist becoming simplified and cheapened by pandering to its audience. The good novel must challenge its readers by repudiating the stereotyped and pre-packaged: "It is certain that there is no real health for any art -1 am not speaking, of course, of any mere industry - that does not move a step in advance of its farthest follower" ("Future" 249-50). Throughout his career, James continued to argue for the necessity of the art of fiction and the importance of the novelist to an audience for whom they seemed increasingly less important. As a member of a misunderstood oppositional avant-garde, James's failure to reach a wider audience only served to reconfirm his own superiority to the philistines who refused to read him. In his theoretical writings, James articulates a rhetoric of mastery in which the objectified and alienated human subject created by science, technology, and industrial capitalism is refigured as the active and engaged producer of his own destiny. The artist James constructs in his prefaces emerges as the archetypal human being in his ability to construct his own world of values through the exercise of a superior consciousness, values which are in opposition to those of mass culture. With his celebration of a sphere of autonomous high art enjoyed by a perceptive self-aware individual, James sets the artist apart from the purveyors of "stories" and the discriminating reader apart from the 60 uncritical consumer of those same stories. He also sets the artist up as the consummate professional. In the industrialisation and professionalisation of the newly^emergent autonomous sphere of the aesthetic, the artist is the possessor of a body of specialised knowledge about this new entity and makes a career out of imparting that knowledge to an unenlightened public.2 6 As a professional the artist is a "self-authenticating authority" (Freedman xix) on the aesthetic. However, also as a consequence of art's autonomy in a market economy, the sphere of the aesthetic itself becomes commodified. Art is one more object to be acquired or appreciated for sensory enjoyment, investment or as evidence of one's superior taste and sophistication. The artist or writer also participates in the process by which art becomes commodified by actively marketing the aesthetic. James's own engagement with i the literary marketplace throughout his career was driven by his search for an audience. i From the early success of Daisy Miller to the late financial failure of the jNew York edition, sales of his work were a vital concern. Paradoxically, even the financial failure of the New York edition could be turned into a success in that it enabled James to make a place for himself within the avant-garde as a Master of the Art of Fiction. The artist's construction of himself as alienated, isolated and unread could be an asset in the new cultural marketplace. As Freedman says with respect toRossetti, Swinburne and Wilde, the role of the alienated artist could and often did ;achieve financial, critical and social success in the same degraded world he claimed to rebel against (54). This issue will be discussed further in chapter three, but here I want to note that Whistler's aesthetic theories, innovations and public persona were, like James's, designed to assert - 61 I himself within the competitive artistic marketplace of late nineteenth century Europe. What James achieved by elaborating a literary-critical discourse focusing on his own i mastery of fictional art, Whistler will achieve by the construction of an artistic persona that emphasised originality, mastery of an esoteric body of knowledge, and an "exquisite" sensibility. My point here is not to suggest that James or Whistler were acting in bad faith or dishonestly by participating in that which they critiqued. It is to argue that the contradictions of their position are a function of the cultural and social changes occurring within modernisation. His own critical awareness of these changes, and his attempts to deal with them, make the problems of modem high art cultural production visible in James's literary theory. They will also be made visible in Whistler's career path and theoretical statements, to an examination of which I now turn. 1 For financial information about James's work see Appendix I, "James's Sales", in Roger Gard, ed., Henry James: The Critical Heritage. In an 1888 letter to Howells, James lamented that the demand for his work was minuscule but also expressed hope that that would change: "Very likely . . . some day, all my buried prose will kick off its various tombstones at once". {Lubbock vol. 1 135). Two years later he wrote to his brother William that "One always has a public enough if one has an audible vibration - even if it should only come from one's self. {Lubbock vol. 1 170). In The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act Fredric Jameson argues that James's use of point of view, codification of it into a preeminent narrative technique, and elaboration of an entire aesthetics around it was the means by which James was transformed from a minor nineteenth century man of letters into America's greatest novelist by the 1950s (221-222). On James's canonisation, see Alfred Habegger, Gender, Fantasy, and Realism in American Literature. As representatives of high Anglo-American modernism the expatriates who followed James - Pound and Eliot - can be seen as exemplary. 2 The success of James's literary theory may be judged by the fact that for so many years criticism of James tended to be Jamesian, technical and formalist. In particular, the prefaces to the New York edition elaborate the criteria by which James wished to be evaluated and Anglo-American New Criticism took its cue from James's direction. 3 For studies of the James-Besant quarrel see John Goode, "The Art of Fiction: Walter Besant and Henry James" and Mark Spilka, "Henry James and Walter Besant: 'The Art of Fiction' Controversy". 4 Even though James uses visual art here as an example of a field in which questions ;of morality do not intrude, he is incorrect with respect to British art as I shall outline in chapter three. For the British critics of Whistler his style and subject matter made his "morality" questionable. 5 See the commentary on "The Art of Fiction" in Veeder and Griffin,_184-8. See also note 168:38 for a summary of the contemporary critical reaction to James's work. 6 See Alfred Habegger, Gender, Fantasy, and Realism in American Literature and Louise L. Stevenson. 7 James himself observed that American life was divided into two separate spheres of activity, the masculine world of commerce and business and the feminine world of culture. In his preface to The 62 Reverberator, James admitted that he was incompetent to grasp the American man: "The men . . . . the fathers, brothers, playmates, male appendages of whatever presumption, were visible and thinkable only as the American 'business-man'; and before the American business-man, as I have been prompt to declare, I was absolutely and irredeemably helpless, with no fibre of my intelligence responding to his mystery" (AN 193). 8 In the preface to Volume XV of the New York edition, James described his immersion in the feminine sphere of domesticity as being trapped "uptown", "alone . . . with the music-masters and French pastry-cooks, the ladies and children [who are] immensely present and immensely numerous", a feminised field marked by its "extraordinary absence . . . of a serious male interest" (AN 273). William Dean Howells suggested that James's male readers "were of a more feminine fineness, probably, in their perceptions and intuitions, than those other men who do not read him" (qtd. in Dupee 27). J.P. Mowbray commented more negatively on the lack of "virility" in James's writing: "[In] trying to form anything like a comprehensive estimate of James's mature work, the effeminacy of it has to be counted with. One cannot call it virile, and . . . hardly Saxon" (qtd. in Gard 331). By 1951, as Virginia C. Fowler notes, the equation of James and femininity had become a critical commonplace with Dupee's assessment of him as the "great feminine novelist of a feminine age of letters" (97). See F.W. Dupee, Henry James. See Fowler, Henry James's American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas chap, one for a discussion of James's views on women and culture.. While earlier critics have seen James's "femininity" as simply negative, indicating a lack of power or virility on the part of the writer, they have not seen this femininity's socio-historical significance as part of the late nineteenth century avant-garde social critique. In chapter six below I shall address James's and Whistler's imaginary femininity with respect to its critique of bourgeois society. 9 It is beyond the scope of the present study to examine in detail James's reviews of popular women's writing. For further information on this topic see the following studies. Several critics have discussed James's indebtedness to the women novelists of his day, from whom he would borrow plots, characters, and styles. See William Veeder, Henry James - The Lessons of the Master: Popular Fiction and Personal Style in the Nineteenth Century and Alfred Habegger, Henry James and the "Woman Business". For a discussion of James's relationship with popular women's writing and the mass market, see Michael Anesko, Friction with the Market: Henry James and the Profession of Authorship; Marcia Jacobson, Henry James and the Mass Market and Ann T. Margolis, Henry James and the Problem of Audience: An International Act. 1 0 For discussions of the "anxiety of influence" in nineteenth century American literature, see John Carlos Rowe, Through the Customs House: Nineteenth Century American Fiction and Modern Theory and Robert Weisbuch, Atlantic Double-Cross: American Literature and British Influence'in the Age of Emerson. 1 1 Rowe, Through the Custom House. In Essays: First Series Emerson asserts that the American can "live all history in his own person" and that "There is properly no history, only biography" (II, 6). In the American Jeremiad. Sacvan Bercovitch says that for the American the unidirectional, linear time of history collapses into an expansive present inhabited by a voluminous and comprehensive self. The American difference from Europe is a "merging, unprecedented in its absoluteness" of personal, national and spiritual aspirations. This conflation of self, nation, and God is articulated in a self-conscious, symbol-making literature in which the self is created, externalised, and then given dominion over the external world. See also R.W.B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence and Tragedy and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. While James saw the lack of a complex social machinery as detrimental to the practice of writing in America, later critics turned it into a virtue, seeing this lack as the distinguishing feature of an American tradition With this reversal, the impoverished soil of American culture became the most fertile ground for the American literary tradition. The now familiar distinction between the European novel and the American romance was most fully articulated by Richard Chase in The American Novel and its Tradition. For a critique of Chase's romance thesis, see Amy Kaplan, The Social Construction of American Realism. 1 2 In James's 1872 review of Eliot's Middlemarch he calls it both "one of the strongest" and "one of the weakest of English novels", a "treasure-house of details" but an "indifferent whole" (Art of Criticism 48), He believed that she, like so many other English novelists, failed to recognise the importance of literary i I 63 _ _ i form. He reiterated this in 1873, saying of Romola that it was "overladen with learning, it smells of the lamp, it tastes just perceptibly of pedantry" (Art of Criticism 56). For James's views pn the French and English novel, as well as his discussion of Hawthorne, see the selections contained in Veeder and Griffin. 1 3 For a discussion of the transformations in American society during the late nineteenth century and their impact on cultural forms, see T.J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Anti-Modernism and the Transformation of American Culture. 1880 - 1920. On American literary realism and its social context, see Amy Kaplan. The Social Construction of American Realism and Daniel H. Borus, Writing Realism: Howells. James, and Norris in the Mass Market. ! 1 4 William Dean Howells, "Editor's Study", Harper's Monthly 75 (Sept. 1887): 639. 1 5 William Dean Howells, "Editor's Study", Harper's Monthly 75 (April 1887): 825., 1 6 For Howells's literary criticism, see Selected Literary Criticism. 1 7 The classification schemes of such scientists as Linnaeus, Petrus Camper, Lavater and J.J. Virey offer a picture of a hierarchically-ordered universe in which the white European male occupies the highest position by virtue of his skin colour, anatomy, and physiology and the ethical and intellectual qualities associated with these physical characteristics. For a discussion of these theories and their influence on aesthetics, see J. Devisse and M. Mollat, The Image of the Black in Western Art Vol. 4: From the American Revolution to world War I. 1 8 See, for example, Max Nordau, Degeneration and Francis Galton, Hereditary Genius. For a discussion of the impact of evolutionary discourse and its assumptions about the nature of consciousness on the arts in the late nineteenth century, see Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture and Kimberley Reynolds and Nicola Humble, Victorian Heroines: Representations of Femininity in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Art. On James and consciousness, see Courtney Johnson, Henry James and the Evolution of Consciousness. 1 9 James's own appropriation of the feminine, in his rewriting of the plots and characters of novels by women and in his immersion in the realm of the domestic, can be seen as both and attempt to contain and diffuse the feminine by redoing it and his protest against the compulsory masculinity of the American society in which he had grown up. For a discussion of male avant-garde appropriation of the feminine, see Rita Felski, "The Counter Discourse of the Feminine in Three Texts by Wilde, Huysmans, and Sacher-Masoch". 2 0 For an analysis of James's revisions for the New York edition, see Philip Home, Henry James and Revision: The New York Edition. For a discussion of the architecture of the New York edition and James's collaboration with photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, see Ralph Bogardus, Pictures and Text: Henry James. A.L. Coburn, and New Ways of Seeing in Literary Culture. Sara Blair discusses James's obsession with literary mastery in the construction of the New York edition in "Henry James and the Paradox of Literary Mastery". 2 1 For example, for a detailed analysis of the effects of James's revisions to Portrait of a Lady for the New York edition, see Nina Baym, "Revision and Thematic Change in the Portrait of a Lady. 2 2 For a discussion of James's concern with authority and origin in the New York edition, see John Carlos Rowe, "Forms of the Reader's Act, Author and Reader in the Prefaces to the New York Edition", The Theoretical Dimensions of Henry James, 219-52 and David Carroll, The Subject in Question: The Languages of Theory and the Strategies of Fiction. 2 3 With the respect to James's language here, identifying mass culture and its audience as a "flood" that "swells and swells", see Andreas Huyssen, "Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism's Other", After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. 44-62. In chapter five below I will discuss James's gendered construction of popular culture with respect to The Tragic Muse. , 2 4 For a discussion of James's relation with the mass market see Marcia Jacobson, Henry James and the Mass Market and Sara Chapman, Henry James's Portrait of the Writer as Hero. 2 5 In Henry James and the Art of Power Mark Seltzer discusses the ways in which the Society of Authors itself served to conflate the two incommensurable values of literary work - the "literary" and the "monetary". The primary objective of the Society was to maintain, define and defend literary property, a view of literature as property that seems opposed to the distinct aesthetic value that the society wanted to 64 protect. The opposition between two conceptions of the Author, one as "man of letters" and the other as "man of business" were themselves oppositions produced by the industrialisation of literature. 2 6 On James as an aesthetic professional and his interaction with British aestheticism and commodity culture, see the excellent study by Jonathan Freedman. Professions of Taste: Henry James. British Aestheticism. and Commodity Culture. Freedman's text has been particularly useful to my own study. j CHAPTER THREE James McNeill Whistler's Aesthetic Theory In his literary theory, Henry James often used visual art, especially painting, as an analogue of fiction. In "The Art of Fiction", as we have seen, he pressed for the equality of fiction and painting when making his arguments in favour of fiction as art. That he did so is partially a result of the fact that in the nineteenth century, the fiction writer in the Anglo-American world had a lesser status than the painter. As described by Smith, the writer in London was "looked upon as something of a bastard child among the prodigy of i the sister arts, certainly beneath the painter in cultural and aesthetic rank and not about to be included in forums concerning the future heights of English aesthetics" ("James, Degas, and the Modern View" 56). Writing to his friend Grace Norton in 1884,,Henry James acknowledged this fact with the following statement: "I suppose it is the demon of envy -but I can't help contrasting the greater reward of a successful painter, here, and his glory and honour generally, with the so much more modest emoluments of the men of letters" (Edel, Henry James: The Middle Years 111). In order to argue for the importance of fiction and his own place in the history of Anglo-American letters, James asserted that the novelist and the painter were equals who pursue the same aims with the same means. As a model of how to create a modern art and an audience for that art, James had the example of James McNeill Whistler in the field of visual art, arguably the only avant-garde Anglo-American artist working in London in the late nineteenth century. In the previous chapter I discussed James's aesthetic theory in the context of the modernisation of the sphere of literature and the consequent unstable place of the serious literary artist.1 In this chapter I i I ' 66 shall discuss the ways in which these same conditions are revealed in the work of James's counterpart in the world of visual art. James met Whistler in 1878 at the home of a mutual friend and, although they were never close friends, they continued to keep in touch throughout their careers. While James's first published view of Whistler's work in 1877 was that "[It does] not amuse me" (Painter's Eye 143), he came to appreciate the artist more and more as the century progressed.1 Of Whistler's image of Henry Irving as Philip, James wrote in 1897 that it i was "exquisite", "one of the finest of all distillations of the artistic intelligence" (Painter's Eye 258). To turn from Whistler's work to the rest of the exhibition was, for James, "to I drop from the world of distinction, of perception, of beauty and mystery and perpetuity, into - well, a very ordinary place" (259). James acknowledged Whistler as one of his "Brothers" in an 1897 letter to the painter and declared his artistic solidarity with him: For the arts are one, and with the artist the artist communicates. [You are] one who knows. You know, above all, better than anyone, how dreadfully few are such . . . You have done too much of the exquisite not to have earned more despair than anything else; but don't doubt that something vibrates back when that Exquisite takes the form of recognition of a not utterly indelicate brother. (Edel, Letters IV 43) James's solidarity with Whistler is evident much earlier, however, as this examination of Whistler's aesthetic theories will show. In this chapter I shall first describe the evolution of Whistler's aesthetic, then demonstrate its similarities to James's, and then analyse the ways 67 in which he, like James, simultaneously repudiates and participates in the industrialisation of art under modernity. I At the beginning of his career, Whistler, like James, was searching for a means of representing contemporary life. For Whistler, again like James, that means was initially realism. But what did "realism" in the visual arts mean? Just as it was in the field of literature, in art "realism" was also an important and contested issue. When Whistler came to Paris in 1855, drawn in part by the images of bohemian life he had read about in novels, debates about realism were raging in the press. The 1855 Exposition Universelle was in full swing, showcasing the work of Ingres and Delacroix, and Courbet's Pavillion of Realism provided an overview of that artist's work. Although the Exposition included many examples of Salon history and genre painting, for advanced artists, and their critic supporters in the 1850s, academic history and narrative painting was outmoded and exhausted. Rather than representing the heroic events and people of the past, artists were exhorted to paint contemporary society. As the critic Champfleury put it, the "serious representation of present-day personalities, the derbies, the black dress-coats, the polished shoes or the peasants' sabots" (qtd. in Nochlin, Realism 28) had much greater aesthetic interest than the objects of the past. Whistler took note of this advice and paid close attention, as had James, to the contemporary debates surrounding realism and representation. i For the mid century French avant-garde, realism was the representational form most suited to the depiction of contemporary life. Their slogan, "II faut etre de son 68 temps", asserts the avant-garde's demand that contemporary art should reflect modern life. This assertion suggests that those living in a particular time - modernity - are obliged to be aware of its characteristics and represent those characteristics in their art. While for an earlier generation of painters, being of one's time might mean representing the heroism of contemporary history, such as Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, what was new in the 1850s was the notion that everyday life was worth recording. Being of one's time meant representing the appearance and experience of one's own surroundings, the "history of the future" (Farwell 86). Farwell suggests in Manet and the Nude that probably at no other time in the past did such an intense sense of their own position with respect to history i pervade the writers and artists of the avant-garde. Rather than continuing to represent the same tired old historical subjects in the styles sanctioned by tradition, the avant-garde sought out new subjects and new ways of representing them: "[The avant-garde artists] make constant reference to their own century and its characteristics, as though conscious of playing a role on the stage of civilization that would be judged, or at least researched in the future" (Farwell 87). Whistler desired success on that artistic stage and familiarised himself with the critical discourse of modernity articulated by avant-garde artists and critics. He paid particular attention to the writings of Champfleury, Thore and Baudelaire, in which the question of the modern becomes a pressing issue. In an essay entitled "The Painter of Modern Life" (1863), Baudelaire used the term "modernite" to describe a particularly modern identity: "By 'modernity'T mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable" (13). The modern, as articulated by Baudelaire, does not simply mean of 69 the present but a particular attitude towards the present. "Modern" describes a self-conscious experience of modernity, an experience which is characteristic of the modern period and distinguishes it from all other historical periods. For Baudelaire, being modem does not mean simply being up-to-date; it means expressing the experience of modernity: change, movement, flux. A modem art should emphasise the relationship of the individual i to the contemporary social world.2 Like Champfleury, Baudelaire asserted that rather than focusing on biblical or historical events and people, a modem art should; represent i contemporary life in all its complexity. For Baudelaire, the relationship between "modem" and "modernity" was not fixed, but shifting and changing and a modem art should reflect that experience. Realism was seen by its supporters to be the means of representation that best i articulated this understanding of the modem. As realism evolved, contemporaneity itself i became more clearly defined as "this very moment". The image of the changing, the i unstable, the impermanent, seemed closer to the experience of everyday life than the fixed, stable, and permanent. Courbet himself had written against academic history painting in favour of the representation of contemporary life, saying "I hold the artists of one century basically incapable of reproducing the aspect of a past or future century.. It is in this sense that I deny the possibility of historical art applied to the past. Historical art is by nature contemporary. Each epoch must have its artists who express it and reproduce it for the future" (qtd. in Nochlin Realism 28). Courbet, like the American writer W.D. Howells, saw realism as "democracy in art". For both, realism stood in opposition to romanticism 70 i I I and aristocratic pretensions.3 However, for Whistler this conception of realism was inadequate as we shall see. > Just as James had, Whistler began his career with aspirations to be a realist. He was a close friend of Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros (with whom he formed the short-lived Society of Three) and knew Courbet, Manet and Degas.4 In 1859 he joined a group of artists at Bonvin's studio for a life drawing session under the direction of Courbet, whom he called " A great man!" (qtd. in Anderson 76). He admired Courbet's work at the Salon of 1857 and in the period between 1857 and 1860 - 61 constructed his own version of realism which followed yet differed from that of Courbet. In chapter four I will discuss two of Whistler's early realist paintings, but here I want to note that his move away from realism, as represented by Courbet, may be linked to the criticism of the latter's work by one of the critics Whistler most admired, Baudelaire himself.5 Although initially supportive, Baudelaire turned away from Courbet's work in the 1850s because Courbet's realism seemed to lack imagination, an attribute he identified as the "queen of faculties". In a review of the 1855 Exposition Universelle, Baudelaire attacked both Ingres and Courbet for this defect: [The] heroic sacrifice offered by M . Ingres in honour of the idea and the tradition of Raphaelesque Beauty is performed by M . Courbet on behalf of external, positive and immediate Nature. In their war against the imagination they are obedient to different motives; but their two opposing varieties of fanaticism lead them to the same immolation, (qtd. in Lochnan 197) 71 In his "Salon of 1859" Baudelaire theorised an opposition between two kinds of artists, the imaginatifs, for whom the act of creative imagination and the use of "comparison, i metaphor, and allegory" are most important, and the realistes or positivistes, who represent reality as it is - "The universe without man" (qtd. in Fried, Courbet's Realism 4-5).6 As a supporter of Delacroix, Baudelaire maintained that the Romantic emphasis on the creating imagination must be present in art.7 Realism's connections with materialism, democracy, and the apparently unmediated portrayal of the real precluded it from representing "modem beauty" as Baudelaire conceived of it. Realism was increasingly seen by critics such as Baudelaire and Thore as a slavish imitation of the material world rather than its imaginative recreation. This is a position Whistler would come to agree with, focusing as it does on the importance of the artist's imagination. It is also a position Henry James would have agreed with, as I have suggested in chapter one. While several of Whistler's early paintings show Courbet's influence, in an 1867 letter to Fantin-Latour written after he had moved to London, Whistler savagely repudiated both Courbet and realism: Ah my dear Fan tin what a frightful education I've given myself - or rather what a terrible lack of education I feel I have had! - With the fine gifts I naturally possess what a fine painter I should be by now! If, vain and satisfied with those gifts only, I hadn't shunned everything else! No! You see the time was not good for me! Courbet and his influence was disgusting! The regret I feel and the rage, hate, even, I have for that now but perhaps there's an explanation. It's not poor Courbet whom I find repugnant, any more than his work - As always I recognize its i : 72 qualities - I'm not at all complaining about the influence of his painting on mine -there is none, and you will not find it in my canvases - it couldn't be; because I'm too personal and know I've always been rich in qualities he doesn't have but which i suit me well - but there's perhaps a reason why all this has been pernicious for me. i It's that damned Realism which made an immediate appeal to my vanity as a painter! and mocking tradition cried out loud, with all the confidence of ignorance, "Long live Nature!!" Nature! My dear chap that cry has been a big mistake for me! (Spencer, Whistler: A Retrospective 82) 1 The terms of Whistler's repudiation of Courbet and realism here are quite harsh, and suggest, as well as a disagreement with Courbet's politics and aesthetics, a personal animosity towards the other painter, sparked by a professional and personal rivalry. i However the view he expresses here of realism and nature is one that recurs throughout his career. 1 II i Both Whistler and James moved away from realism for the same reasons. It was insufficiently "aesthetic", in this case meaning refined and revealing of the imaginative processes of the artist, and devoted to the "fatal futility of Fact" (AN 122). Recall that for James, life, or nature, is indiscriminate, "all inclusion and confusion" (AN 120), while art selects and discriminates. It is the artist's job to pick and choose the elements from life that will make art, to redeem "clumsy Life" from her "stupid work" (AN 121). James's belief in the superiority of art to life was succinctly revealed in the words of the artist in his short story "The Real Thing": "I have an innate preference for the represented subject 73 over the real one; the defect of the real one was so apt to be a lack of representation" (Tales 194).8 These words could well have been spoken by Whistler. Like James, Whistler saw nature as defective. In an 1883 letter to his sister-in-law Helen Whistler moaned about Cornwall where he had gone to paint: "Well - for dulness, this place is simply amazing! nothing but Nature about - and Nature is a poor creature after all - as I have often told you - poor company certainly - and artistically, often offensive" (qtd Anderson 256). That the artist who imitates poor nature is also a poor creature was expressed by Whistler in The Red Rag (1878); "The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, the flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists i would be the photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond this" (Thorp 52). The "something beyond" is to improve upon nature through the exercise of the artist's vision and imagination. < In its insistence on "art for art's sake", that art has its own separate sphere and function, and his devotion to aesthetic form, Whistler's aesthetic theory is similar to that of James. Just as James had railed again the importance of story and moralising in the i English novel, so too did Whistler attack the British propensity for those characteristics in its art. Thinking back to when he had first come to London in the early 1860s, Whistler commented on the importance of the "subject" to the British painting: When I came to London I was received graciously by the painters. Then there was coldness, and I could not understand. Artists locked themselves up in their studios - opened the doors only on the chain; if they met each other in the street they barely spoke . . . Then I found out the mystery: it was the moment of painting the i 74 royal Academy picture. Each man was afraid his subject might be stolen. It was the great era of the subject. And, at last, on Varnishing Day, there was the subject in all its glory - wonderful! The British subject! What! (Spencer, Whistler: A Retrospective 63). The British insistence on the importance of subject was anathema to Whistler, who insisted that a painting was before anything else an arrangement of colours and forms on a canvas. In the "Ten O'Clock Lecture" (1885) Whistler will go on to saythat the painting is not "a novel, a history or an anecdote" (Thorp 87) and to look at it as such is to miss the point. The "painter's poetry" is to "put form and color into such perfect harmony that exquisiteness is the result" (87). In The Red Rag interview, Whistler succinctly laid out his aesthetic theory. Commenting that the English called him eccentric for naming his paintings after musical terms, Whistler notes that "The vast majority of English folk cannot and will not consider a picture as a picture, apart from any story that it may be supposed to tell" (Thorp 51). The subject of the picture is irrelevant, Whistler asserts, and "if [people] really care for pictorial art at all, they would know that the picture should have its own merit, and not depend upon dramatic, or legendary, or local interest" (51). By linking his art to music, Whistler argues that he further reduces the importance of the subject matter and increases the importance of the work's formal qualities: ArTshould be independent of all clap-trap - should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. A l l these have no kind of 75 I I concern with it, and that is why I insist on calling my works "arrangements" and t "harmonies". Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal Academy as an "Arrangement in Grey and Black". Now that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait?" (52) ! This view is certainly a paradigmatically modernist assertion, and one which shows Whistler to be in the vanguard of nineteenth century painting.9 It is also somewhat disingenuous, however, because in his choice of subjects Whistler was concerned with more than simply the arrangement of forms on canvas, as I shall discuss in the following chapters. He was concerned with both the subject and its formal qualities but it is his emphasis on the work's formal properties that distinguishes his aesthetic from that of the English academicians and identifies him as a modernist.10 Whistler's emphasis on aesthetic form here echoes Henry James's words of five years earlier when the writer noted in 1873 the distinction between his own work and that of George Eliot: "To produce some little exemplary works of art is my narrow and lowly dream. They are to have less 'brain' than Middlemarch; but (I boldly proclaim it) they are to have more/orm" ("Art of Criticism 57). Just as James had argued against the public's demand for moral instruction and entertainment in literary art, Whistler argues against its demand for moral instruction and storytelling in visual art. For both artists, the concerns of the sphere of serious art were those of aesthetic form not morality - the concern of religion - or storytelling - the concern of popular art. I III i 76 I I i As I have indicated in chapter two, James experimented with different literary forms during his career. Similarly, Whistler's production changed over the course of his career as he continued to search for a means of representation that would most completely articulate his ideas about modernity. Having abandoned realism, Whistler experimented with japonisme, which I shall discuss in chapter five, a Pre-Raphaelite aestheticism, and a strange sort of classicism inspired by the drawings of Albert Moore and the Parthenon statuary in the British museum. It was only with the "nocturnes", beginning in the late 1860s and early 1870s and to be discussed in chapter seven, that Whistler seemed to find a technique and subject he would call his own. 1 1 And this owning of a particular aesthetic technique was of utmost importance to him. For Whistler, an "original" aesthetic form was imperative in that it distinguished him from his colleagues and signified that he had broken with tradition and forged new aesthetic ground. f Why was "originality" so important to avant-garde artists and critics? Just as "consciousness" was seen by cultural critics and social scientists as an attribute of the most highly evolved individuals in a society, so too was the capacity for original thought and original cultural expression. In this, the economic system of bourgeois society and its scientific and cultural discourses mirror one another. Just as capitalism requires the ceaseless production of desires which can only be satisfied by the manufacture of "new" -original - commodities (or the same old ones repackaged to look new), so these new and original commodities, discourses, theories are seen as revealing the quality of mind of the entity producing them. Originality in expression, then, was revealed by an artist's use of new aesthetic techniques. In a work on late nineteenth century visual images of women i i 7 7 I entitled Idols of Perversity, Bram Dijkstra argues that the importance placed upon originality as a sign of advanced evolution had a great impact on the evaluation of artistic achievement during the last decades of the century: "[It is] by no means accidental that the numerous fundamental innovations in style and means of representation in painting developed during this period. As conservative critics of the time never grew tired of emphasizing, many artists were beginning to pursue what was new virtually for its own sake, to prove that they were original and not imitative" (207). Conservative critics were not alone in emphasising originality, however. While for conservative critics the obsession with originality was negative, for avant-garde artists and critics originality was a positive quality and indeed necessary if one were to be considered avant-garde. Whistler saw and marketed himself as an original and, in the competitive nineteenth century cultural marketplace, originality could be an important asset because the possibilities for reputation and financial success increasingly depended upon evidence of an artist's (innovation. Originality in late nineteenth century art signified avant-garde, modernity and opposition to Academic conventionality. The construction of this opposition is dealt with in Richard Shiff's Cezanne and the End of Impressionism, in which he argues that the "technique of originality" practiced by both the Impressionists and Symbolists was consistently revealed negatively, as the antithesis of conventional academic procedure: "[If] the one is deliberate, the other is spontaneous; if one employs ('artificial') chiaroscuro transitions, the other employs ('natural') violent oppositions of value or hue; if the one is orderly or systematic, the other appears haphazard; if the one is complex in its internal compositional differentiation, the other is simple in its uniformity" (98). Original i ; 78 or innovative aesthetic techniques could be recognised in their difference from and opposition to the traditional forms employed in academic art. So, here "originality" meant technical innovation. Originality also meant individuality, a unique artistic subjectivity'that was revealed in the art work. I will discuss Whistler's preoccupation with originality below but first I want to suggest that Whistler's preoccupation was part of a larger cultural preoccupation with the marketing of contemporary art in a field more familiar with old master and academic art. The discourse of originality and individuality was mobilised by artists, critics and art dealers who were all part of the effort to sell contemporary art. In the first half of the nineteenth century, as Nicholas Green notes in "Dealing in Temperaments", the market for contemporary art in France was small. Most of the capital invested in art went to acquire the work of "old masters", whose rarity and authenticated greatness guaranteed a good financial return. However, beginning in the 1860s, dealing in contemporary art emerged as a distinctive and lucrative economic practice. Green argues that the "success of big speculative ventures in modern painting", such as that of Paul Durand-Ruel and Georges Petit, "depended upon particular discourses of individualism grounded in the dominant ideology of the Third Republic" (61). Green demonstrates that the artist's choice of subject matter and handling of paint, initially in nature painting then in other kinds of work, were seen as revealing the complex unity and uniqueness of the artist's personality. Rather than being measured by the art object's rarity, its worth was now specified as being its revelation of the uniqueness of the artist. The market in contemporary art was reoriented, as Green and others have argued, around the buying and 79 selling of individual artists.12 Contemporary art was marketed to a middle class public as revealing an authentic and unique personal vision rather than an outmoded and derivative academic traditionalism.13 In England, the status of "originality" is more difficult to define. While the importance of the Salon had declined for many advanced artists in France, in London the Royal Academy continued to exert an enormous influence right up until the turn of the century. For English academic artists, originality was a non-issue. It was not necessary to i their success to be "original"; they stressed instead their connection to the established traditions of English art.14 For Whistler, success at the Royal Academy was not forthcoming, as is indicated in an 1878 letter - "First I am known and always have been known to hold an independent position in art, and to have had the Academy opposed to me" (Thorp 54) - and, in any case, he aspired to compete with his peers in France as well as those in England. Therefore, an emphasis on originality and independence could be an asset in both arenas, gaining him respect and avant-garde status in Paris and notice and notoriety in London. So, like James, Whistler was obsessed with the idea of originality because originality meant reputation and financial success. He was protective of his ideas and fearful that anyone should think he was influenced by others. Whistler continued throughout his career to vehemently deny that he was influenced by anyone and insisted that he was unique and self-made. Any thought that he might have been influenced in some way was troubling to him. 1 5 However, by 1873 this concern about influence seems to have been alleviated and, in a letter to George Lucas, Whistler was proudly announcing his own 80 aesthetic innovations and emphasising his individuality and originality in terms that indirectly link these qualities to marketplace considerations: You will notice and perhaps meet with opposition that my frames I have designed as carefully as my pictures - and thus they form as important a part as any of the rest of the work - carrying on the particular harmony throughout. This is of course entirely original with me and has never been done . . . . and I wish this to be also clearly stated in Paris that I am the inventor of all this kind of decoration in colour in the frames; that I may not have a lot of clever little Frenchmen trespassing on my ground, (qtd. in Anderson 190-91) i The occasion of this letter was Whistler's inclusion in an 1873 exhibition at Durand-Ruel's, an exhibition represented his re-entry into the Paris art world as he directly points out in the letter: "[My art works are] not merely canvases having interest in themselves alone, but are intended to indicate slightly to 'those whom it may concern' something of my theory in art. The science of colour and 'picture pattern' as I have worked it out for myself during these years" (qtd. in Anderson 190). Whistler concludes his letter to Lucas, an influential collector, with the words "This exhibition of mine you will see clearly is especially intended to assert myself to the painters, in short, in a manner to register among them in Paris as I have done here [London] my work" (qtd. in Anderson 191). As James had, Whistler saw the necessity for a theoretical foundation to support the practice of art. Whistler's practice is underpinned by a theoretical "science" which he sees his work as revealing and which, he is quick to point out, he has worked out himself. This science is, of course, itself part of Whistler's marketing strategy, just as James's was. i i 81 Whistler's modernity is revealed in his insistence on "self-begetting". Not content to imitate the conventional aesthetic forms on display in the Salon and the Royal Academy, he developed new ones and argued hard for their legitimacy by elaborating an aesthetic theory that emphasised the necessary.autonomy of art and the characteristics that art must have within that field. He positioned himself, as had James, as a member of the avant-garde and as such took it upon himself to critique the hegemony of the Academy in British cultural life. IV As we have seen, Whistler's emphasis on the autonomy of art and the importance of aesthetic form were beliefs which placed him in the artistic avant-garde, well in advance of his English colleagues and his audience. Although early on he had aspired to success at the Academy, Whistler never became an Academician and increasingly saw himself as an artistic outlaw, working against the forces of aesthetic darkness represented by England's old guard. This became very apparent in Whistler's 1878 libel action against the influential critic John Ruskin. 1 61 will not spend a great deal of time here on the details of Whistler's position - for that I direct you to Linda Merrill's account. Instead I would like to show briefly why Whistler's aestheticism was largely incomprehensible to his English audience and how it contributed to his conflicted position within the aesthetic marketplace. During the Ruskin trial Whistler reiterated the point that his works were arrangements of colour and form on a canvas rather than realistic representations of nature. On the term "nocturne", Whistler elaborated: i 82 By using the word "nocturne" I wished to indicate an artistic interest alone, divesting the picture of any outside anecdotal interest which might have otherwise attached to it. A nocturne is an arrangement of line, form, and colour first. I make use of any means, any incident or object in nature, that will bring about a ! symmetrical result, (qtd. in Merrill, A Pot of Paint 135) Throughout the trial Whistler repeated his assertion that subject matter was immaterial and that the "whole scheme [of the picture] was only to bring about a certain harmony of colour" (130). To his English audience, this kind of aesthetic was difficult to understand, i particularly because of the links that English critics made among subject matter, evidence i of artistic labour and monetary worth. To most of his viewers, Whistler's works did not show any evidence of labour and this lack was problematic when it came to assessing their value. Whistler's work appeared to be sketchy and unfinished, studies rather than completed paintings. Many English critics argued that an objective and reliable measure of a painting's monetary (and aesthetic) worth was the amount of labour expended in producing it. To those unsupportive of Whistler, his sketchy work did not require enough labour to justify the price asked. For example, the Penny Illustrated Paper asserted that Mr. Whistler has hit upon a happy expedient for extracting the coin from his believers. He has contrived to persuade a number of the aesthetic individuals who have more money than brain to pay high prices for a few hour's slapdash work with his brush, (qtd. in Merrill, A Pot of Paint 220) i 83 I Similarly, Edward Bume-Jones fumed during the trial that "There is often not so much i appearance of labour in one of his pictures as there is in a rough sketch by another artist, and yet he asks for and gets as much for one of these as most artists do for pictures skillfully and conscientiously finished" (qtd. in Merrill 220-21). For such' critics, a painting, to be complete, must offer a recognizable narrative in a highly detailed realist manner. Whistler, according to Bume-Jones, produced nothing but incomplete sketches, "more or less clever, often stupid, sometimes sheerly insolent, but sketches always" (qtd. in Merrill ! 223). Unlike sketches, real artistic labour was hard work, and the closer a painting came i to completion the harder it became. An inability, or unwillingness, to go through all the steps required to bring a painting to completion was evidence to Bume-Jones and his supporters of incompetence or, even worse, laziness. The artist's ability to finish his painting, understood as the ability to complete the task at hand, was an index of the English national character.17 In addition, for the English consumer, evidence of finish was evidence of labour and hence of value for money, an attitude that persisted throughout the century. Against this attitude, Whistler argued during the trial that the artist's professional experience was more important than any number of hours spent "hammering away" on a painting. Suggesting that a prolonged period of work would not improve a painting and might even harm it, Whistler asserted that his pictures would lack the aesthetic form they required if he were to labour over them. His creativity, and the subsequent value of his pictures, were to be measured by his ability to "instantaneously" deliver an aesthetic concept directly from his mind to the canvas. The criteria of labour used to assign value in other spheres of activity, such as perhaps wordworking or dressmaking,' could not be i i 84 applied to the sphere of art because the artist's labour was not the manual labour of the worker but intellectual labour realised in fully-crafted aesthetic form. Just as Whistler's style and technique were difficult to understand for an audience to whom these principles were not self-evident, so too were his "subjects". For an English audience accustomed to paintings with a clearly-articulated moral or story, Whistler's subjects, in particular the nocturnes, were illegible and quite possibly immoral. Victorian paintings, like the Victorian "stories" James had railed against, were supposed to express the national character and that character was industrious and moral. For nineteenth century advocates of an English school in painting, it was its rigorous attention to morality and propriety that differentiated English art from its European counterpart.18 For example, in an 1862 review of English painting, the Art Journal had stated: The French paint genre with more point and play of intellect, the English with greater breadth of sympathy; the French with more vivacity and cleverness, the English were more sobriety and decorum . . . Virtue is respected'. . . nothing, however, can be more healthful, honest, and heartfelt, than many of our English pictures, (qtd. in Nead 57) This attitude was one that persisted throughout the century and many critics continued to regard foreign, especially French, art with suspicion and sometimes hostility. For instance, in an 1886 review of the New English Art Club's first exhibition, the Times noted: "Perhaps it would be accurate enough to say that the pictures nearly all show signs of the influence of the modern French school, though in most cases there is a sincerity, an absence of theatrical display, and a preference for subjects that are beautiful rather than ; 85 ugly which is English and not French" (April 12, 1886, 12). The language used here by the Times art critic to disparage French art is very similar to that used by English literary critics to attack Henry James's work. Like James, Whistler was subject to critical attacks on the basis of his perceived "immorality". Chief among his attackers was Edward-Bume Jones who saw Whistler's way of working and subject-matter as a threat to British art and indeed the morality of the nation.19 j That the English response to new painting, whether that of the French Impressionists or Whistler, was in many cases suspicion and hostility may in part be the result of identifying artistic innovations with social upheaval as Kate Flint chronicles in i Impressionism in England: The Critical Response. In a comment on the 1874 exhibition at Durand-Ruel's in London, the Times critic concluded, "One seems to see in such work evidence of as wild a spirit of anarchy at work in French painting as in French politics" (Flint 14). Again in 1876 the Times described the Impressionists as "ostentatiously defiant both of rule and culture" and in 1883 as "the chosen representatives of the Extreme left in painting" (Flint 14). Flint observes that Wake Cook was probably the most fervent and extreme of the British critics who equated change in art with political revolution: The very title of his work, 'Anarchism in Art and Chaos in Criticism' draws this analogy, which he elaborates with a vituperative attack against the 'anti-patriotism' which an interest in French art reveals, condemning, with a neat bit of bellicose word play, those artists who, in the late nineteenth century, tried to upset British painting as ' A few daring anarchists [who] crept in and tried to spike the canons of Art and to dynamite established reputations'. (15) i i 86 It is not difficult to see that, given the equation of aesthetic innovations and social upheaval prevalent among many British critics and the tense relations between advanced artists and the prevailing orthodoxies of the Royal Academy, Whistler's artistic i innovations should remain incomprehensible to his general audience while at the same time i become his means of maintaining his position within the larger European avant-garde. Although the Ruskin libel trial verdict was in his favour, Whistler received only one farthing in damages. Even though forced into bankruptcy by his inability to pay his court costs, Whistler did manage to generate enormous publicity for his cause after the trial by issuing his first written manifesto. "Whistler v. Ruskin. Art and Art Critics", published immediately after the trial, was so popular that by January 1879 it had gone into its sixth edition. With the success of this initial foray into manifesto writing, Whistler saw i the potential for his own written aesthetic declarations to be a means of controlling his reception. After 1878, he issued many more pamphlets and wrote innumerable letters to the editors of major magazines and newspapers stating his position and taking issue with other artists and critics.2 0 V i Whistler's aesthetic theories occupy a place within a greatly expanded late i nineteenth century cultural sphere. With the proliferation of industrial visual material such as advertisements, posters, magazines and newspapers, the construction! of such consumerist palaces as the department store, and the multiplication of aesthetic commodities such as wallpaper and "aesthetic" dress competing for attention and consumers, high art painting, like the novel, was for avant-garde artists threatened with i 87 submersion by a flood of mass cultural products. In the face of this threat, and the inability of the public who had in 1879 rejected his aesthetic to distinguish in 1885 between his work and these new commodities, Whistler put forward his most sustained aesthetic statement in the "Ten O'Clock" lecture. Part manifesto, part propaganda and part self-promotion, the "Ten O'Clock" was a modernist media event. The "Ten O'Clock" also clearly reveals the similarities between the aesthetic theories of Henry James and those of Whistler. In chapter seven I shall discuss in more detail the contradictions inhering in Whistler's theoretical stance and his actual practice with respect to the nocturnes and two of his 1880s portraits. Here I want to focus on the parallels between Whistler and James with respect to the theoretical statements themselves and the use each made of the i position of the aesthetic professional within an expanding cultural sphere. i Whistler opened the "Ten O'Clock" with an attack on Wilde and what he i perceived to be a Wilde-promoted British Aestheticist craze's vulgarization of art: "Art is upon the Town! - to be chucked under the chin, by the passing gallant'! - to be enticed within the gates of the householder - to be coaxed into company, as a proof of culture and refinement!" (Thorp 80). With the rise of "Birmingham and Manchester" - Whistler's code words for industry and trashy vulgarity - art has become a commodity to be used as proof of taste and evidence of status. In Whistler's view, the aestheticisation of society means that everything has become an art, making high art itself ashamed: "If familiarity can breed contempt, certainly Art, or what is currently taken for it, has been brought to its lowest stage of intimacy! - The people have been harassed with Art in every guise . . . their homes have been invaded - their walls covered with paper - their very dress taken to task" (80). 88 I Whistler characterises the commodification of the aesthetic as the work of "false prophets, who have brought the very name of the beautiful into disrepute" (80). In this attack on the designers and purveyors of aesthetic dress, wallpaper and house furnishings as false prophets worthy of derision, Whistler wants to insist on the separation of true art from household commodity. True art is "reticent of habit - abjuring all obtrusiveness" (80), i unlike the vulgarity of the so-called aesthetic commodity. Here Whistler sounds much like 1 i the Henry James of the preface to the Tragic Muse: "[Whereas] the most charming truth about the preference for art is that to parade abroad so thoroughly inward and so naturally embarrassed a matter is to falsify and vulgarise it" (AN 83). Both artists agree that true art's "only honours are those of contraction, concentration and a seemingly deplorable indifference to everything but itself (AN 83). Like James, Whistler saw art as existing in its own rarefied world of beauty uncontaminated by contact with the vulgar mob. That it is this "vulgar mob" to whom his manifestos are addressed and from whom ultimately any financial reward will come, Whistler does not acknowledge here. However, the very fact that the "Ten O'Clock" was designed to be a media event, much like any mass media spectacle or advertising pitch, highlights the contradictions between Whistler's proclamations and his actions. i Just as James had, Whistler too asserts the autonomy of art. Against Ruskin and others who insisted that art must be moral, Whistler argues that art is a "goddess of dainty thought... withal selfishly occupied with her own perfection only - having no desire to teach" (80). Those who ask of a work of art "What good shall it do?" are mistaken and do not look at the picture, but "through it, at some human fact, that shall or shall not, from a 89 social point of view, better their mental, or moral state" (81). The realm of the aesthetic for Whistler and for James is one that is separate from the social world. The autonomous aesthetic artifact is useless, in that it exists for itself only, not to enact any social function. The irony that Whistler's assertion of the autonomy of high art is made in the form of a media spectacle is, however, unacknowledged.21 Having defined true art and asserted its independence from social utility, Whistler then goes on to assert the superiority of art to nature. Just as James had said that it is "art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance" (Letters IV 770), for Whistler also art is superior to life: Nature contains the elements of color and form of all pictures - as the keyboard contains all the notes of music - but the artist is bom to pick, and choose, and group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful.. . . to say to the painter, that nature is to be taken, as she is, is to say to the player, that he may sit on the piano! - That Nature is always right, is an assertion, artistically, as untrue, as it is one whose truth is universally taken for granted - Nature is very rarely right, to such an extent even, that it might almost be said that Nature is usually wrong - that is to say - the condition of things that shall bring about the I perfection of harmony worth a picture, is rare. (84-5) Here Whistler echoes James's fictional character's words: "I have an innate preference for the represented subject over the real one; the defect of the real one was so apt to be a lack of representation" (Tales 194). Nature is for Whistler as it was for James "all inclusion and confusion" (AN 120) and art is "all discrimination and selection" (AN 120). The artist 90 I creates his own world, not content to merely reflect nature's "stupid sunsets". The artist's masterpiece "surpasses in perfection" all the Gods have "contrived in what is called Nature". Confronted with the artist's work, the gods "marvel - and perceive how far away more beautiful is the Venus of Melos, than was their own Eve" (86). In its description of the artist, Whistler's theory accords with James's. Like James, Whistler sees the artist as an individual with an acute consciousness, one who sees what others do not. The first artist was a "dreamer apart", "chosen by the Gods" (82) who "with the power of creation . . . went beyond the slovenly suggestion of nature" (83). Just as James had identified the artist's mind as his most important attribute - "No good novel will ever proceed from a superficial mind" ("Art of Fiction" 182) - Whistler also emphasises the mind as the artist's most vital resource: "Through his brain, as through the last alembic, is distilled the refined essence of that thought which began with the Gods, and which they left him to carry out" (86). The production of art is not the mechanical physical labour valorised by Burne-Jones but "mind work", the product of a heightened sensibility and acute mind. Throughout the "Ten O'Clock" Whistler describes art as "delicate", "exquisite", "refined", "dainty". Art is a "goddess of dainty thought" (Thorp 80). The characteristics Whistler identifies art as having, particularly delicacy, exquisiteness, refinement and daintyness, are those that were usually constructed as feminine in contemporary art-historical discourse.22 And indeed in a section of the lecture Whistler does assert his solidarity with the feminine: "Know then all beautiful women, that we are with you - pay no heed we pray you to this outcry of the unbecoming . . . Your own instinct is near the i 91 truth - your own wit far surer guide than the untaught ventures of these thick-headed Apollos! [vendors of Aesthetic dress]" (Thorp 91). However, while asserting his solidarity with the feminine in his theory, and articulating an imaginary femininity in his practice, as I shall discuss in chapter six, Whistler tries to avoid the negative implications of this femininity by aligning delicacy, exquisiteness and daintyness with the masculine characteristics of mental acuity and superior consciousness. Art, who in Whistler's I I aesthetic discourse is always female, sings her song to the true Artist who is the "man worthy her love" (Thorp 93-4). The goddess Art knows the true artist by his "refinement" i and "where he is, there she appears" (Thorp 93, 94). That these truly refined beings are rare, perhaps even limited only to Whistler himself in the modem period, is suggested by the "Ten O'Clock": "With the man, then, and not with the multitude are her intimacies -and in the book of her life, the names inscribed are few - scant indeed the list of those who have helped to write her story of love and beauty" (Thorp 94). Whistler appropriates an aesthetic culturally-coded as feminine and reconfigures it as masculine by aligning particular artistic styles with superior mental powers. That his reconfiguration was not entirely successful will be apparent in my discussion in chapter seven below. Here, however, I want to note that this appropriation of the feminine was part of the larger late nineteenth century avant-garde project of critiquing the instrumentalism and materialism of bourgeois society and expanding the limits of masculinity tolerated within that society. While Whistler is certainly explicitly critical of a modem society, devoted to a vulgar materialism, his notion of autonomous art is such that any social critique is only revealed negatively. It is not the function of art to articulate an explicit spcial message. i l I 92 I I I The artist is not, against Ruskin, a social reformer, he stands apart from his society. As examples of such artists, Whistler cites Tintoretto, Veronese and Velasquez whose "world was completely severed from that of their fellow creatures" (81). The function of the artist is only to make his work, not to "[improve] the ways of others": Their productions, alone, were their occupation, and filled with the poetry of their science, they required not to alter their surroundings - for as the laws of their Art were revealed to them, they saw, in the development of their work, that real j beauty, which, to them, was as much a matter of certainty and triumph, as is to the astronomer, the verification of the result, foreseen, with the light given to him alone. (81) \ Throughout the "Ten O'Clock" the spectre of mass culture haunts Whistler's artist as it had James's. James had seen the expansion of the literary marketplace as a "vulgarisation", a "flood" that "swells and swells", producing enormous qualities of inexpensive "stories" for an audience without taste ("Future of the Novel" 242, 243): "The high prosperity of fiction has marched, very directly, with another 'sign of the times', the demoralisation, the vulgarisation of literature in general..." (245). Although the total audience for stories, "reader[s] irreflective and uncritical", had expanded enormously, the i audience for the novel was small (245). While James focused on the problem of the lack of audience for serious fiction, in the "Ten O'Clock" Whistler attacks the producers of mass cultural artifacts. In the historical progress of art that Whistler charts, from the first artist through the centuries to the present, "all peoples continued to use what the artist alone produced - And centuries passed in this using, and the world was flooded with all that was 93 beautiful" (Thorp 84). In contrast, in nineteenth century England there "arose a new class i who discovered the cheap - and foresaw fortune in the facture of the sham - Then sprang into existence, the tawdry - the common - the gewgaw - the taste of the tradesman, supplanted the science of the artist" (84). In the present moment, the "Artist's occupation was gone - and the manufacurer [sic] and the huckster took his place" (84). The "one unspoken sympathy that pervades humanity - is Vulgarity!" (90). For Whistler as it was i for James the "sign of the times" is vulgarity and it is this vulgarity to which Whistler's l exquisite sensibility stands in opposition. As the champion of Art against the "tawdry - the common - the gewgaw", Whistler sets himself up as an arbiter of taste and refinement. True art, his art, is not loud and flashy, it is a "goddess of dainty thought" (Thorp 80) who speaks not to the many but to the chosen few: "[S]cant indeed the list of those who have helped to write her story of love and beauty" (Thorp 94). True artists are few, and they are swamped by the "horde of pretenders" whose "Industry is vice" (94). The artist is distinguished by Whistler from the "Dilettante", the "Aesthete" and the "Amateur". He is also distinguished from the industrialist. Although Whistler strictly differentiates himself from the manufacturers of mass cultural and industrial products, he used their marketing strategies in his own career. In "Whistler's Early Relations with Britain and the significance of Industry and Commerce for his Art. Part II" Robin Spencer describes the similarities between Whistler's career and that of one of his industrialist patrons, John Gerald Potter, who was a wallpaper manufacturer. Spencer chronicles the careers of both Potter and Whistler, considering them both as producers "obliged to defend laissez-faire freedom for their products by 94 whatever practical means were to hand" (667). Noting that Whistler's career as an artist I t was in essence a "microcosm of Potter's as an industrialist" (667), Spencer argues that Whistler's art production as a maker of both paintings and editions of prints and his need to find markets for both kinds of work matched that of Potter for whom;market success depended upon the correct balance between machine and hand printed artifact. Spencer details the evolution of Whistler's etching style and the size of his print editions as aspects of his marketing techniques. Although Whistler contrasted his own production with that of industrialists such as Potter and with William Morris's Ruskinian ideology of labour, ironically, as I shall discuss in fuller detail in chapter seven, Whistler's nocturnes were themselves seen by some as "delicately tinted wallpaper" (Merrill, A Pot of Paint 177, 179-80). In addition to using the marketing strategies of industry, Whistler also used their advertising and display techniques to present his work to its best advantage. His paintings were not only evocations of the heightened artistic consciousness, they were also objects whose aesthetic qualities extended into their framing and exhibition. Whistler exerted complete control over his solo exhibitions and sought to determine the way in which his i work was seen by designing the exhibition space, the invitations and even the costume of the footman who greeted the guests.23 The details of Whistler's innovations and their connection with contemporary advertising and sales practices will be addressed in chapter seven. Here I want to note that, conducted like the advertising campaigns they were, Whistler's exhibitions reveal the extent to which he was enmeshed in the very practices he had condemned in the "Ten O'Clock". And also like the professional advertising i executive, Whistler insisted that his control over a body of specialised knowledge and techniques allowed him to act as gatekeeper to that knowledge. Whistler maintained that as an artist he possessed a body of knowledge which he alone had the right to convey to an audience. Only the painter was qualified to talk about painting.24 This position was first put forward in "Whistler v Ruskin" where Whistler stated that Ruskin, as a man of letters, was unqualified to speak on matters of art: We are told that Mr. Ruskin has devoted his long life to art, and as a result - is "Slade Professor" at Oxford. In the same sentence, we have thus his position and its worth. It suffices not, Messieurs! a life passed among pictures makes not a painter - else the policeman in the National Gallery might assert himself. As well allege that he who lives in a library must needs die a poet. Let not Mr. Ruskin flatter himself that the more education makes the difference between himself and the policeman when both stand gazing in the Gallery. (Thorp 57) Whistler berates Ruskin for "preaching to young men what he cannot perform" (61) and asserts that artists have made their own history for hundreds of years and do not need the "wisdom of the passer-by" (61) who is incompetent to say anything about it. The issue is taken up again in the "Ten O'Clock" where the "unattached writer" is judged unfit to speak about art.25 By determining how and when his art was seen and the critical framework in which it would be discussed, Whistler became the first truly professional avant garde Anglo-American artist in London (or indeed anywhere).26 And as such the contradictions of his position as an avant garde artist opposed to the culture of the 96 commodity yet using the ideologies and sales strategies of that culture to sell himself and his work are apparent. VI In their aesthetic theories Whistler and James proclaim themselves rare and superior beings capable of special acts of consciousness and perception. As authorities on the aesthetic, they are members of an elite whose position is based on taste and discernment rather than aristocratic privilege. In his incarnation as Dandy, Whistler carries this stance even farther than James.27 His language, dress, gestures, and connoisseurship all assert that he is an individual of unique refinement, discernment, distinction and taste even though he lacks birth and wealth.28 Interestingly, even though both James and Whistler articulated a rhetoric of separateness from and transcendence of the social, the stance of aesthetic professional enabled both an upward social mobility and a position within the expanding and transforming cultural marketplace. In Professions of Taste, an account of Henry James's relationship with the British Aestheticist movement, Jonathan Freedman distinguishes the British movement from its German counterpart by pointing to the British movement's "complex entanglement with the development of a cultural apparatus at once thoroughly professionalized and wholly commodified" (xix). Because of this entanglement, artists such as Whistler and James were able to set themselves apart from commodity culture and at the same time remain within it as aesthetic professionals. Freedman's description of aesthetic professionalism is an apt one for both James and Whistler: 97 The "aesthetic movement" itself may represent in part the formation of an avant-garde beachhead on the resistant shores of London or Boston, but it also represents a process by which the newly emergent sphere of the "aesthetic" - a sphere hitherto defined for the Anglo-American audience by the likes of German idealist philosophers and romantic poets - got put into social play as a startlingly successful form of professionalism. For what is the aesthete but the consummate professional: the possessor of a "monopoly of knowledge" about the provenance and extent of this mysterious entity, "the aesthetic" - the man (and sometimes the woman) who responds to the demands of a rapidly professionalizing world by forging a career for himself out of the imparting of knowledge about this new "field" to an awed and appreciative public? (xix) And within the cultural marketplace, as aesthetic'producers and critics, James and Whistler were exemplary professionals.29 Late nineteenth century British Aestheticism, in Freedman's account, helped to create "a new caste of professionals who designated themselves experts in cultural knowledge, and who defined their own role as that of instructing others in the lineaments of that knowledge" (55). Freedman argues that the texts of British aestheticism work as forms of specialised and esoteric knowledge that both describe and construct the aesthetic and mystify the authors' authority. As a result, the appreciation of Fictional Art or Beauty is no longer a communal experience theoretically available to all but rather one that an audience accesses under the professional's direction. As specialists in aesthetic theory and practice, Whistler and James provide in their theoretical statements ways of understanding 98 and accessing the newly autonomous sector of modem art and literature. If this is the case, why should Whistler attack Wilde for engaging in the very same activities he himself engages in? I think that Whistler saw Wilde as a dangerous competitor, one who was perceptive, knowledgeable and perfectly capable of seeing Whistler's strategies clearly for the contradictory practices they were and as such was a threat. I also think that is was Wilde's excess, coded as vulgarity, that disturbed Whistler. Wilde could be seen as Whistler taken to the extreme - Whistler's dandyism translated into explicit effeminacy and Whistler's "exquisite sensibility" translated into an over the top decadence. To Whistler, Wilde was a caricature who owed his public facade to the painter and who both failed to acknowledge his indebtedness to Whistler and took this persona to an unacceptable extreme. To Wilde's vulgarity Whistler opposes his own sensitivity and taste and it is these characteristics that Whistler points to as required for a true understanding and appreciation of the aesthetic and thus requisite for any professional in that field. As an aesthetic professional, Whistler stands both opposed to and within the culture of the commodity. As I have discussed in chapter one, the dissociation of the sphere of culture from the political and economic systems that makes high art autonomous also makes it dependent upon a market economy. As Adomo, Huyssen and others have argued, the autonomy of art has from the beginning been dialectically related to the commodity form. 3 0 The more the industrialisation of culture makes the artist an entrepreneur or businessperson, the more the aesthetic value of the work is seen as absolutely incommensurable with its economic value. The more that high art becomes socially marginal, the more the artist as constructed by Whistler and James becomes 99 imaginatively and symbolically central. The freedom of the novel so strongly articulated by James stands in opposition to the regulation of literature by the literary marketplace. The acute consciousness of the heroic artist articulated by Whistler opposes the passive mindless consumption of the faceless masses. The formal integrity and beauty of the art object, whether literary or visual, contrasts with the "shapelessness of human life subject to production-rationality" (Crow 250). Paradoxically, even when, perhaps especially when, repudiating them, the modernist artist is deeply involved in the processes and pressures of industrialisation and modernisation. As aesthetic experts, Whistler and James differentiated themselves and their work from the purveyors and commodities of mass culture. That they were also themselves part of that culture and its commodification of the aesthetic was inevitable, given the ability of a fully-developed consumer society to transform everything, including criticisms of itself, into objects of consumption themselves. For James, an existence in a marginal "artistic elite" of the unread enabled his central position as Author of the Art of Fiction. And in Whistler's case, a dandified bohemianism and astute public relations savvy ensured fame and notoriety which was followed, in the 1890s, by institutional acclaim and financial success. Just as there are parallels in James's and Whistler's aesthetic theory, there are also parallels in their work. Their response to the problems posed by modernity takes similar forms and addresses similar issues. The following chapters will examine those forms and issues. 1 For James's published reviews of Whistler's work, see The Painter's Eye: Notes and Essays on the Pictorial Arts. 100 2 In "The Painter of Modern Life", Baudelaire is referring specifically to the illustrator Constantin Guys but uses his example to put forward the image of his ideal artist, a "man of the world" who is a "passionate spectator", a "lover of crowds", a "prince" who "rejoices in his incognito". The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays 9. Since the 1960s feminist critics have criticised Baudelaire's notions about modernity for being limited to the experience of middle class men. The ability to stroll unbothered through the crowds of the modern urban metropolis was an experience that was not available to women and thus the canonical construction of what constitutes modernity does not include the experience of women. The notion of "modernity" itself as a gendered construction will be discussed in chapter four and following as it relates to James's and Whistler's work. For a critique of the gendered construction of Baudelaire's ideal artist, see Griselda Pollock, "Modernity and the spaces of Femininity", Vision and Difference: Femininity, feminism and histories of art. 50-90. For an argument that the canonical literature of modernity represents only the experience of men, see Janet Wolff, "The invisible flaneuse: women and the literature of modernity". 3 For Courbet, realism was a political as well as artistic statement linked to a Republican opposition to the regime of Napoleon the Third. On Courbet's politics, see Linda Nochlin, The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society. 4 On the similarities and differences in Whistler's and Manet's representations of modern life see Robin Spencer, "Whistler, Manet, and the Tradition of the Avant-Garde". In two recent articles Michael Fried discusses Manet and the "generation of 1863", in which he includes Whistler, Fantin and Legros. See "Manet in His Generation: The Face of Painting in the 1860s" and "Between Realisms: From Derrida to Manet". Fried's analyses have been very helpful to my study, particularly his ideas about absorption which will be dealt with in chapter four below. On the similarities and differences between Degas and Whistler see Theodore Reff, "The Butterfly and the Old Ox". Reff's analysis will be taken up in chapter six. 5 See Katharine A. Lochnan, Whistler's Etchings and the Sources of His Etching Style 1855 - 1880 chapter 14 for a discussion of Whistler's rejection of Courbet's realism. 6 In Courbet's Realism Michael Fried argues that Baudelaire is wrong in his characterisation of Courbet, that Courbet is "eminently imaginative in Baudelaire's sense of the term" (5) and that the issue of realism was "ideologically overdetermined" in that "the philosophical, political, and even moral connotations of realism made it all but inconceivable that a work of art, especially a painting, could be both realistic in effect and imaginative or metaphorical in its relation to its materials" (5). It is clear from Whistler's comments that he subscribed to a view of Courbet's realism as lacking imagination. 7 That Whistler was considered by others, and considered himself to be, a follower of Delacroix is seen in his inclusion in Henri Fantin-Latour's group portrait of 1864 Homage to Delacroix. Along with Whistler, who is given a prominent position standing right next to Delacroix's picture, are Fantin himself, Alphonse Legros, Edouard Manet, and the critics Champfleury and Baudelaire. 8 In "The Real Thing" James invokes the photograph, which he had called "hideously inexpressive" in an early art review, as the opposite of the painting to make his point that the Monarchs are simulacra rather than the real thing. James initially thought that photography was documentary rather than an art form. Photography's seeming ability to merely passively reflect the material world was evidence for James of its alignment with the crude realism he had repudiated. However, by the turn of the century, with photography's evolution into a "legitimate" aesthetic form, James saw the potential offered by the photograph to evoke the feel of contemporary life. James's new respect for the aesthetic potential of the photograph is evidenced by his asking Alvin Langdon Coburn in 1906 to provide photographic frontispieces to the New York edition. 9 Here Whistler sounds as if he could be an early version of the American art critic Clement Greenberg whose views on modernism have so influential. In an important early article "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" (1939), Greenberg identified the avant garde as the force that "keeps culture moving" beyond the sterility and stasis of academic "alexandrianism" (36). In distinguishing between avant-garde and kitsch, Greenberg argued that the aim of the avant-garde was to advance culture by defining and engaging with the proper concerns of art: "In turning his attention away from subject matter or common experience, the poet or artist turns it upon the medium of his own craft" (37). Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch". 101 On the question of Whistler's subjects vs. his emphasis on form, see Elizabeth Broun, "Thoughts That Began With the Gods: The Content of Whistler's Art. Broun argues that to "take Whistler at his word that his art had no subject beyond its formal properties is to miss his most significant achievement" (36). Broun analyses several of Whistler's earlier works and offers a somewhat simplistic psychological interpretation of them. She does not pay any attention to the socio-historical context of Whistler's work and her readings lack depth. 1 1 Whistler's use of musical terms to name his images was designed to prevent any specific and limiting association from being given to his pictures and to force his viewers to read the images in the way he wanted them read - as harmonious aesthetic objects rather than illustrations of a moral or narrative point. After Whistler's aesthetic theory was formulated in the 1870s, he retitled many of his earlier works to conform with his theoretical ideas. The Morning Call, for example, became Harmony in Green and Rose: The Music Room, a title that emphasises the aesthetic form of the image rather than any possible narrative content. 1 2 See also Albert Boime, "Entrepreneurial Patronage in Nineteenth-century France". That this paradigmatic individual was male is unstated but assumed. The bourgeois subject of eighteenth and nineteenth century civic and cultural discourse was inevitably male. An articulation of sexual difference has in the past excluded women from participation in the discourses of both civic humanism and modernism. In the nineteenth century female artists were prohibited from joining the academies, from studying the nude, the basis for much history painting, and from being a part of the avant garde social scene. Such exclusions worked to limit the kinds of art which women could make and thus to confine them to the ghettos of genre and still life painting. Because women were unable to participate in the avant-garde, with a very few exceptions, they were excluded from the construction of modernism. Such exclusions also served the purpose of ensuring that women artists were not able to be competitors in an increasingly crowded market. For a critique of women's exclusion from the construction of modernism, see Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art and Society; Linda Nochlin, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?", Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays. 145-78; Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference; Roszika Parker and Griselda Pollock, Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology and Lisa Tickner, "Feminism, Art history and Sexual Difference". 1 3 Against this, some revisionist critics have tried, unsuccessfully, to argue that the work of the avant garde did not differ all that much from that of the Academy. See, for example, Albert Boime, "The Teaching of Fine Arts and the Avant-garde in France during the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century". 1 4 In Impressionists in England: The Critical Reception Kate Flint (ed.) notes that while Impressionist paintings were seen annually in London between 1887 and 1905, very few of them were sold to British collectors. She speculates that for the British "investment in an art form which might, after all, prove to be no more than a passing phase, does not appear to have been considered worthwhile" (8). For such collectors, the fact that Impressionism was innovative and original in technique does not appear to have been sufficient to impell them to invest in it. More conservative and insular than their French counterparts, British collectors doubted that such technical experiments were anything other than a passing fad. The British reluctance to embrace innovative aesthetic forms would prove to be problematic for Whistler whose career was based upon his aesthetic innovations. 1 5 An example of this concern over influence is an 1870 letter Whistler wrote to the English artist Albert Moore in which Whistler expressed the fear that Moore would think he had copied him: "[It] struck me dimly - perhaps - and with great hesitation that one of my sketches of the girls on the sea shore, was in motive not unlike your yellow one - of course I don't mean in scheme of color but in general sentiment of movement and in the place of the sea - sky and shore etc -" (Thorp 41). Whistler was so irked by this possibility that he asked a mutual friend to compare the works and dispell his anxiety. 1 6 No permanent record of the trial was kept but Linda Merrill reconstructs it from existing newspaper accounts. See A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler v Ruskin. Whistler also published his own account more than ten years after the event in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. 1 7 In Modern Painters. Ruskin himself notes that "One of the most remarkable points of difference between the English and the Continental nations is the degree of finish given to their ordinary work" (vol. 3,5:151-52). 102 For a discussion of the connections among moral propriety, social institutions and English painting see Lynda Nead, Myths of Sexuality: Representations of Women in Victorian Britain. 1 9 In a pre-trial letter to Ruskin's lawyer Burne-Jones wrote that Whistler's methods were a dangerous threat to British art: "[His art's] deficiency is insuperable and he is clever enough to know it; and being notoriously without any principle or sentiment of the dignity of his art, he is perpetually eager to make the world believe that his own low standard of excellence is that standard that is alone desirable" (qtd. in Merrill, A Pot of Paint 223). 2 0 Many of these were collected in James Whistler, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. 2 1 For a detailed discussion of Whistler's use of the media for self-promotion see Deanna Marohn Bendix, Diabolical Designs: Paintings. Interiors and Exhibitions of James McNeill Whistler. 5-47. Bendix' study is an analysis of Whistler's contributions to the nineteenth century British design reform movement. 2 2 For a discussion of the gendered nature of art-historical hiscourse in the nineteenth century, see Tamar Garb, "Gender and Representation", esp. 228-32 and 278-89 and Griselda Pollock, "Vision, Voice and Power: Feminist Art Histories and Marxism", esp. 20-21. Garb notes that the most frequent adjectives used to describe work by women which was admired during this period were "delicate", "tender" and "charming", qualities which were admired in women themselves. In the hierarchy of the arts established by the academies, genre and still life paintings were at the bottom of the artistic ladder and thought to be suitable subjects for women because of their innate delicacy and sensitivity. As articulated by one critic, the beauty and fragility of the flower was an apt metaphor for the ideal female artist: "[Let] men busy themselves with all that has to do with great art. Let women occupy themselves with those types of art they have always preferred, such as pastels, portraits, or miniatures. Or the painting of flowers, those prodigies of grace and freshness which alone can compete with the grace and freshness of women themsleves" (Leon Le Grange, Gazette de Beaux-Arts 1860). Whistler uses terms which have gendered connotations to describe an ideal - his art - that is at the same time masculine. 2 3 See David Park Curry, "Total Control: Whistler at an Exhibition". 2 4 In his response to Whistler's "Ten O'Clock" lecture in the Pall Mall Gazette. Wilde took exception to this: "Nor do I accept the dictum that only a painter is a judge of painting. I say only an artist is a judge of art; there is a wide difference. As long as a painter is a painter merely, he should not be allowed to talk of anything but mediums and meglip" (qtd. in Anderson 270). 2 5 Because Whistler wanted to maintain control over his own work and reputation, he sought to discredit the work of other critics and artists who negatively critiqued his work. Many of his exhibition pamphlets consisted of critics' comments on his paintings, often taken out of context, designed to make the critic look stupid. With the negative critic reduced to a sputtering caricature, Whistler then appeared to be even more astute than he had been before. For samples of this practice see Bendix. 2 6 American artists and writers who would follow Whistler saw him as providing an example which they could emulate. For example, Ezra Pound hailed James and Whistler as the only two American artists prior to the twentieth century to escape provincialism and to gain recognition in the international arena. See "Patria Mia". 2 7 On Dandyism, see Ellen Moers, The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm. 2 8 In an amusing anecdote Theodore Reff identifies the differences between what he calls the "brilliant, belligerent, frequently insecure American expatriate, who sought fame even at the price of notoriety" and the "conservative, increasingly secluded Frenchman" Degas as exemplified by their dress: "[Degas] could be more cutting than Whistler himself: 'You behave as though you have no talent,' Degas once said to him; and again when Whistler, chin high, monocle in his eye, frock-coated, top-hatted, carrying a tall cane, walked triumphantly into a restaurant where Degas was sitting: "Whistler, you have forgotten your muff (Degas: The Artist's Mind 18). 2 9 In The Culture of Professionalism: The Middle Class and the Development of Higher Education in America Burton Bledstein describes the rise of the professional as a result of the rationalisation of time and space produced by a capitalist economy. Within the separate spheres of activity delineated by industrial capitalism, life paths were organised into discrete careers, each with its own distinct experts and bodies of knowledge. Within these discrete spaces, the professional is authorised, authorises him or herself, to dispense his special knowledge to an appreciative public. On British professionalism, see W.J. 103 Reader, Professional Men: The Rise of the Professional Classes in Nineteenth-Century England. For the avant-garde artist such professionalism enabled "career management" but the artist, unlike other professionals such as doctors or lawyers for example, did not offer what the general public would conceive of as an "essential service" or product thus making his or her career path much more complex as this study will demonstrate. 3 0 Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment; Philosophical Fragments, esp. "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception" 120-67. Andreas Huyssen, "Adorno in Reverse: From Hollywood to Richard Wagner", After the Great Divide. 16-43. See also Thomas Crow, "Modernism and Mass Culture in the Visual Arts". Whistler's and James's use of popular or low culture will be addressed in chapter five. 104 CHAPTER FOUR Realism and Human Subjectivity: At the Piano, The Music Room, and The Portrait of a Lady In chapters two and three I have discussed the problems that modernity posed to James and Whistler as they were articulated in their aesthetic theory. In this chapter I would like to turn to the ways in which the problems of modernity are expressed in the early masterpieces for which James and Whistler were celebrated: At the Piano (1859) and Harmony in Green and Rose: The Music Room (1860-61) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881). A l l three works I will look at in this chapter are "realist". However, their realism is one that is metamorphosing into something else, that "something else" being a new and different kind of aesthetic form emerging from and reflecting the historical conditions in which the works were produced. At the Piano, The Music Room and Portrait occupy transitional historical spaces in which competing representational modes have an uneasy coexistence. Each of these works has many attributes of conventional realist form which exist side by side with new forms which contradict or oppose those conventions. In these works the new aesthetic forms emerge out of older residual realist forms. In addition, for the viewer or reader of these works, the aesthetic experience becomes more one of tension and estrangement than harmony and satisfaction. In At the Piano, The Music Room and Portrait we can see what Jochen Schulte-Sasse describes as a tension between the "physical-psychic effect of the material organization of society" and "the prevailing 'text' of a period" (xxvii), in this case realism. As I have discussed in chapters two and three, realism was the prevailing mode of literary and artistic production when Whistler and James were beginning their professional careers. Realism was, and is, also the language of 105 popular culture and the "culture industry" then emerging. The modem system of hyper-real spectacles, images and representations created by industry and mass culture with which we are only too familiar was designed to offer an illusory happiness and satisfaction and to efface the psychic tensions and contradictions of modem social reality which James's and Whistler's work makes apparent. It will be the task of this chapter to identify the new representational modes in these three works and to suggest how and why these new forms articulate contradictions inherent in the progress of modernity. I In chapter one I briefly summarised some of the changes that scientific discovery and industrial capitalism and its machines and technologies had brought to the bourgeois social landscape of the nineteenth century: decline of religious faith, decline of belief in unending progress, fears about the rise of the masses, loss of nature as refuge from the wasteland of urban-industrial life, fragmentation of earlier organic totalities, estrangement, and alienation. Such changes are then compensated for in the elaboration of a realm of purely individual and private subjective freedom celebrated in idealist philosophy and articulated in modernist cultural products. How can it be that human beings who are subject to social and historical constraints experience themselves as autonomous subjects? In The Political Unconscious Fredric Jameson has suggested how the paradox of modem subjectivity - that as we beome more subject to social determinants in the form of technology, industry and bureaucracy, we more forcefully assert our own individual subjective freedom - arises historically: 106 [What is interesting] is not the denunciation of the centered subject and its ideologies, but rather the study of its historical emergence, its constitution or virtual construction as a mirage which is also evidently in some fashion an objective reality. For the lived experience of individual consciousness as a monadic and autonomous center of activity is not some mere conceptual error, which can be dispelled by the taking of thought and by scientific rectifications: it has a quasi-institutional status, performs ideological functions, and is susceptible to historical causation and produced and reinforced by other objective instances, determinants, and mechanisms . . . [The] emergence of the ego or centered subject can be understood [as follows]: the dissolution of the older organic or hierarchical social groups, the universal commodification of the labor-power of individuals and their confrontation as equivalent units within the framework of the market [and] the anomie of these now "free" and isolated individual subjects [provide the conditions for] which the protective development of a monadic armature alone comes as something of a compensation. (Political Unconscious 154) While Jameson does not focus on the extent to which such subjection falls more heavily on the less-privileged members of society, it is clear that in the nineteenth century women were more forcefully constrained than men both psychically and physically. In At the Piano, The Music Room and Portrait this historically-specific paradox is articulated in aesthetic form. These works are transitional ones which occupy a position between the earlier realism of, respectively, Courbet and Eliot and a fully-evolved modernism, and their importance lies in their transitional, contradictory nature because it is in these 107 contradictions that the historical moment is expressed. Each of these works, with their competing representational modes and contradictory images of human subjectivity, represents a world in which classical notions of the harmony and unity of the human body and its environment are collapsing, to be replaced by the modernist reality of fragmentation, isolation and disharmony. Portrait of a Lady. At the Piano and Music Room are critical of modernity and its effects, commenting negatively on the increasing reification, commodification and unfreedom in a society for which modernity was supposed to bring liberation from all debilitating socio-historical constraints. I have described each of these works, At the Piano. The Music Room and Portrait. as "realist". As such, they, like any realist artifact, can be seen as "processing operations" (Jameson Political Unconscious 152) whose function is to accurately describe the world. Realism in literature, for example, as I discussed in chapter two, is specifically opposed to earlier narrative forms such as the romance or myth and attempts to construct a coherent social world from its confrontation with a complex and contradictory reality. Similarly, as was discussed in chapter three, realist painting specifically seeks to represent the world of the "here and now" rather than that of biblical or historical times. Jameson has argued that realism plays a role in a "bourgeois cultural revolution" (152) through acting as a decoder of myth and a producer of the modem subjectivity it describes. His description focuses on the nineteenth century realist novel but his observations can also be applied to the realist painting: The "objective" function of the novel is thereby implied: to its subjective and critical, analytic, corrosive mission must now be added the task of producing as 108 though for the first time that very life world, that very "referent" - the newly quantifiable space of extension and market equivalence, the new rhythms of measurable time, the new secular and "disenchanted" object world of the commodity system, with its post-traditional daily life and its bewilderingly empirical, "meaningless", and contingent Umwelt - of which this new narrative discourse will then claim to be the "realistic" reflection. (Political Unconscious 152) Thus, according to this account, realist novels such as Eliot's and Balzac's and paintings such as Courbet's chart the emergence of a new kind of social world, with new relationships and new kinds of consciousness. However, the characters in these earlier realist novels are still subordinated to an intrusive god-like authorial omniscience. In contrast, in James's realist novel The Portrait of a Lady, the bourgeois subject is more fully evolved in that we are often left squarely within one singular isolated consciousness which is specifically opposed to the world in which it finds itself. James's representation of interiority and isolation in the Portrait is one that reflects a later moment in the progress of modernity than Eliot's reconciliation of individual and society in, for example, Middlemarch. The differences between James's and Eliot's projects will be discussed in more detail below; here I simply want to note that the reconciliation that was possible for Eliot is no longer possible for James. Similarly, Courbet's representation of the appearance of the material world and the lives of workers in that world reflects an earlier moment than Whistler's evocation of the interior psychological states of his subjects in At the Piano and The Music Room. Both James and Whistler, as we shall see, will emphasise the lived 109 experience of individual consciousness as isolated and autonomous centres of activity in a way that highlights the paradox of modern subjectivity. James's insistence on telling his story from the point of view of Isabel's consciousness, and Whistler's depictions of bourgeois interiority, can be seen as accurate accounts of the way in which we are subjected and how we reconfigure that subjection as freedom. These contradictions in the nature of bourgeois, especially female, subjectivity appear in At the Piano, The Music Room and the Portrait as contradictions in aesthetic form. In order to see how this is the case, I will compare the form and subject of two scenes in the Portrait of a Lady with Whistler's two paintings to which they have an uncanny formal and thematic similarity. II The Portrait of a Lady was considered by contemporary reviewers to be James's first masterpiece. Likewise, Whistler's At the Piano (1859) and Harmony in Green and Rose: The Music Room (1860-61) were among the artist's first publicly-exhibited works and At the Piano was generally well-received. A l l three focus on the middle-class domestic realm and the experience of women within it. Indeed, the thematic and technical similarities between Whistler's pictures and James's novel are compelling and all three express remarkably similar characterisations of modern bourgeois existence.1 Before I begin a detailed examination of the three works, I want to briefly lay out the argument I will be making here. I will argue that the "portrait" of bourgeois interiority painted by the Portrait is, like those painted by Whistler, revealing of contradictions inherent in modern subjectivity. These works are not the objective records of material fact that contemporary discourse held "realism" to be. Instead they are records of the response 110 of subjectivity to the material conditions of modernity. James makes this project clear when he indicates in his preface to the The Portrait of a Lady that his story originated not in a plot but in a picture of a "young woman affronting her destiny" (AN 48). James tells us that in order to make his story of such a "slight" person important and interesting, he decided to "place the centre of the subject in the young woman's own consciousness" (AN 51). The things that happen to Isabel are not necessarily exciting in themselves, but exciting as they reveal her awareness of them: "Without her sense of them, her sense for them, as one may say, they are next to nothing at all; but isn't the beauty and the difficulty just in showing their mystic conversion by that sense" (AN 56). Isabel's first sight of Madame Merle at the piano is one such incident. Another is the representation in chapter forty of Isabel's "motionlessly seeing" which James describes as "designed to have all the vivacity of incident and all the economy of picture" (AN 57). The way these two pivotal incidents in the novel are rendered, like the pictures painted by Whistler, is complex and contradictory. In the novel it is Isabel's "exciting inward life" that is most important and this inward life is shown through her psychological response to impressions she receives from particular pictorial tableaus. However, the way in which Isabel is represented is inconsistent with what she experiences: although believing herself to be a free subject, she is in reality a subjected "dull un-reverenced tool" (484); although she is a centre of consciousness, she is also the object of a disembodied narrative eye. Similarly, in At the Piano and The Music Room Whistler presents us with absorptive motifs which signify intensity of interior consciousness and flat, silhouetted forms, shallow spaces and the truncation of forms by framing, all of which act against that suggestion of psychological or 111 spiritual depth. In these works the co-existence of formal devices which offer contradictory or competing representations of their characters' lives serves to point out how modernity has profoundly altered the nature of "reality" itself. At the Piano (1859) (fig. 1) was the second picture Whistler painted. It was begun in London, finished in Paris in 1859 and accepted for exhibition at the London Royal Academy in 1860, the first of his paintings to be shown in England. At the Academy, the painting was generally well-received, as is evidenced by the Times review: The name of Mr. Whistler is quite new to us. It is attached to a large sketch rather than a picture called At the Piano. This work is of the broadest and simplest character. A lady in black is playing the piano, while a girl in white listens attentively. In colour and handling this picture reminds one irresistibly of Velasquez . . . if this work be the fair result of Mr. Whistler's own labour from nature, and not the transcript of some Spanish picture the gentleman has a future before him, and his next performance will be eagerly watched, (qtd. in Anderson 89) The novelist Thackeray "admired it beyond words and stood looking at it with real delight" and the painter Millais called At the Piano "[The] finest piece of colour that has been on the walls of the Royal Academy for years" (qtd. in Prideaux 39). In the Athenaeum, the artist's "genuine feeling for colour" and "splendid power of composition" were seen as evidence of his "just appreciation of nature", a quality "very rare amongst artists" (qtd. in Anderson 90). The picture was not universally praised, however; the critic for the Daily Telegraph called it "an eccentric, uncouth, smudgy, phantom-like picture of a 112 112a lady at a pianoforte, with a ghostly-looking child in a white frock looking on" (qtd. in Anderson 89) and the Athenaeum noted Whistler's "recklessly bold manner and sketchiness of the wildest and roughest kind" (qtd. in Anderson 90). The conjunction of "a recklessly bold manner", "eccentricity", and "sketchiness" with "a feeling for colour" and "just appreciation of nature" in these accounts suggests that critics saw something in Whistler's work that they could not reconcile. What this irreconcilability might be is alluded to by Roger Fry in a later review of the painting where he pointed to what he saw as the flaw in Whistler's art, his concentration on the mere surface of things: " A few early drawings and etchings and one or two pictures, such as At the Piano and the Girl in White, betray something of the Pre-Raphaelite influence; but already they show a preoccupation with the surfaces of things rather than with their inner meaning" (Spencer, Whistler: A Retrospective 346). In these critical responses we can begin to sense some of the problems Whistler's "realist" image presented. We must now examine the painting itself in more detail, to determine the implications of its formal characteristics and see how its contradictions are articulated. At the Piano depicts Whistler's half-sister Deborah Haden and her daughter Annie in the music room of the Haden's house at 62 Sloane Street, London. Deborah is dressed in a voluminous black gown and seated playing the piano. Her daughter, dressed in white, is positioned standing and leaning on the piano, listening to her mother play. The picture has several cut off areas, at the top where two large gold-framed pictures behind the piano are sliced horizontally by the edge of the canvas and at either side where the table on the left is cut in half horizontally and the piano's right extremity and third leg are omitted. The 113 bottom of the composition is not cropped, however, and both figures are depicted in their entirety. The cropping of the top and sides of the image focuses attention on the two figures who occupy the centre of the canvas. Deborah's gaze is fixed on the piano keys as she plays, while her daughter, although we do not see her eyes clearly, appears from the position of her face to be gazing at her mother quite intently. Beneath the piano are two instrument cases, one violin and one violoncello. Much of At the Piano draws on earlier painting genres, particularly Dutch and Spanish interiors. In the late 1850s and early 1860s, "espagnolisme" was fashionable in Paris and the art of seventeenth century Holland, particularly Vermeer, was undergoing a revival in France. In several catalogues for various Dutch and Flemish museums, and articles on the relation of art to society, the critic Thore put forward his belief that the Dutch school of the seventeenth century was the historical precedent for a naturalistic modern art.2 Contemporary French painting was, according to Thore, the heir to the great naturalistic masters of the past, Velasquez in Spain and the seventeenth century Dutch painters. Thore saw authentic French painting as that which escaped the influence of Italy by turning to the naturalistic art of Spain and Holland. For Thore, it was through a return to nature - that nature represented by Spanish and Dutch art - that art renewed itself. Seen in the context of these beliefs, Whistler's combination of elements that were seen as Spanish and Dutch reflects his attempt to insert his own work into a canon of contemporary French art that was then being given shape. Like Degas' Bellelli Family (1859) and Fantin-Latour's Two Sisters (1859), At the Piano was seen by contemporary 114 viewers as an homage to Vermeer.3 Its subject matter then could be placed within a particular category of realist art production. However, while similar in composition and coloration to Dutch interiors, At the Piano conveys a different mood and psychology. Whistler's work, like that of Fantin-Latour and Degas, focuses on the relationship of the figures to one another and to the artist/viewer. The interior space represented is important as a setting for, and emblem of, the psychological states of the figures within it. What is of particular interest in At the Piano is the connection between the standing girl and the woman seated at the piano. X -rays of the painting show that the initial composition included the figure at the piano, the picture frames but not the listening girl. The figure of Annie was added at a later stage.4 This suggests that the painting was not meant to be an objective and detached study in formal harmony, as suggested by Broun for example, but a study in the psychology of consciousness.51 find the presence of the instrument cases under the piano to be interesting with respect to the painting's construction of psychological space. In many seventeenth century genre paintings, musical instruments carried much symbolic freight: symbols of love, signifiers of the vanity of human intellectual pursuits such as music, and also symbols of harmony.6 The swelling form of stringed instruments such as the lute often represented the female body. If we see Whistler here as playing with these earlier iconographic conventions, then his representation of the instrument cases rather than the instmments themselves, and his compositional cutting of the instruments also contribute to the painting's divergence from earlier modes of realism and act as negations of the symbology attached to such objects. 115 Initially, one of the most compelling things about this image is the intensity of the girl's attention to her mother. Not only does she seem to be listening very carefully, she also seems to gaze directly at the older woman's face. Deborah's attention, in contrast, is focused on the piano keys. She looks down at her hands as she plays. What we are most aware of as viewers of the image is Annie's perceiving consciousness, her awareness of what she sees. Annie is depicted as being intensely absorbed in her awareness of another human being. I will return to the significance of "absorption" below but first I want to point out the compositional similarities between this painting and an early scene in James's Portrait. That this kind of evocation of perceiving subjectivity is what James was after in his characterisation of Isabel in the Portrait is indicated by my earlier quotation of James's intentions: "Without her sense of [things], her sense for them, as one may say, they are next to nothing at all; but isn't the beauty and the difficulty just in showing their mystic conversion by that sense" (AN 56). Just as Whistler gives us a representation of heightened consciousness in a scene that depicts an individual watching and listening to a woman playing the piano, so too does James in an important early scene. In the first of the scenes he identifies in his preface as the most crucial in the novel, James's rendering of Isabel's initial encounter with Madame Merle creates a picture that recalls At the Piano: Isabel was on the point of ringing to send an enquiry to her room, when her attention was taken by an unexpected sound - the sound of low music proceeding apparently from the drawing room . . . The drawing room at Gardencourt was a apartment of great distances, and as the piano was placed at the end of it furthest 116 removed from the door at which Isabel entered her arrival was not noticed by the person seated before the instrument... This person [was] a stranger to herself, although her back was presented to the door. This back - an ample and well-dressed one - Isabel contemplated for some moments in surprise . . . [She] had not yet divested herself of a youthful impression that each new acquaintance would exert some momentous influence upon her life. By the time she had made these reflections she became aware that the lady at the piano played remarkably well. She was playing something of Beethoven's - Isabel knew not what, but she recognised Beethoven - and she touched the piano softly and discreetly, but with evident skill. (149) The novel's narrative stops while James asks us as readers to join Isabel in contemplating the picture he paints. Isabel stares uninterrupted at Madame Merle for a number of minutes, listening to her play. During this pause in the novel's narrative momentum, we are within Isabel's consciousness, aware of each thought replacing the previous one as she muses about this interesting stranger. In so doing, James makes us intensely aware of Isabel's interior life. She has, like Annie is represented to have, an intensely interesting interiority. Unlike the earlier realism of George Eliot, whose narrative voice constantly intrudes into the story pointing out the significance of characters' actions, James does not go on to tell us explicitly what the "momentous influence" Madame Merle will have on Isabel is. We are left with a limited, incomplete and eventually fallible individual consciousness or point of view. James's use of centre of consciousness narration here creates a compelling realistic effect: firstly, the distinction between us, as readers, and 117 Isabel is elided - we become Isabel, our view of the scene coinciding with hers, and secondly, we are persuaded that what we see is really what is. Isabel is absorbed in what she sees and so are we. James's use of centre of consciousness narration here both represents a state of absorption (Isabel's) and creates on the reader's part a sense of absorption in the scene depicted. In the Portrait a new and innovative literary form - centre of consciousness -coexists with a conventional kind of nineteenth century realist narration that seeks to represent the world as if it simply existed "out there" independent of us. However, the representation of interiority or subjectivity given by the centre of consciousness technique coexists with an equally strong representation of exteriority or objectivity in James's evocation of the movement of a camera's eye over the scene being described. Parts of the scene are narrated as if a motion picture camera were showing Isabel's movements through the house. In these moments the story's narrative, like that of a film, magically unwinds apparently without any intervention. The cinematic world represents, in the words of Laura Mulvey, a "hermetically sealed world [which is] indifferent to the presence of the audience, producing for them a sense of separation and playing on their voyeuristic fantasy" ("Visual Pleasure" 363). Viewers of this cinematic world are offered images of objectified individuals whose actions can be consumed without effort. Similarly, James's evocation of a camera's eye in parts of the scene serves to separate us from Isabel, to objectify her and to negate her independent interior consciousness. To see how this is the case, it is necessary to examine the way in which Isabel's moment of consciousness is framed in the text. I use the term "framed" deliberately here to draw attention to James's 118 use of a framing device like that of a camera to isolate and focus attention on Isabel as object. Immediately prior to Isabel's coming upon Madame Merle at the piano we are taken inside her head and are aware of what she is thinking: Isabel was on the point of ringing to send an inquiry to her room when her attention was taken by an unexpected sound - the sound of low music proceeding apparently from the drawing-room. She knew that her aunt never touched the piano, and the musician was therefore probably Ralph, who played for his own amusement. That he should have resorted to this recreation at the present time, indicated apparently that his anxiety about his father had been relieved . . . (148) We muse along with Isabel, speculating about the possible identity of the musician. Then immediately we are outside Isabel and looking at her as she moves through the house: " . . . so that Isabel took her way to the drawing-room with much alertness" (148). Then abruptly the focus moves from Isabel to a representation of Gardencourt's interior as if a camera were panning around the room: "The drawing-room at Gardencourt was a apartment of great distances, and as the piano was placed at the end of it furthest removed from the door at which Isabel entered, her arrival was not noticed by the person seated before the instrument" (148-9). The remainder of the paragraph goes on to alternate between drawing us into Isabel's thoughts so that we experience her subjectivity and giving us descriptions of external actions so that we see her and her surroundings as objects. 119 In this scene the coexistence of absorption and distancing acts to both pull the reader into Isabel's consciousness and push her away to a place above and beyond the scene described, as if Isabel were merely one more object among many others. While James's literary representation of absorption acts to draw the viewer into the character's consciousness, as if the character and the reader have become a single entity, his use of a camera eye's perspective also and at the same time positions the reader outside and beyond the character's consciousness. James's narrative technique here both pulls the reader into the story and pushes her away. Unlike earlier realist narratives in which the author's omniscience informs all aspects of the story, pointing out the meaning and significance of its characters' actions, in James's narrative we are given a partial view or limited perspective through which we must absorb the story. At this early stage in the novel's narrative the problems inherent in the heroine's limited perspective are not readily apparent; they are only hinted at by the author. By the same token, the response evoked from the reader here is one of enjoyment tempered by curiosity. What will be the "momentous influence" alluded to in this scene? However, in the later of the two scenes I will be looking at, the inconsistency between the literary technique and the character's experience and the consequent tension evoked and dissastisfaction expressed by many contemporary readers with respect to the novel's ending clearly conveys the contradictions of its historical moment. However, before I go on to examine Isabel's "motionlessly seeing", I shall show how Whistler's technical innovations, and their thematic consequences, in At the Piano are like those in James's novelistic scene. 120 I have suggested that James's narrative techniques in his depiction of Isabel and her environment act to both pull the reader into and push her out of Isabel's consciousness. Similarly, Whistler's depiction of Annie and Deborah in At the Piano both negates the viewer and directly addresses him or her. It is the painting's depiction of absorption that negates the viewer by making the figures seem unconscious of or indifferent to the painting's viewers. The figures in the painting do not look out at a beholder. They do not in any way acknowledge a beholder. Instead, they are represented as being entirely absorbed in their own activities as if unseen by anyone. However, this representation of absorption, like that of James, prompts the viewer to identify with the-consciousnesses of the figures depicted, acting to dissolve the distinction between representation and reality. This absorptive thematic has been examined in detail with respect to the painting of the 1860s by Michael Fried, whose observations are appropriate to both James's project and Whistler's At the Piano.7 Fried argues that in French painting from the mid-eighteenth century on, the representation of absorption was paramount: [In such paintings] the representation of absorption carried with it the implication that the figure or figures in question were wholly unaware of the presence before the canvas of the beholder; in this sense it was an antitheatrical device, one that was instrumental to attempts by successive generations of French painters to make pictures that would somehow negate or neutralize what I have called the primordial convention that paintings are made to be beheld . . . ("Manet in his Generation" 29) 121 While such visual representations of absorption are characteristic of French painting until 1860 or so, Fried postulates that a shift in aesthetics occurred at that time by virtue of which "the excessiveness in the depiction of absorption" (31) which had come to be seen by some critics as itself theatrical could be "recuperated as an artistically legitimate mode of intensity" (31). Fried argues that a desire for a new sort of pictorial intensity was manifested by including "effects of forcing and willing within an absorptive framework" (32). This new pictorial intensity was achieved by the representation of figures who are completely absorbed in what they are doing, feeling and thinking, which negate the viewer, combined with a use of shallow space, cropping and framing which directly address the viewer. Fried sees this new pictorial form as expressing a "double structure of denial of and direct address to the beholder" and claims that this double structure is "deeply characteristic of the painting (and not just the painting) of members of the generation of 1863" (33-4), in which generation he includes James McNeill Whistler. This double structure of denial of and address to a painting's viewer that Fried sees as characteristic of modem paintings is represented in At the Piano.8 Firstly, Deborah is shown as completely absorbed in her piano-playing, so absorbed that she is unaware of Annie's gaze and that of the beholder. Annie is also represented as being so absorbed in the intensity of her gaze at her mother that she too is unaware of anything else. At the Piano's depiction of absorptive subjects was not seen as in any way conventional or posed. In many contemporary comments on the painting, the words "natural", "delight" and "feeling" express the viewers' appreciation of the painting's effect. Such absorptive states seem always to have been seen as "ever-fresh, purely spontaneous" (Fried "Manet in his 122 Generation" 36), found objects rather than deliberately arranged compositions. The absorptive motifs Whistler uses suggest that these figures have an intense interior consciousness, that they are "real" people with real thoughts and feelings, a suggestion that works to suspend the distinction between representation and viewer. However, in addition to its representation of absorption, and hence negation of the viewer, At the Piano also includes those features which Fried has identified as directly addressing the viewer. The painting's space is shallow. The wall behind the figures is flat and frontal, its frontality accentuated by the cropping of the two picture frames. Deborah's black gown completely hides the piano stool or bench on which she must be sitting, thus further flattening the space. Both female figures are in profile, almost silhouette-like. A l l these elements serve to create the impression of a frontal orientation, one explicitly directed to the painting's viewer. Hence, the orientation of the figures„which is to negate the viewer, contradicts or conflicts with the orientation of the rest of the painting's elements. Contemporary commentary on At the Piano's eccentricity, recklessness and uncouthness suggests that these two competing pictorial structures were registered by viewers even as they were unable to reconcile them. Whistler's "bold manner" and "sketchiness of the wildest and roughest kind" forcefully command the viewer's attention while at the same time his absorptive subjects negate that same viewer. Whistler's use of absorptive motifs contrasts with his execution of those motifs. Unlike the work of Fantin-Latour, for example, whose Woman Reading (1861) can be seen as the epitome of a representation of absorption that does not confront the viewer with the evidence of its own illusoriness, Whistler makes the image's "madeness" 123 strikingly apparent. The surface of the canvas is not given a smooth, brushstrokeless finish. The artist's brash strokes are evident, making it clear that the image is paint on canvas not a window onto reality. The roughness of the painted surface, the sketchiness of the handling, the chalkiness of the whites and dullness of the blacks, and the evident brushstrokes all point to the artificiality of the image. At the Piano is not simply a quasi-photographic record of a world "out-there"; it is a material object which compels the viewer's attention. While initially it is Annie's gaze that captures our attention and suggests her psychological depth, upon closer examination her figure seems flat and -crudely painted negating that same suggestion of depth. Her profiled figure, meant to be an index of interiority, now seems more to be a flat silhouette that evokes not someone absorbed in what she sees but an opaque, uncommunicative cipher without psychological interiority of any kind. The opacity of both Annie and Deborah, their lack of psychological depth, makes them seem now to be, rather than fully-articulated subjects, two more objects in a room full of such objects. This dialectic of subjectivity and objectivity, negation of and direct address to a viewer, which is in At the Piano implicit will be more explicitly articulated in the later Music Room to be discussed below. The double structure that I've described as existing in Portrait and in At the Piano is illustrative of the paradox of modem subjectivity. While making the individual's consciousness the putative subject of the works, James and Whistler also at the same time make the viewer aware of the individual as constrained by the environment which frames her. In At the Piano the sense of subjection is not yet fully developed but hinted at by the cropped, flattened, claustrophobic space within which the figures are positioned. In The 124 Music Room these features will become much more pronounced and the evocation of subjection much more extreme. Similarly, in the Portrait's early drawing-room scene, Isabel's consciousness is relatively unimpeded but the "momentous influence" that she perceives Madame Merle will exert on her life foreshadows the subjection to come, the details of which we find out during her "midnight vigil". The alteration in the nature of modern subjectivity which is beginning to be articulated in At the Piano and Isabel's early moment of consciousness will become more extreme in The Music Room and Isabel's "motionless seeing" and subsequent midnight vigil. In The Music Room the contradictions of form and theme that had begun to be explored in At the Piano are more fully detailed. The contrast between absorptive motifs and innovations in form in the painting's representation of three female figures in a domestic space is very close to that James produces in his narrative of Isabel's "motionlessly seeing". Just as the Portrait's early drawing-room scene was much like that represented in At the Piano, so is the novel's later drawing-room scene, and Isabel's mediation on its implications, like that of The Music Room. Both representations focus on the consciousness of a perceiving subject who will discover herself to be (in the novel) and is depicted as (in the painting) subjected to her external circumstances. To show how this is the case, I will first describe The Music Room in some detail, pointing out its anomalies, then draw parallels between it and the scene narrated in chapter forty of the Portrait and finally show how each reveals the increasingly alienated nature of bourgeois female subjectivity. I l l 125 Harmony in Green and Rose: The Music Room (fig. 2), painted a year or two later, represents the same music room as At the Piano. In this work Whistler has again painted Deborah and Annie and has also included a third figure, that of Isabella Boott, a family friend.9 Originally entitled The Morning Call, this picture, also a realist image of an interior setting, is ambiguous and unsettling. Although painted only a relatively short time later than At the Piano. The Music Room much more fully evokes the psychic-physical effects of modernity on women. Where At the Piano offers us entire bodies, The Music Room offers us fragments or ciphers; where the interior space of At the Piano is coherent, the space in The Music Room is incoherent and contradictory. Where At the Piano begins to act against the dissolution of the separation between representation and viewer evoked by absorptive motifs, The Music Room more emphatically emphasises the "madeness" and objecthood of the image and encourages the separation of viewer from image by reminding us that it is a created thing not a window onto a real world. Lastly, while At the Piano could be relatively easily viewed, The Music Room moves us toward the paradigm of modernist aesthetic experience: tension and estrangement. While the interior space in At the Piano is relatively straightforward - the figures are presented in profile against a continuous wall - the room represented in The Music Room is spatially disconcerting. A l l three figures are crammed into a small, congested comer of the room. Isabella Boott, wearing a black riding habit, stands on the right, her left hand resting on a curtain rod. Behind her, seated reading, is Annie, dressed again entirely in white. On the extreme left, her body vertically cropped by the edge of the canvas, Deborah appears as a reflection in the tall mirror. 126 F i g u r e 2 Harmony i n Green and Rose : The M u s i c Room (1860-61 ) 126a The left side of the image, showing part of a shelf with its mirror and vase, is painted as if from a high viewpoint. The shelf juts into the room at a sharp angle. The floor too seems to be tilted up at an angle rather than horizontal. Isabella's figure is positioned so that it obscures the comer of the niche where Annie is sitting. The colour of the wall to the right of the standing figure and the changes in level of the dado suggest spatial recession while the two picture frames on the wall behind appear to hang beside one another on a continuous wall negating that same recession. The lamp behind Annie's head floats in space. We know from a related etching Reading by Lamplight that the lamp was a standing one with a wide base but here there is no room for it to stand. The three figures are echoed by three picture frames whose tops, like those in At the Piano, are cut off, bringing the far wall closer to the foreground. The vertical format compresses the space in the room, contributing to its feeling of claustrophobia. As Curry has noted, the space here, although painted in a realist style, is "physically impossible" (102). Compared with Whistler's etching of The Music Room done around the same time, this painting is much more complex and innovative, both in style and in content. Indeed, Theodore Reff has noted that Whistler's spatial innovations in the painting predate Degas' experiments with the representation of interior space by several years.10 The Music Room is seen by critics today as "One of [Whistler's] most fascinating conceptions . . . Whistler's painting creates an impression of unrelated images, as if to say that even with three people in a room . . . no one really communicates with anyone else" (Prideaux 41). Anderson calls it a "curious painting", and "certainly the most ambiguous 'narrative' picture James would ever paint" (97). Broun, in comparing it with At the 127 Piano, comments that while the earlier painting was harmonious, this one is not: "The Morning Call shows this harmony shattered by a third figure of disproportionate size. The compressed space, jagged asymmetry, isolated gloved hand, play of mirror reflections . . . create a mood of claustrophobia and tension" (37-8). Although the painted interior appears to offer a legible narrative, no explicit meaning emerges from it. A feeling of anxiety, claustrophobia, strangeness - but nothing a contemporary audience would call an explicit narrative, like the narratives of earlier artists such as Hogarth for example. Like other advanced painters in the 1850s and 1860s, Whistler leaves the meaning of his image open. It resists any definite narrative closure. I will return to this point below with respect to its formal analogy with James's novel in its lack of closure and deferral of meaning. For Whistler, a realist image was not simply the objective recording of the material world of which critics accused Courbet, it was a rendering of the psychology of human interaction. Just as he had done in At the Piano, Whistler here too combines contradictory representational devices. He presents us with an absorptive motif - the figure of Annie reading - that is meant to be an index of interior consciousness and techniques that negate that same suggestion of psychological depth. Rather than being a central focus, as for example the woman reading is in Fantin-Latour's Woman Reading, the figure of Annie is shoved to the background of the composition where she is partially eclipsed by Isabella Boott's gigantic frame. We are not able to be drawn into the contemplation of Annie's absorption because too many compositional devices prevent us from doing so. The interior space is highly congested with many jagged edges, interlocking planes and varieties of patterned surface. Rather than offering a coherent space in which we viewers can rest, our 128 eyes are forced to be active and drawn haphazardly around the canvas. While a relationship among the three figures is suggested - they are placed together in a small interior space - that relationship cannot be identified. In The Music Room, as in At the Piano. Whistler presents us with absorptive motifs which are executed in ways that act against any suggestion of psychological depth. The application of the paint, the complexity of the composition, the emphasis on the image's flatness, the silhouetted figures without any apparent depth all call the viewer's attention to the fact that the image is a material object constructed to be viewed rather than an unmediated window on a world. The contradictions between putative subject and execution that Whistler had experimented with in At the Piano are here more forcefully articulated and act more strongly to compel the viewer to see its figures as objects among other objects and indeed to acknowledge the painting's own objecthood. The sense of closure that viewers of absorptive images such as Fantin-Latour's would receive is absent in The Music Room. As a consequence, the aesthetic experience is one of tension, anxiety, dislocation as viewers try to derive a narrative from an image that resists any narrative closure. One of the elements that contributes most strongly to The Music Room's ambiguity is the figure of Deborah. It is difficult to determine exactly what Deborah is doing in this painting. Her half-crouched position as reflected in the mirror may indicate that she is rising to greet Isabella or to see her out. Annie pays no attention to either woman and seems engrossed in her book. When exhibited in Baltimore, the painting was shown as Portrait of a Lady and Girl. However, there are two ladies in the image - why would the title refer to only one? If the "Lady" referred to is Isabella Boott, why include 129 the figure of Deborah in the mirror? Young speculates that Deborah's figure was possibly included as an afterthought, that the first compositional idea may have been to reflect the floral curtains in the mirror (13). One of the most interesting aspects of the image is the relationship of the reflected Deborah to the standing figure of Isabella. Again here, as he did with the figure of Annie in At the Piano. Whistler makes us aware of Deborah's perceiving subjectivity. Her physical appearance as a reflection makes reference to the mental act of reflection, of "motionlessly seeing", the activity that James will identify in the Portrait as the best thing in his book. What, however, does Deborah see? In reality she would be facing Isabella Boott, and it would be her face Deborah would see. Here, the artist represents Deborah seeing the standing figure's back, as if she were coming upon a scene unawares. It has a voyeuristic quality, almost as if Deborah were wanting not to be seen herself. What is Deborah's connection to Isabella? And why is Annie ignoring them both? Are they alienated from one another or do they know one another so well that certain formalities may be dispensed with? Surely, if a family friend were entering or leaving the room, the young girl would greet her or acknowledge her in some way. That she does not suggests a degree of intimacy that is beyond that accorded to casual acquaintances or distant relatives. It is this intimacy that is revealed by their mutual positions in the image, an intimacy that, although different in kind, is like that Isabel imputes to Madame Merle and her husband in chapter forty of the Portrait. However, as we shall also see in the Portrait, while being represented as a conscious perceiving subject, Deborah is also at the same time represented as being very much trapped in a web of socio-historical constraints. 130 The position of Isabella Boott, the "amazone" in the black riding habit, suggests power and freedom from constraint." Firstly and most obviously she stands while Annie and Deborah do not. Unlike theirs, we see her entire figure. She is dressed for riding and carrying a whip suggesting action, movement, freedom, the world beyond this small and confining space. She looks out of the picture, suggesting an orientation to the outer world, while the others do not. If Isabella suggests freedom, then Deborah's reflected image suggests entrapment. The compositional space allotted to her is small and very compressed. We see only her face and part of her dress. No limbs are visible which would allow her to move beyond the rectangular box in which she is framed. The sharply-jutting shelf almost seems to sever her and her peculiar crouching position gives the effect that she is attempting to hang on to prevent being forced out of the image. Elizabeth Broun has suggested that this image "project[s] Whistler's own interest in strategies for escape" (38), while David Park Curry hypothesises that Whistler was offering an allegory of choice in which Annie must chose between the freedom represented by Isabella Boott and the conventional and confining marriage of her mother.12 Both of these are reasonable suggestions but focus attention on the seated girl who must choose or the standing figure who is free to leave. Instead, as I have suggested, the psychological interest of the painting seems to me to be in the figure of Deborah whose reflected image stares so intently at the back of the standing amazone. In Whistler's representation of Deborah we see both subjectivity and subjection, just as we will see in James's representation of Isabel's moment of consciousness. 131 Isabel's "extraordinary meditative vigil", her "motionlessly seeing", is prompted by the sight of Madame Merle and Osmond "grouped unconsciously and familiarly" in the drawing-room. Coming in from a walk with Pansy, Isabel wanders into the house and has her attention arrested by a picture of her husband and her friend: Just beyond the threshold of the drawing-room she stopped short, the reason for her doing so being that she had received an impression. The impression had, in strictness, nothing unprecedented; but she felt it as something new, and the soundlessness of her step gave her time to take in the scene before she interrupted i t . . . Madame Merle was standing on the rug, a little way from the fire; Osmond was in a deep chair, leaning back and looking at her. Her head was erect, as usual, but her eyes were bent on his. What struck Isabel first was that he was sitting while Madame Merle stood; there was an anomaly in this that arrested her . . . but the thing made an image, lasting only a moment, like a sudden flicker of light. Their relative position, their absorbed mutual gaze, struck her as something detected. (357) Framed by the doorway in front of which Isabel halts, Madame Merle is standing while Osmond is seated. They have reached a standstill in their conversation and "their dialogue had for the moment converted itself into a sort of familiar silence, from which she instantly perceived that her entrance would startle them" (357). Here rather than watching Isabel, we see what she sees. We are again aware of the movement of her thought, of the effect on her consciousness of what she sees.13 132 Isabel's reflection on this tableau in chapter forty-two is the imaginative centre of the novel. As she reflects on this picture during her midnight vigil, Isabel comes to realise that she has been used as a "dull un-reverenced tool" (484) by her husband and his former lover. At the very moment in which Isabel is most fully a subjective centre of consciousness, she also becomes aware that she has been made an object to be used by Osmond and Madame Merle. 1 4 Unlike the piano-watching scene I discussed earlier, the novel's narrative voice does not take us alternately inside and outside Isabel's consciousness in these two incidences. In these two extended scenes of seeing and reflecting on what is seen we remain completely within the consciousness of the perceiving subject. However, although the narrative techniques used are different, the effects of those techniques are the same: to emphasise the fact that Isabel is both subject and object of use to others. That Isabel's belief in her autonomous subjectivity, as signified by James's centre of consciousness narrative technique, is utterly inconsistent with the conditions of which she has become conscious will be made clear in chapter forty-two. Isabel's consciousness is described as "haunted with terrors which crowded to the foreground of thought as quickly as a place was made for them. What had suddenly set them into livelier motion she hardly knew, unless it were the strange impression she had received in the afternoon of her husband and Madame Merle being in more direct communication than she suspected" (371). During Isabel's meditation we are made aware of her realisation that, rather than being the free and independent entity she had assumed she was, she is, like Deborah is represented to be in The Music Room, trapped by circumstances which her own actions have also helped to shape. 133 Isabel's early belief in her own liberty and independence had been exemplified in her refusal to marry either Warburton or Goodwood and her assertion that "I can do what I choose -1 belong quite to the independent class . . . I therefore am not bound to be timid and conventional... I don't wish to be a mere sheep in the flock; I wish to choose my fate and know something of human affairs beyond what other people think it compatible with propriety to tell me" (140). Although Isabel naively thinks that she's free, James has earlier alerted us to the characteristics that will contribute to her fall from innocence: "[She] had in the depths of her nature an even more unquenchable desire to please than [her sister] Edith" (28) and "Deep in her soul - it was. the deepest thing there - lay a belief that if a certain light should dawn she could give herself completely" (44). James's identification in the Portrait of the effects of modernity on women that will be made evident in chapter forty-two - that although we experience ourselves as autonomous subjects we are subject to social and historical conditions - is prepared for relatively early on in the famous debate between Madame Merle and Isabel. Madame Merle insists on the interconnections between self and circumstances and asserts that the self is not isolated but rather formed by its environment: When you have lived as long as I, you will see that every human being has his shell, and that you must take the shell into account. By the shell I mean the whole envelope of circumstances. There is no such thing as an isolated man or woman; we are each of us made up of a cluster of appurtenances. What do you call one's self? Where does it begin? Where does it end? (175) 134 Isabel, in contrast, adheres to a notion of an essential self, separate from and undefined by circumstances: I think just the other way. I don't know whether I succeed in expressing myself, but I know that nothing else expresses me. Nothing that belongs to me is any measure of me; on the contrary, it's a limit, a barrier, and a perfectly arbitrary one. (176) In this debate, it is clear that we are meant to side with Isabel and indeed many of us see ourselves as Isabel does, as the heroes of our own narratives. True independence for the bourgeois subject is the entirely private possession of the self. When we rebel, as we see Isabel do, against the notion that we are completely identified by our instrumental presence in the world, and that there is nothing more to us than this, we establish an interior life and declare it to be our real life. Denis Donoghue has identified this construction of private selfhood - the self as private property - as particularly characteristic of nineteenth century American thought and reflected in its literature.15 Such a notion encourages the individual to feel that his or her true life is one lived elsewhere, an elsewhere variously defined as in nature, in an aesthetic realm, in the consciousness or indeed anywhere other than in a here and now materially and historically constrained. However, Isabel's reflections in chapter forty-two will indicate that her condition is exactly the opposite. She is "ground in the [very] mill" of conventionality she hoped to avoid when she marries Osmond. Instead of the "infinite vista of a multiplied life" (371), her belief in the fiction of complete freedom and autonomy leads Isabel to a life of imprisonment in Osmond's "house of darkness, house of dumbness, house of suffocation" 135 (375).16 Like Whistler's Deborah, Isabel is imprisoned within a well-decorated bourgeois palace in which she is helpless and hopeless. Where Deborah's entrapment is visually explicit and immediately apparent, James's slow revelation of Isabel's actual material circumstances is only hinted at in the outset of the novel. The world of the Portrait opens in the late afternoon. Shadows are falling across the lawn of Gardencourt as three men have tea. The passage of time indicated here is a reminder of death and from this opening scene, the shadow of insufficiency and death is already hanging over this portrait.17 As Isabel is drawn inexorably toward Osmond, her world gradually becomes darker and indeed after her marriage she feels as if "Osmond deliberately, almost malignantly, had put the lights out one by one" (372). Life with Osmond will be a kind of death, paving the way for the "great rest" to come: [Isabel] envied Ralph his dying; for if one were thinking of rest, that was the most perfect of a l l . . . She had moments, indeed, in her journey from Rome, which were almost as good as being dead. She sat in her corner, so motionless, so passive, simply with the sense of being carried, so detached from hope and regret, that if her spirit was haunted with sudden pictures, it might have been the spirit disembarrassed of the flesh. (492) In addition to his subtle evocation of the end to come, James also hints at Isabel's eventual fate with his descriptions of his characters' tendency to treat one another as objects rather than human beings. For example, Pansy is seen by Rosier as "a dresden-china shepherdess" (243) and Countess Gemini is a "bright shell, with a polished surface" (393). Osmond is of course the epitome of the commodifying aesthete, the dilettante and amateur 136 of Whistler's "Ten O'Clock" fulminations. He acquires Isabel as he would any other precious object and for the same purpose, to reflect his own exquisite taste: What could be a happier gift in a companion than a quick, fanciful mind, which saved one repetitions and reflected one's thought upon a scintillating surface? Osmond disliked to see his thought reproduced literally - that made it look stale and stupid; he preferred it to be brightened in the reproduction. His egotism, if egotism it was, had never taken the crude form of desiring a dull wife; this lady's intelligence was to be a silver plate, not an earthen one - a plate that he might heap up with ripe fruits, to which it would give a decorative value, so that conversation might become a sort of perpetual dessert. He found the silvery quality in perfection in Isabel; he could tap her imagination with his knuckle and make it ring. (306-7) Osmond exemplifies the aesthetic connoisseur, an individual whom James mercilessly critiques in the Portrait but who will reappear, as I shall discuss in chapter seven, in the Golden Bowl as a fact of modem life. James's narrative form in the Portrait reveals the historical emergence of the autonomous, centred bourgeois self as both lived reality and mirage. Isabel's textual moment of "becoming conscious" is the culmination and end point of her erroneous notions of her own independence and autonomy. That when we think ourselves to be most clearly autonomous beings we are most subject to historical processes is hinted in at both the Portrait and The Music Room. 1 8 IV 137 I have argued that the realist work of both James and Whistler contains contradictory and conflicting aesthetic forms that reveal the effects on human subjectivity of modernity. Whistler's use of absorptive motifs which signify intensity of interior consciousness and techniques that act against that same suggestion of psychological depth is paralleled in James by his use of centre of consciousness narration to reveal objectification, subjection and alienation. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, all three works resist narrative closure and leave the question of their "meaning" open. In Whistler's paintings, the meaning of the work inheres in its form of representation: interesting compositional angles, complex surface patterning, fragmented forms, flattened shapes, opacity, indeterminacy. Rather than a coherent, easily understandable narrative, these paintings offer instead a world that is ultimately contradictory, incomplete and without any transcendent meaning. Similarly, James's novel is ambiguous, open-ended and lacking in narrative closure. In a world in which there no longer appear to be any transcendent truths, such aesthetic techniques more closely capture the actual reality of late nineteenth century life than the earlier realism of either Courbet or Eliot. A comparison of James with Eliot will make the point here. In much nineteenth century English literature - Eliot can be seen as exemplary - individual characters have well-developed personalities that evolve through an interaction with a complex and recognizable social world. In Middlemarch. for example, the detail with which the social landscape is articulated, the number and complexity of the characters used to flesh out the world of the small English town, and the carefully described circumstances of town life serve to give authenticity to the struggles of Dorothea. The disparate elements of the plot 1 3 8 and the myriad of characters which might seem confusing and confused in the hands of a lesser writer are in Middlemarch all brought together seamlessly and make sense as they are shaped by Eliot's omniscient narrator. A l l diversity and divergence are revealed as commonality and convergence within the mind of the author, thus making the point that no matter how complicated are the circumstances of history and social life, they can be given an individual shape and meaning. Dorothea's education is thus a model which we as readers can learn from. The moral of the story is summarised in the novel's last paragraph: [Dorothea's] finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so il l with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. (838) As articulated by Eliot's narrator, the collapse of Dorothea's grand schemes should not be seen as a failure; instead this collapse should be recognised as contributing to the good of the social system as a whole. Even though Dorothea's individual life was not what she hoped it would be, her actions contribute to the greater good of bourgeois society - "you and me". Eliot's moral in Middlemarch is clear. Her novel offers a realistic representation of social circumstances and their effects on the individual. A l l loose ends are tied up and neatly summarised, allowing the reader to experience a moment of satisfying closure. In 139 contrast, The Portrait of a Lady offers neither explicit moral nor satisfaction nor closure. For many contemporary readers, James's refusal to give clearly-articulated moral pronouncements and conventionally satisfying endings was a source of anger and confusion. For example, R.Ft. Hutton writing in the Spectator asserted that James had given "no portrait at all" of Isabel and that "she remains shrouded in mist. Where the strongest light and the most definite impression should be, there is nothing but haze, nothing but a laborious riddle" (qtd. in Gard 94). Similarly, an unidentified reviewer for Blackwood's complained that "[Of] the heroine, upon whom the greatest pains have been expended, and to whom endless space is afforded for the setting forth of her characteristics, we have no portrait" (qtd. in Gard 101). Isabel is described by this same writer as a "most carefully dressed and posed figure, whose being is altogether mysterious, and of whom, notwithstanding the author's elaborate descriptions, we never penetrate the fin mof (102). That these descriptions could apply equally well to Whistler's figures in The Music Room is evidenced by the earlier quoted commentary on the painting. Most of the contemporary reviewers praised James's powers of description but found the Portrait lacking in resolution, inconclusive, and overly analytical, lacking in "sentiment". The novel's ending was particularly singled out for its apparent arbitrariness and refusal to offer closure, as noted for example by Blackwood's: "[All] Mr. James's books . . . break off with a sharp cut of arbitrary conclusion, leaving all the questions they so skillfully raise unsolved . . . " (qtd. in Gard 102). In these reviews we can see some of the problems that James's realism posed to readers. The Portrait, while maintaining on the surface some of the formal techniques 140 associated with the realist novel of Eliot - detailed description, a recognizable social landscape, carefully-delineated characters—does not conform to the expectations raised by its form. Rather than using an aloof authorial omniscience to point out the significance of his character's actions from a position outside them, James goes inside his main character's head to show us her fallibility and indeed how reality itself is contradictory, irresolvable and incomplete. In its acknowledgment of reality's complexity and contradictoriness, James's realism is thus more real than Eliot's - that is, a more accurate representation of the way things really are. Moreover, James's realism is a more accurate description of modern subjectivity than Eliot's because it represents a world in which there is no transcendent god's-eye perspective within which all contradictions are reconciled. Rather than offering a vision of the world in which each of us, whether we are aware of it or not, contributes to the good of all, as Eliot does, James describes a world in which meaning is infinitely deferred or postponed. The arbitrariness and inconclusivity of the Portrait's ending exemplifies this deferral. Isabel's suspension on a train between London and Rome like a frozen figure on a Greek vase refuses to resolve itself into any clearly apparent meaning or moral message. Trapped in a fallen world in which "all that is solid melts into air", how can it be said that our lives are "really" the finished meaningful projects imagined by Eliot's Middlemarch? At the Piano, The Music Room and The Portrait of a Lady each articulate some of the problems modernity presented to the bourgeois, especially female, subject. While each of these works is realist, its realism is one out of which new aesthetic forms are mutating. Each of these works, with its competing representational modes and contradictory images 141 of human subjectivity, represents a world in which classical notions of the harmony and unity of the human body and its environment are collapsing, to be replaced by the modernist reality of fragmentation, isolation and disharmony. Portrait of a Lady. At the Piano and Music Room are critical of modernity and its effects, commenting negatively on the increasing reification, commodification and unfreedom in a society for which modernity was supposed to bring liberation from all debilitating socio-historical constraints. James and Whistler use the most technically advanced means possible to reveal the tensions and contradictions of their particular moment. In the works addressed here we can see what Adorno has called "unresolved antagonisms in reality" appearing "in the guise of immanent problems of artistic form" (Aesthetic Theory 8). In the works I will examine in chapter five these unresolved antagonisms will appear in James's and Whistler's experiments with the technical and thematic possibilities derived from the low-cultural forms their own aesthetic theory had critiqued. And in so doing their work will articulate the ongoing struggle of high art with the products and processes of what Schulte-Sasse has called the "prevailing system of ideological and economic reproduction" (xxvii) in bourgeois society. 1 While there is no published evidence to confirm it, it is likely that James saw both of Whistler's paintings before he wrote the Portrait. At the Piano was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1860 and at the Paris Salon in 1867 and James would almost certainly have seen it exhibited in one of those shows, if not both. The Music Room was exhibited under the title, interestingly enough, Portrait of a Lady and Child in Baltimore in 1876. 2 For a detailed discussion of the mid-century theoretical debates about realism, naturalism and their links to particular art historical schools, see Michael Fried, "Manet's Sources: Aspects of his Art, 1859-1865". Fried has revisited this early article in his most recent work Manet's Modernism: Or. the Face of Painting in the 1860s. 3 For a discussion of At the Piano's possible relationship to Vermeer's Concert, see John Sandberg, "'Japonisme' and Whistler". 4 Andrew McLaren Young et al, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler. 9. 5 Elizabeth Broun, "Thoughts That Began With The Gods: The Content of Whistler's Art", 37. 6 For information on the symbolism of vanity paintings see Alberto Veca, Vanitas: II Simbolismo de Tempo. 142 7 See "Manet in His Generation: The Face of Painting in the 1860s". Fried began his investigation of the thematics of absorption and beholding in his earlier texts Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot and Courbet's Realism. 8 In "Manet in His Generation", Fried devotes most of his attention to Manet and Alphonse Legros and mentions that Whistler's work should be seen in light of the "highly structured discursive field oriented to the issues of absorption and beholding" in place in from 1860 to 1865. He briefly addresses Whistler's 1862 painting The White Girl in terms of its evocation of the double structure of negation of and address to the beholder. See pp. 48 and 50.1 have taken up his suggestion regarding Whistler's work in my analysis. 9 Giving further impetus to my speculation that James saw Whistler's work before writing the Portrait is the fact that Isabella Boott was related to James's friend Francis Boott and his daughter and Elizabeth, the father and daughter whose life in Florence provided James with the inspiration for the characters of Osmond and Pansy in the Portrait. See The Complete Notebooks for James's discussion of the real-life inspiration for his novel. 1 0 Theodore Reff, Degas: The Artist's Mind. 27. 1 1 Whistler referred to this painting in a letter to Fantin-Latour as "Le tableau avec l'amazone" (qtd. in Young 13) when he was considering sending it to the 1864 Salon. It was not finished however and was not sent. For information about the characteristics of the amazon figure see David Park Curry, James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. 102. In "Whistler's Early Relations with Britain and the Significance of Industry and Commerce for his Art. Part I" Robin Spencer speculates that this painting was meant to show Whistler's American and British connections to his mother, for whom the picture was made. In Spencer's view, Isabella's prominent standing figure indicates Whistler's American origins, while the music room, Deborah, and Annie all show the "new home and the family and professional connexions that brought [Whistler] to England" (214). While this may be the case, it certainly does not account for the complexities of the image. 1 2 See David Park Curry, James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery. 102. 1 3 George Smith has argued that the "structural innovation and psychological depth - not to mention ideological complexity - that would advance to full and opulent maturity in the Major Phase can be traced back to this one scene" ("James, Degas, and the Emersonian Gaze" 374). While Smith argues that James's technical innovations here were influenced by Degas' techniques in the Bellelli Family. I argue that his innovations are thematically and technically more analogous to, and possibly derived from, Whistler's. 1 4 In The Trial of Curiosity: Henry James. William James, and the Challenge of Modernity Ross Posnock sees James's use of the centre of consciousness as evidence of James's modernity and his refusal of "identity thinking": "[Isabel's] structural centrality coincides negatively with her dawning sense that her centered consciousness is actually decentered . . . Just as James's form pushes her center stage, Isabel's proud belief in her pristine autonomy and mastery starts crumbling; as she feels 'haunted with terrors' and 'assailed by visions'" (92). Posnock's very suggestive comment is not expanded upon in his text. 1 5 Denis Donoghue, Reading America: Essays on American Literature. 1 6 Isabel's situation at the end of the novel was seen by some contemporary critics as a realistic representation of the actual conditions of life for women. For example, H.E. Scudder, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, pointed out that "[Isabel is] representative of womanly life today. The fine purpose of her freedom, the resolution with which she seeks to be the maker of her destiny, the subtle weakness into which all this betrays her, the apparent helplessness of her ultimate position, the conjectured escape only through patient forebearance - what are all these, if not attributes of womanly life expended under current conditions" (qtd. in Gard 109). For an analysis of James's representations of women, see Elizabeth Allen, A Woman's Place in the Novels of Henry Jamesand Virginia C. Fowle). In The Theoretical Dimensions of Henry James John Carlos Rowe points out that James's "feminism", his understanding of and sympathy with, the conditions of women was as advanced as it was possible for a male writer to be in the late nineteenth century. James's sympathetic portryal of Isabel is certainly evidence of his "feminism". However, this sympathy coexists with, as I shall argue in chapter five, a fear of feminine unboundedness and irrationality and, as I have demonstrated in chapter one, a belief in women artists' inferiority (with the exception of George Eliot, of course). 143 1 7 For an interesting discussion of James's representation of lack, insufficiency and negation in the Portrait see William Veeder, "The Portrait of a Lack". In "Frail Vessels and Vast Designs" Beth Sharon Ash argues that the most important lack in the novel is Isabel's lack of a mother. She maintains that the novel is a picture of "female psychology under patriarchy . . . of the narcissistic and submissive tendencies typical of women trying to cope with a culture largely defined by the dominance of male desire" (124). Ash's comments, while suggestive, neglect to point out that Isabel's position is a historically specific one that arises out of modernity's material conditions. 1 8 In The Political Unconscious Jameson suggests that to ignore the social determinants of our actions is in fact to reinforce the reification and privatisation of contemporary life under capitalism and contribute to our own subjection: [The distinction between texts that are political and those that are not] reconfirms that structural, experiential, and conceptual gap between the public and the private, between the social and the psychological, or the political and the poetic, between history or society and the "individual", which - the tendential law of social life under capitalism - maims our existence as individual subjects and paralyzes our thinking about time and change just as surely as it alienates us from our speech itself. To imagine that, sheltered from the omnipotence of history and the implacable influence of the social, there already exists a realm of freedom - whether it be that of the microsopic experience of words in a text or the ecstacies and intensities of the various private religions - is only to strengthen the grip of Necessity over all such blind zones in which the individual subject seeks refuge, in pursuit of a purely individual, a merely psychological, project of salvation. (20) Isabel's living death and Deborah's frozen reflection surely articulate the imaginary nature of bourgeois women's freedom in the nineteenth century. 144 CHAPTER FIVE High and Low: The Tragic Muse and Purple and Gold: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks As I have been arguing in the preceding chapters, autonomous or high art has a dialectical relationship with its socio-historical context. Unlike the products of mass or popular culture, autonomous art reveals the contradictions inherent in modernity.1 While mass or popular culture reinforces the reified nature of modem society by giving us an illusion of harmony and wholeness, thereby effacing the suffering that lies beneath that illusion, autonomous art holds up a negative mirror to society, revealing in it "all that has been repressed by the established culture" (Adorno, Aesthetic Theory 21)} However, even though it stands against the products of mass culture, high art often uses those products to renew itself. In the early modernist period high art engages in what Thomas Crow has called in "Modernism and Mass Culture in the Visual Arts" a "mediated synthesis of possibilities derived from both the failures of existing artistic technique and a repertoire of potentially oppositional practices discovered in the world outside" (249). In its use of the techniques and materials of a low culture stigmatised as feminine the high art of artists such as Whistler and James represents the position of autonomous art in its contradiction. The task of this chapter will be to examine two works in which James and Whistler engage with low culture and show how this engagement articulates the effects of modernisation processes on autonomous art and on human consciousness. In chapter four I discussed the competing representational modes evident in At the Piano. The Music Room and The Portrait of a Lady. I suggested that the deviations from an earlier mode of realism evident in these works were indicative of "unresolved 145 antagonisms of reality" (Adorno Aesthetic Theory 8) in society under modernity. Each of these works, with its competing representational modes and contradictory images of human subjectivity, represents a world in which the classical notions of harmony, unity, and totality are in the process of collapsing. This collapse is evident in the works' representation of human beings as approaching the condition of mere objects, a condition inherent in the logic of nineteenth century capitalism and concealed by mass culture's illusions. The work that I will examine in this chapter represents a later stage in this development than did the work looked at in chapter four. Whistler's Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (1863-4) and James's The Tragic Muse (1889) represent human commodities; in the painting the figure represented is a decorative ornament surrounded by ornaments drawn from non high-art sources, and in the novel the heroine is an actress who is for James as she was for Baudelaire the epitome of modernity.3 Drawn from the world of entertainment and commerce, the heroines of painting and novel serve both as images of commercial pleasure and as projects for an attempted modernist repudiation of the world of commodified vulgarity. In this chapter I will briefly discuss the early modernist engagement with low culture as it applies to James and Whistler and then identify the ways in which popular or low culture becomes raw material for their aesthetic transformations. I will argue that their works' lack of unified organic wholeness, indicated in the incomplete transformation of their low cultural sources, reveals the psychic tensions and contradictions that mass cultural spectacles and popular images are designed to conceal. I 146 In Tragic Muse (1890) and Whistler's Japanese-inspired painting of 1863-4 the artists deal with the encounter between true art - the novel and modernist painting - and popular or low culture. In the Tragic Muse popular culture is represented by the theatre and the figure of the actress. The vulgarity of the theatre, exemplified by the actress' excessive physicality and lack of intellect, is transformed through a process of education and subjection into the art of drama to be itself subsumed by- the novel as the ultimate high art. Similarly, in Whistler's painting eastern popular art forms, which were then seen as lacking the qualities requisite for high art, are appropriated for a modernist meditation on cultural production. In their engagement with and appropriation of popular art, James and Whistler participated in the avant-garde invention and re-invention of itself by identifying with and transforming the products and materials of marginal, "non-artistic" or mass market expressions. Before beginning my discussion of the Tragic Muse and Lange Leizen I will outline some of the reasons for the avant-garde engagement with low culture in order to provide a context for James's and Whistler's experiments. Why should the avant-garde in the nineteenth century have been so fascinated with these "other" cultural forms? In "Modernism and Mass Culture" Thomas Crow provides an answer that will offer a context within which to analyse James's and Whistler's works. Crow points out that an identification with the "social practices of mass diversion" (215) was a constant feature of modernist art production, whether uncritically reproduced, caricatured, or transformed. Using Manet's Olympia as an example, Crow notes the connections among mass cultural artifacts, the image of the modem city and modernist art practice: 147 Manet's "Olympia" offered a bewildered middle-class public the flattened pictorial economy of the cheap sign or carnival backdrop, the pose and allegories of contemporary pornography superimposed over those of Titian's "Venus of Urbino". For both Manet and Baudelaire, can we separate their invention of powerful models of modernist practice from the seductive and nauseating image the modem city seemed to be constructing for itself? Similarly, can we imagine the Impressionist invention of painting as a field of both particularized and diffuse sensual play separately from the new spaces of commercial pleasure the painters seem rarely to have left - spaces whose packaged diversions were themselves contrived in an analogous pattern? (215) Modernist artists use low cultural forms as a way to upset or estrange the deadening orthodoxies of conventional or traditional art practice with the aim of then jettisoning them once the estrangement process has performed its function of clearing a space for new kinds of production. Crow notes that this view of the high art, low art dialectic was articulated as long ago as 1876 when Mallarme said of Manet that the painter began with Parisian low-life subjects which were "[Something] long hidden, but suddenly revealed. Captivating and repulsive at the same time, eccentric, and new, such types as were needed in our ambient lives" (qtd. in Crow 216). Mallarme regarded Manet's appropriation of the low to be merely a beginning stage in a trajectory that would culminate in a cool formalism which left behind any social referent. Modernism, having opposed the orthodoxies of the Academy and moralising narratives, must not now fall victim to yet another master, the marketplace of amusement and spectacle. For the avant-garde iconography drawn from 148 the world of spectacle and commodity was supposed to be a temporary measure by which it could attain a reinvigorated technically-advanced autonomous art. However, the avant-garde use of mass culture proves to be problematic. Crow describes the processes whereby the art market and the culture industry repackage these innovative forms for both an elite and subsequently a mass audience, showing how the avant-garde acts as a "research and development" arm of the very mass culture it thought itself beyond. For the modernist, then, the forms and techniques of mass or popular culture could be appropriated to serve high-cultural ends. However, if high culture uses popular culture in this way, what is to distinguish high from low and prevent the high from being subsumed in the low? What is at stake here is what Crow calls a "material and social crisis which threatens the traditional forms of nineteenth-century culture with extinction" (221): This crisis has resulted from the economic pressure of an industry devoted to the simulation of art in the form of reproducible cultural commodities, that is to say, the industry of mass culture. In search of raw material, mass culture strips traditional art of its marketable qualities, and leaves as the only remaining path to authenticity a ceaseless alertness against the stereotyped and pre-processed. The name of this path is modernism, which with every success is itself vulnerable to the same kind of appropriation . . . the formative theoretical moment in the history of modernism in the visual arts was inseparably an effort to come to terms with cultural production as a whole under late capitalism. (221) As I have suggested in chapter two, Crow's observation here is equally applicable to modernist literary production. Among the transformations that industrial capitalism had 149 brought to nineteenth century social life was expanded literacy, a distinct separation of leisure time from work time and commodities and activities designed specifically to fill that leisure time. Kitsch, or simulated culture, exists, as Crow notes, to fill a vacuum and kitsch products, whether tabloids, pulp novels, magazines, melodramas, or posters, consumed by the new clientele created by industrial capitalism mirror a subjectivity "trapped in the lifeless logic of mass production; imagining, thinking, feeling are all done by the machine long before the individual consumer encounters its products" (222). How, then, is a modernist high art form which uses the techniques and subjects of popular culture to remain uncontaminated by them? Crow describes the high/low dialectic as one that serves both sides of the opposition. The dependence of the avant-garde on an elite audience, its attachment to the upper middle class by an "umbilical cord of gold" (qtd. in Crow 253), suggests that the avant-garde cultural products serve this audience's interests by "searching] out areas of social practice which retain some vivid life in an increasingly administered and rationalised society" (253). These experiences are then expressed through forms and subjects derived from low or popular culture which have been converted into high art objects - easel painting and the serious novel. The high art modernist products are then industrially repackaged with smoothed-out edges for consumption as chic and kitsch commodities. Thus, the avant-garde, as a "research and development" entity, remains intimately connected to that which it both appropriates and critiques. Complicating the picture that Thomas Crow paints in his analysis of the high/low interaction is the persistent gendering of mass, popular and low culture as feminine. While 150 Crow, like Peter Burger, does not devote his attention to the categorisation of certain kinds of art work and writing as either "masculine" or "feminine", Andreas Huyssen has examined this issue, an important one for any consideration of James and Whistler because of their appropriation of the feminine. In "Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism's Other" Huyssen argues that the "masculinist mystique" of modernism is dialectically related to the persistent gendering in the late nineteenth century of mass culture as feminine, inferior and threatening. In Huyssen's view the autonomy of the modernist art work is always, to quote again the passage in my first chapter, "the result of a resistance, an abstention, and a suppression - resistance to the seductive lure of mass culture, abstention from the pleasure of trying to please a larger audience, suppression of everything that might be threatening to the rigorous demands of being modern and at the edge of time" (55). The modernist artist's privileging of high art's complexity, rigour and organic wholeness over mass culture's dreams, delusions and desires depends upon an alignment of qualities culturally-coded as masculine with particular aesthetic styles. We have seen in chapters two and three that James and Whistler perform this task in their aesthetic theory. In order to maintain its purity and autonomy undefiled by the "seductive lures" of a mass culture coded as feminine, even while appropriating it, modern art must continually fortify its boundaries against the fluidity and waste of the pseudo-aesthetic. However, as I shall demonstrate below, James's and Whistler's modernist will to mastery is destabilised by their engagement with low culture and the feminine. The question of the relation of high art to its low cultural other was of vital concern to artists such as James and Whistler. However, I will argue that it is the very lack 151 of organic wholeness of their work which appropriates low or popular culture that reveals high art's problematic status within modernity. In their inability to transcend or completely transform their low art sources, the Tragic Muse and Lange Leizen show the complexity of high art's dialogue with modernity and mass culture. II For James in the later 1880s, the popular cultural form that most obsessed him was the theatre. In a letter to William James written four years after the Tragic Muse, he complained about the "humiliations and vulgarities and disgusts" he was subject to as an unsuccessful playwright: "The whole odiousness of the thing lies in the connection between the drama and the theatre. The one is admirable in its difficulty, the other loathsome in its conditions" (Edel, Letters III 452).4 Although "loathsome in its conditions", the theatre was intensely interesting to James, an interest revealed in his many play reviews, his attempts to become a playwright and in the Tragic Muse, his only novel to focus on a theatrical subject.5 In this section I shall analyse James's distaste for the London theatre, then in section III show how his notions about the theatre are linked to notions about femininity and the body of the actress held by other avant garde artists, and indicate how the new high art narrative form he derives from the theatre is itself destabilised by theatricality. James saw the contemporary English theatre as vulgar. Its vulgarity was partially the result of its status as mass entertainment and its use of advertisement and publicity. However, the theatre also historically had a poor image as a site of vice and debauchery which it carried into the later nineteenth century. Many theatres were located in squalid 152 neighbourhoods, next to brothels on notorious streets where prostitutes roamed. James himself noted in 1880 that one of the disadvantages of the London theatre was the "repulsive character of many of the streets through which your aesthetic pilgrimage lies" (SA 136). The Argylle Rooms in London in the 1860s were described by Henry Mayhew in London Life and London Poor as a centre for prostitution and the music hall by D.J. Kirwan, London correspondent for the N Y Times, as a scene of almost orgiastic display: Women, dressed in costly silks and satins and velvets, the majority of them wearing rich jewels and gold ornaments, are lounging on the plush sofas in a free and easy way, conversing with men . . . While we are standing (looking at them) the room is darkened and a chemical light coloured flame irradiates the room like twilight at sea, and the entire female population rush to join in the last, wild, mad shadow-dance of the night. Around and around they go in each other's arms, whirling in the dim uncertain graveyard light, these unclean things of the darkness, shouting and shrieking, totally lost to all shame - their gestures as wanton as the movements of an Egyptian Almee and as mad as the capers of a dancing dervish, (qtd. in Elsom 21) The publicity of the music hall and the theatre stage and the extreme public exposure those sites provided conflicted with the conception of genteel Victorian womanhood as essentially private. Therefore, the professional actress (and actor) were stigmatised as immoral and unclean as is evident, for example, in this 1862 Saturday Review comment: "The objection to the theatre which most good people make is, that actors and actresses are not virtuous characters, or rather, although modesty and prudery may forbid them 153 saying so plainly, they do not much care about the men, but they think the women are bad" (qtd. in Baker 96). Actresses, like the women who frequented dance halls, were linked by the middle class with that other very public woman - the prostitute.6 That the term "actress" was a widely used euphemism in Victorian police courts for "tart" and that prostitutes in trouble often referred to themselves as actresses did not help to make the profession respectable. Even as late as 1909 the theatre could still be described by G.B. Shaw, for example, as a site for illicit activities ("theatres have been used for centuries as markets by prostitutes") and many London theatres were identified as being completely disreputable: "Some of the variety theatres still derive a revenue by selling admission to women who do not go to look at the performances and men who go to purchase or admire the women" (qtd. in Elsom 22). In the Tragic Muse James will have Miriam Rooth's succinct description of acting acknowledge its problematic nature in the nineteenth century: "Doesn't one have to be a [strange girl] to want to go and exhibit one's self to a loathsome crowd, on a platform, with trumpets and a big drum, for money -to parade one's body and one's soul?" (VII 153). In these words acting is explicitly construed as prostitution. Both the actress and the prostitute occupy an ambiguous social position, embody artificiality, and are in constant circulation, commodities in motion which threaten private life and weaken public morality. Even though, or perhaps especially because, the theatre and its denizens were seen as immoral and vice-ridden, London was throughout the century obsessed with things theatrical as James noted in his reviews. In an 1879 essay he described what he called 154 London's "histrionic mania" and identified some of the problems he believed it created in the English theatre: The theatre just now is the fashion, just as "art" is the fashion and just as literature is not. The English stage has probably never been so bad as it is at present, and at the same time there probably has never been so much care about it. It almost seems to an observer of English customs that this interest in histrionic matters almost reaches the proportions of a mania. It pervades society - it breaks down barriers . . . the London world is apparently filled with stage-struck young persons whose relatives are holding them back from a dramatic career by the skirts of their garments. Plays and actors are perpetually talked about, private theatricals are incessant, and members of the dramatic profession are "received" without restriction. They appear in society, and the people of society appear on stage; it is as if the great gate which formerly divided the theatre from the world had been lifted off its hinges . . . the stage has become amateurish and the society has become professional... The world is being steadily democratized and vulgarized, and literature and art give their testimony to the fact. The fact is better for the world perhaps, but I question greatly whether it is better for art and literature; and therefore it is that I was careful to say just now that it is only superficially that one might expect to see the stage elevated by becoming what is called the fashion. (S A 119-20) For James the breakdown of class barriers and the contamination of the private realm by theatrical spectacle and publicity threaten art. The intermingling of theatre and society is 155 detrimental to art because it reduces the "mystery" of the theatre. Adding to the loss of mystery is the publicity attendant on popular actors and actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt, the epitome of the modem actress as celebrity. To James, Bernhardt was not an artist but an advertising genius as he made clear in another 1879 review: [She] is not, to my sense a celebrity because she is an artist. She is a celebrity because, apparently, she desires with an intensity that has rarely been equalled to be one . . . . She is a child of her age - of her moment - and she has known how to profit by the idiosyncrasies of the time . . . she has in a supreme degree . . . the advertising genius; she may indeed be called the muse of the newspaper. (SA 128-9) Theatrical spectacle and publicity, as exemplified here by Sarah Bernhardt, were for James incompatible with art which was essentially private, concerned only with its own forms and techniques. In his theatre reviews James constantly complained about the "spectacle" of the London theatre and the English lack of dramatic art and training, comparing it unfavourably with the Comedie Francais. Where Paris has training and criticism, London has artless histrionics. Where Paris has a cultivated audience, London has one which is apparently interested only in the cult of personality. The English theatre lacks a "school, a discipline, a body of science" (SA 121) and "dramatic literature" (SA 123), all of which are vital to dramatic art.7 The 1880s was a decade in which debates about the theatre filled the periodicals and the Tragic Muse was written in response to those debates as well as to popular novels about actresses.8 That the issues of spectacle, vulgarity and publicity 156 continued to preoccupy James as he worked on the Tragic Muse is evident from his preface to the novel: [One] of the most salient London "social" passions [is] the unappeasable curiosity for things of the theatre; for every one of them, that is, except the drama itself, and for the 'personality' of the performer (almost any performer quite sufficiently serving) in particular. (AN 81-2) Society is interested in spectacle not art, in the "poor stage per se" rather than "'art' at large". The London public is interested in everything but the art of the theatre, the "drama itself which is for James the heart of the theatre. True art, unlike the theatre, does not publicise itself, James asserts in his preface, it is not "showily 'big'"; "its only honours are those of contraction, concentration and a seemingly deplorable indifference to anything but itself (AN 82, 83). As I have demonstrated in chapter two, James's view of art is that it is a specialised field with its own rules and codes, not a public entertainment that panders to the lowest common denominator. The English theatre is a lesser art, according to James, because it depends directly upon the masses for its survival. Unlike the novelist or painter, the dramatist is directly exposed to the contaminations of the modern mass audience. This view of the theatre as a contagion is articulated in the Tragic Muse by Gabriel Nash who deplores the fact that the dramatist is dependent upon the omnium gatherum of the population of a big commercial city at the hour of the day when their taste is at its lowest, flocking out of the hideous hotels and restaurants, gorged with food, stultified with buying and selling and with all the 157 other sordid preoccupations of the age, squeezed together in a sweltering mass, disappointed in their seats, timing the author, timing the actor, wishing to get their money back on the spot - all before eleven o'clock. Fancy putting the exquisite before such a tribunal as that! There's not even a question of it. The dramatist wouldn't if he could, and in nine cases out of ten he couldn't if he would. He has to make the basest of concessions. One of his principal canons is that he must enable his spectators to catch the suburban trains, which stop at 11:30. What would you think of any other artist - the painter or novelist - whose governing forces should be the dinner and the suburban trains? . . . . What can you do with a character, with an idea, with a feeling, between dinner and the suburban trains? You can give a gross rough sketch of them, but how little you touch them, how bald you leave them! What crudity compared with what the novelist does! (VII 66-67) Nash's words here echo James's own words in his essays. The contemporary theatre is imagined as a site of vulgar physicality, where sweltering mobs of people press together in sweaty overindulgence. Because the theatre is a spectacle dependent upon a vulgar public the dramatist occupies a low position in the hierarchy of the arts.9 In contrast, the novelist occupies the highest position because he carries on his art in solitude, indifferent to everything else around him. The words James uses to describe the theatre are also those he used to describe popular, non-art literature: vulgar, excessive, superficial and without art. Linking both forms of popular art and contributing to the way in which they are received is the figure of woman. 158 As I have shown in chapter two, James feared that a flood of popular culture would swamp the aesthetic marketplace, drowning art in the process. That for James this flood which threatened art was a gendered one has been well documented by Alfred Habegger and William Veeder.10 In his aligning of popular culture with woman James was not unique. On the contrary, many members of the cultural avant garde saw themselves as holding off the lures of a mass culture coded as feminine. Andreas Huyssen notes in "Mass Culture as Woman" that Nietzsche was emblematic in this regard. Huyssen argues that Nietzsche's ascription of feminine characteristics to the masses was always linked to his "aesthetic vision of the artist-philosopher-hero, the suffering loner who stands in irreconcilable opposition to modern democracy and its inauthentic culture" (51). As an example, Huyssen cites Nietzsche's polemic against Wagner who represents for the philosopher the paradigm of cultural effeminacy and decline.11 Nietzsche argues that "The danger for artists, for geniuses . . . is woman: adoring women confront them with corruption. Hardly any of them have character enough not to be corrupted - or 'redeemed' - when they find themselves treated like gods: soon they condescend to the level of the women" (qtd. in Huyssen 51). Wagner, according to Nietzsche, succumbed to adoring women by transforming music into "mere spectacle, theatre, delusion" (51), which he, like James, sees as effeminate and inauthentic art. Like James, Nietzsche identifies true art as that which is done in solitude and "suffers no witness". Huyssen draws out the implications of Nietzsche's critique of Wagner as follows: And then Wagner, the theatre, the mass, woman - all become a web of signification outside of, and in opposition to, true art: "No one brings along the finest senses of 159 his art to the theatre - solitude is lacking; whatever is perfect suffers no witnesses. In the theatre one becomes people, herd, female, pharisee, voting cattle, patron, idiot - Wagnerian". (51) In Nietzsche's attack on Wagner's feminisation of music, his "infinite melody", we can see how the threat that feminisation posed to the male artist is articulated: "one walks into the sea, gradually loses one's secure footing, and finally surrenders oneself to the elements without reservation" (qtd. in Huyssen 51). The sea symbolises for Nietzsche and James the feminine principle embodied in low, mass or popular culture in which the male artist is in danger of losing himself. Mass culture - whether theatrical spectacle or popular novels - is linked with woman by both Nietzsche and James who see her and it as fluid and changeable, unbounded and capable of swamping the boundaries of others (both men and art). Nietzsche's fears of dissolution - "surrender[ing] oneself to the elements without reservation" in the effeminate sea of infinite melody - are expressed in similar terms to those used by James to describe the "feminine element" in literature - "[a] fatal gift of fluency". In an analysis of James's criticism of women novelists, Evan Carton writes that "James repeatedly describes the feminine style in terms of liquids, fluids, currents" and argues that James describes women's fluency as fatal because "it implies for him the effacement of the traceable self in a flood of irrationalism, an inescapable and ultimately incommunicable wave of private impulse".12 Thus, for Nietzsche and for James, theatricality and mass culture are vulgar and feminine and consequently threatening.13 However, they are also fascinating as James's Tragic Muse will reveal. 160 I l l In the Tragic Muse the theatre's "loathsome conditions" of vulgarity and spectacle are manifested in the body of James's heroine Miriam, who is the "slightly bete" (VII 190) product of a Jewish father and an English mother of dubious virtue. That it is the actress who is the epitome of inauthentic art is the result of the historical fact that the theatre, in bourgeois society, was one of the few spaces which allowed women an important position in the arts. This was so precisely because acting was seen as imitative and reproductive rather than creative and productive.14 As such, the profession was seen as uniquely suited to women who were by nature incapable of originality.15 Women's inability to be original was held to be a result of their body's biology, women's ability to reproduce precluding them from creative production. As a consequence, the actress' body, as a special subset of women's bodies in general, was regarded as both inferior to men's and threatening to social and artistic norms. That the actress' body is dangerous is evident in the Tragic Muse's characterisation of Miriam. Miriam's body is a source of fascination and danger to those around her because she appears to be mutable, uncontrolled, and unbounded. She is initially described by Biddy as almost "dangerous", a "tigress about to spring" (VII 26) while for Peter she is a fascinating enigma. Her face is "staring, expressionless" (VII115), lacking "sentiment", containing only a "vacancy of awe and anguish" (VII 116). She is a blank, a void - "I don't know what is in her. Nothing, it would seem, from her persistent vacancy" (VII 126). Miriam is "something of a brute" (VII 144), containing an animalistic, instinctive power revealed in her early performance for Julia and the Dormers: 161 [She] flowed so copiously, keeping the floor and rejoicing visibly in her luck, that her host was mainly occupied with how he could make her leave o f f . . . . The space was too small, the cries, the convulsions and rushes of the dishevelled girl were too near . . . [she became] more spasmodic and more explosive. (VII 142-3) Miriam's bodily excess, conceived of as a flood, is a source of terror and captivation to those observing her. Biddy is transfigured by her performance: Poor Biddy was immensely struck; she grew flushed and absorbed in proportion as Miriam, at her best moments, became pale and fatal. It was she who spoke first, after it was agreed that they had better not fatigue her any more; she advanced a few steps, happening to be nearest - she murmured "Oh thank you so much. I never saw anything so beautiful, so grand". (VII 143) Biddy is simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by Miriam, as is Peter who marvels at her multiplicity of forms: This was another variation Peter thought; it differed from each of the attitudes in which he had previously seen her. It came over him suddenly that so far from there being any question of her having the histrionic nature she simply had it in such perfection that she was always acting; that her existence was a series of parts assumed for the moment, each changed for the next, before the perpetual mirror of some curiosity or wonder - some spectatorship she perceived or imagined in the people around her. (VII 188-89) Peter finds this multiplicity "appalling" because it implies that she has no "real character", no stable, coherent, fixed ego boundaries: 162 It struck him abruptly that a woman whose only being was to 'make believe', to make believe she had any and every being you might like and that would serve a purpose and produce a certain effect, and whose identity resided in the continuity of her personations, so that she had no moral privacy, as he phrased it to himself, but lived in a high wind of exhibition, of figuration - such a woman was a kind of monster . . . (VII 189) Miriam's monstrosity lies in her mutability and her inability to be contained within clearly-delineated boundaries. Because she is unbounded herself she threatens the boundaries of others with dissolution. Like Wagner's sea of infinite melody, Miriam's fluidity offers no secure footing to her observers. She is a huge, fantastically vulgar exhibitionist whose "art" is that of publicity. Her infinite capacity for change is revealed in the flexibility of her facial expressions and body. Peter sees her as a circus performer, a "gymnast", a "lady at the music-hall who is shot from the mouth of a canon" (VII190). Her face is "an elastic substance, an element of gutta-percha" (VII 190), an instrument with which she turns her tricks: "She didn't literally hang by her heels from a trapeze, but she made the same use of her tongue, of her eyes, of the imitative trick, that her muscular sister made of leg and jaw" (VII 190). The actress' mutability and unboundedness threaten those around her with confusion and collapse as Nash notes when he describes Miriam's probable progress: Gabriel brushed in a large bright picture of her progress through the time and around the world, round it and round it again, from continent to continent and clime to clime; with populations and deputations, reporters and photographers, 163 placards and interviews and banquets, steamers, railways, dollars, diamonds, speeches and artistic ruin all jumbled into her train. (VIII197) Just as Miriam herself resists stable classification, so too does she threaten the classification of objects and people around her. Her circulation is depicted in terms of confusion and the collapse of boundaries, a monstrous progression sweeping everything into her train in an undifferentiated mass of heterogeneous elements. For James, the theatre's vulgarity is most excessively and spectacularly manifested in the body of the actress. And the problems he sees with theatricality are those he attributes to the female body.1 6 Therefore, by a process of education and subjection, the excesses of this false art, represented in his actress-heroine's body, must by the end of the novel be transmuted into the true art of the drama. The Tragic Muse, as Litvak has argued, describes a progression from vulgarity to artistry by having Miriam distance herself from the vulgarity of her own lesser art. In order to accomplish this task Miriam will evolve from an "artlessly rough" (VII 130) and "rude" (VII 131) theatrical spectacle into an "exquisite" dramatic "revelation" (VIII430) as Juliet by the end of the Tragic Muse. In the Tragic Muse the fictional Miriam triumphs in the role of Juliet; she is hailed in the press as "sublime", a "revelation", "incarnation", an "exquisite image of young passion and despair, expressed in the truest divinest music that had ever poured from tragic lips" (VIII430). 1 7 Miriam's base bodily nature is converted through the "pure exorcism of art" (VII 231) into a great dramatic revelation. No longer the vulgar circus performer or trapeze artist, Miriam has become a sublime dramatic artist. As such, she no 164 longer troubles Peter Sherringham who sees her triumph as a reward for his educational efforts on her behalf: [Peter] Sherringham, though he saw but a fragment of the performance, read clear, at the last, in the intense light of genius with which this fragment was charged, that even so after all he had been rewarded for his formidable journey. The great trouble of his infatuation subsided, leaving behind it something appreciably deep and pure. (VIII 437-8) Miriam's metamorphosis into a "genius", an authentic artist, means that her bodily excess has been subdued, controlled and restrained. She no longer threatens Peter because she is no longer unbounded but fixed in the category of "dramatic revelation". Just as the content of the Tragic Muse describes an evolution from vulgarity to artistry in the education of Miriam, so too does its form. Even though its theatrical subject was vulgar - mere entertainment rather than art - James saw it as offering potential aesthetic inspiration for his own work. In his preface to the novel James acknowledges that his subject is vulgar but then takes pains to justify it as suitable for literary art: The late R.L. Stevenson was to write me, I recall - and precisely on the occasion of "The Tragic Muse" - that he was at a loss to conceive how one could find an interest in anything so vulgar or to pretend to gather fruit in so scrubby an orchard; but the view of a creature of the stage, the view of the "histrionic temperament", as suggestive much less, verily, in respect to the poor stage per se than in respect to "art" at large, affected me in spite of that as justly tenable. (AN 91) 165 Both in its subject and in its aesthetic form, James will use the low material of the theatre and the actress to reinvigorate the novel, for him the epitome of high art at large. The vulgarity of the theatre is transformed into the "sublime economy" of novelistic art by using the dramatic analogy as a means of constructing the novel. James will use the example of the theatre to get his novel done in "dramatic, or at least scenic conditions" which "move in light of alternation" (AN 90). In the Tragic Muse the "poor stage per se" is purified as "art at large" through the use of Miriam as an "objective" centre that brings together the two separate halves of the novel: "Miriam, a case herself, is the link between the other two cases" (AN 89). Miriam links the two separate stories of Nick Dormer and Peter Sherringham with which James began by being the opaque centre around which they revolve. She herself is not a "central consciousness" but serves as the screen on which the consciousnesses of Nick and Peter project themselves. Nick and Peter are "exposed subjectivities]" (AN 89) who "go behind Miriam" (AN 91), while she is "absolutely objective" (AN 89). We are never given an opportunity to enter into Miriam's consciousness as we were given with Isabel in the Portrait of a Lady. Unlike Isabel, Miriam is not depicted as having any interiority or subjectivity. As an actress she has no internal core of identity and as a narrative function she is only an object through which we learn about the subjectivity of others as they muse about her. Miriam, although the novel's central character and the narrative's formal centre, has no depth. She is a congealed, hollowed-out object, an aesthetic commodity. In the Portrait, as I discussed in chapter four, James had experimented with a new centre of consciousness narrative form that revealed the paradox of modem subjectivity. 166 In the Tragic Muse Miriam's "absolute objectivity" makes her a material thing, a human commodity whose function is to impart authenticity to others. Just as the objects and entertainments of mass culture exist to answer our every desire and express our "individuality", so Miriam exists to answer Nick's and Peter's, and indeed James's own, desires and as a means of their realising their individuality. Through the character Miriam the men will come to understand themselves. And through the narrative function Miriam, James will purge the vulgarity of the theatre by incorporating it into the superior art of the novel. The theatre becomes subsumed in James's "scenic method" of novel-writing. In his preface James describes how the scenic method works: "The first half of a fiction insists ever on figuring to me as the stage or theatre for the second ha l f (AN 86). By using the dramatic analogy as a means of constructing the novel, James hopes to attain a "mighty pictorial fusion", a "deep-breathing economy" and an "organic form" (AN 84). Miriam is both the inspiration for, and the means of making work, James's scenic method: Miriam is central then to analysis, in spite of being objective; central in virtue of the fact that the whole thing has visibly, from the first, to get itself done in dramatic, or at least in scenic conditions - though scenic conditions which are as near an-approach to the dramatic as the novel may permit itself and which have this in common with the latter, that they move in the light of alternation. (AN 89-90) James's scenic method, like his centre of consciousness technique, represents an innovation in narrative form. This new form consists in remaining objective, removed from the narrative and refusing to "[go] behind" (AN 111) his characters, a technique of which James will assert in the preface to The Awkward Age "the thing 'done' artistically, is a 167 fusion, or it has not been done" (AN 116). James uses the low art form of the theatre to create this new high art literary form. Once the techniques of the theatre have acted as a means of reinvigorating James's novelistic practice, the theatrical can be jettisoned as subject matter. However, just as James's centre of consciousness technique reveals contradictions between his narrative technique and his subject matter, so does James's scenic method here contradict his authorial intentions. In his preface James notes that his subsumption of the theatrical in the literary is not entirely successful: [I] have in general given so much space to making the theatre propitious that my [novel's] halves have too often proved strangely unequal. Thereby has arisen with grim regularity the question of artfully, of consummately masking the fault and conferring on the false quantity the brave appearance of the true. (AN 86) Although he intends the scenic method to create a pictorial fusion that is organically whole; it does not. The halves of the novel are not the same size and the novel's intended centre, Miriam, does not centre the novel's form: [Again] and again, perversely, incurably, the centre of my structure would insist on placing itself not, so to speak, in the middle . . . . In several of my compositions this displacement has so succeeded, at the crisis, in defying and resisting me . . . that I still turn upon them, in spite of the greater or less success of the final dissimulation, a rueful and wondering eye. (AN 85-6) James uses the metaphor of the dishevelled female figure to describe how his novel has become a "maimed or slighted, disfigured or defeated, unlucky or unlikely child" (AN 81): 168 Time after time, then, has the precious waistband or girdle, studded and buckled and placed for brave outward show, practically worked itself, and in spite of desperate remonstrance, or in other words essential counterplotting, to a point perilously near the knees - perilously I mean for the freedom of these parts. (AN 86) James's "monstrous" text, signified by the dishevelled female figure, enjoys an autonomy unregulated by the author's controlling consciousness. James's rhetorical extravagance in the preface describes both text and body as theatrical, showy, delighting in their own "bigness", contradicting his own dictates about what constitutes "true art". Miriam, the novel's centre, serves also as the force by which the novel is stretched out of place. This decentred centre acts to reveal the continuing threat that popular culture and the feminine pose to high art. James's inability to centre his composition in the Tragic Muse can be seen as low-cultural theatricality's revenge on the high art novel. IV Just as the theatre was an obsession for James and Londoners in general, so was Japanese popular art an obsession for Whistler and nineteenth century artists, critics and collectors. A taste for Japanese art became increasingly prevalent in Europe after 1854 when the ports of Japan were opened to the world. After two centuries of isolation, the West and Japan could make economic and cultural exchanges. Subsequently, Japanese art was displayed at the London world exposition in 1862 and by 1863 Whistler was a regular customer at the Porte Chinoise shop in Paris where many artists acquired their oriental goods. Whistler was not alone in his interest in Eastern art; many artists, critics and "men 169 of letters", conservative as well as progressive, were captivated by this new aesthetic. However, while being intensely stimulating, Japanese art was seen as a lower cultural form than Western art. Like art by women, mass market novels and the theatre, Japanese art was theorised as popular, addressed to the body rather than the mind, and lacking in the intellect and rigour necessary for high art. In this section I shall describe how contemporary critics saw Japanese art and in the following section will argue that Whistler's use of Japanese art is analogous to James's use of the theatre. Just as James appropriates the low art form of the theatre to transform his literary practice, so will Whistler use the low art form of Japanese popular art to transform his artistic practice. Although the popular or low cultural forms he uses are not the same as James's, they are linked by the figure of the actress appearing in Whistler's image in the guise of an Oriental artisan. Whistler, like James, will seek to reinvigorate and transform his art by incorporating and subsuming these low art source objects and materials. However, this subsumption will not be entirely successful and the low source material will serve to destabilise the high art work. While historians of modem art have agreed that Japanese art was a major influence on European modernism in the last half of the nineteenth century, what has been less remarked is how this influence was theorised by artists and their critic supporters. It is important to have some understanding of the way Japanese art was received by artists and critics in order to see how these assumptions are played with in Whistler's painting Lange Leizen. Therefore, before moving on to an analysis of Whistler's work, I would like to demonstrate, using the findings of Elisa Evett, that Japanese art, like western popular 170 culture, was indeed seen as a lesser form of aesthetic than western painting. In The Critical Reception of Japanese Art in Late Nineteenth Century Europe Evett analyses the critics' commentary and describes the remarkably similar views of Japanese art held among a very disparate group of afficionados. The critics' views were shaped by their confrontation with an art form that was in virtually all respects very different from western art and its underlying theoretical assumptions: Almost any example of Japanese pictorial art was bound to depict totally unfamiliar and sometimes incomprehensible subjects, to follow different principles of spatial organization, to portray the human figure on the basis of a completely different set of canons, to engage color in a different way, and to ask line to perform a variety of functions. (Evett x-xi) Confronted with these works, whose aesthetic was so different from their own, critics with a diversity of approach and background were concerned with a similar range of issues. Evett notes that the most pervasive issue addressed by these critics was the Japanese attitude towards the representation of nature. A l l the critics were impressed by what they saw as the Japanese intensity of sympathy with nature. As evidence of this intense sympathy, the critics cited the Japanese' choice of subjects and their exceptional powers of observation. In discussing the Japanese approach to nature, Evett argues, the critics used "general Western perceptions of Japanese civilization and the spirit of the Japanese people" (xiii): Long-standing myth, often reinforced by biased travelers' reports but nurtured mostly by an escapist longing for the opposite of advanced, complex Western 171 civilization, perpetuated a vision of the Japanese as simple, innocent, primitive people living in blissful harmony with gentle, nurturing, benign nature. The Japanese pictorial images of nature seemed in turn to confirm this picture, and an intricate set of intertwined observations and explanations of Japanese art and the people who created it produced a general view that the Japanese civilization had been arrested in permanent infancy. Unlike the West, it had not experienced progressive development and had remained fixed in its original state. That meant that the Japanese were like early man, living simply and in primitive, childlike rapport with nature. The quality of this relationship was expressed directly and graphically in their art, the most obvious indication being that their choice of subjects from the natural world was all-inclusive and non-hierarchical - the lowliest insect was equal to the mightiest mountain . . . The ability to observe nature in that fashion was believed to be a direct result of knowing nature intimately and fully, (xiii) Hence, critical commentary pointed out that the Japanese, as a "simpler", more "primitive" people than Europeans, were closer to nature and able to depict this closeness in their art. However, while most critics emphasised the Japanese sympathy with nature, as revealed by their close observation and careful rendering, some critics noted with negative comment their use of conventions. While a conventional rendering of elements of nature did not seem to disturb the writers, the Japanese rendering of the human figure did. As Evett analyses it, many critics found the Japanese way of depicting the figure and the illusion of space objectionable. Japanese figures did not conform to Western 172 notions of ideal beauty or anatomical accuracy. Rather than seeing Western perspective as a conventional system, and the Japanese conventions as simply another such system, most critics dismissed the Japanese as being ignorant of perspective and simply incorrect in their representations. Evett notes that the same rationale was used to account for the Japanese' undeveloped and faulty conventions as was used to account for their lifelike depictions of nature. The "primitive spirit" that was responsible for the positive aspects of the Japanese aesthetic was also held responsible for its negative aspects. "Just as primitive people could be seen as simple, innocent, pure, and in touch with nature, they could also be seen as simple, backward, unaware, and involved in a crippling attachment to nature that did not allow them the objective distance for analyzing and understanding it" (Evett xiv-v). Critics and artists could admire the apparent simplicity and purity of the "primitive" and "childlike" Japanese but their admiration was based on a firm assumption of the superiority of Western civilisation. In addition to seeing Japanese art as revealing the primitive, childlike perception and intellect of the Japanese people, critics also saw Japanese art as merely decorative rather than ideally beautiful. For example, Paul Dalloz held that the Japanese were ignorant of the higher realm of the ideal or spiritual because they were unable to portray "ideal beauty" as it was represented in Western art. Dalloz differentiated between "mere prettiness" (qtd. in Evett 66), which spoke only to the eye, and real beauty, which spoke to the mind. The Japanese impulse to decoration, revealed in their use of patterning and non-naturalistic colour, was for Dalloz a "limited visual response in which the faculties of the mind and the stirrings of the soul do not figure" (qtd. in Evett 66). Evett argues that 173 most critics used "decorative" in this pejorative sense. Decoration was seen as something auxiliary, an element gratuitously added to an image only to please the eye and as such, unable to convey "ideas". In critical commentary, Japanese decorative art was specifically opposed to Western pictorial or expressive art. Eugene Veron, for example, in his Aesthetics (1879), asserted that decorative art "arises from an instructive and voluntary search for the pleasures of the eye . . . without any necessity for the intervention of idea or sentiment" (qtd. in Evett 71). Pictorial or expressive art, in contrast, must "[possess] evidence of an imaginative power and sensibility above the average" (qtd. in Evett 71). This category of art was a high fine art while the other was a low decorative art. Some critics such as Dalloz eliminated Japanese painting from the realm of the fine arts altogether, putting it instead in the realm of craft. Others, such as Louis Gonse, equated the Japanese artist with the European artist of the Middle Ages; both were artisans rather than artists. In addition, the lack of individuality implied by the Japanese use of conventions and aesthetic formulas went against the contemporary Western assumptions, detailed in chapter three, about the connection between originality, individual vision, and artistic style. The nineteenth century preoccupation with originality and its manifestation in individual style and technique worked to preclude Japanese art from being considered the expression of an original, unique artistic perspective. Critics compared Japanese art with Western art and found it lacking. While Western art was concerned with the realm of the mind, Japanese art was only concerned with the realm of the eye. While Western art was the expression of a unique, individual 174 artistic subjectivity, Japanese art was the expression of an artisan. While Western art was focused on the ideally beautiful, Japanese art was preoccupied with the merely decorative. While Western art was a high art, Japanese art was a low form, designed to appeal to the "common people".18 Just as the theatre was characterised as a low cultural form lacking a body of theoretical knowledge to underpin it, so too was Japanese art. Even though Japanese art was largely seen as an inferior popular cultural product produced by a simple, primitive, "natural" people, its radical difference from Western aesthetic products made it useful to the avant-garde. By using the conventions of Japanese art, artists such as Whistler were able to reinvigorate their practice. In the paintings he made just after his initial exposure to Japanese art, Whistler began to incorporate Japanese motifs and forms into his work although not completely successfully. In this early encounter between East and West, their disparate aesthetics clash and contradict rather than coexist in a fully integrated manner. Just as James had been unable to create an "organic whole" from his fusion of theatrical and novelistic art, so too will Whistler's fusion of east and west lack organic wholeness. However, it is this lack itself that articulates the tensions of the historical moment it reflects. In Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (fig. 3) Whistler depicts his mistress Jo Hiffernan dressed in an Oriental kimono sitting in a curio shop in the midst of various Chinese and Japanese objects. In a letter to Fantin-Latour Whistler identified the subject of the painting as a Chinese woman in the process of painting a pot. A l l of the Oriental paraphernalia came from Whistler's own collection. The vases are Chinese porcelain called "Lange Leizen", a Dutch collector's term for the "lanky people" painted 175 F i g u r e 3 P u r p l e and Rose: The Lange L e i z e n o f t h e S i x M a r k s (1863-4) 175a on the china. The fan and objects lying on the table are Japanese and a Scinde carpet covers the floor.1 9 Whistler signed the painting with a vertical column of slanted letters in what looks like an imitation of Chinese calligraphy. The date appears on two oblong strips which could represent either Japanese cartouches or coloured-paper labels. The "six marks" of the painting's title refers to the potter's signature, found on the base of the pot and copied by Whistler onto the work's frame. Lange Leize was hung in the London Royal Academy in 1864 and received mixed reviews. William Rossetti called it "the most delightful piece of colour on the walls" and Leslie Stephens praised it as "among the finest pieces of colour in the exhibition" (qtd. in Fleming 106). The painting was hailed by the Morning Advertiser as "wonderfully tmthful", by the Evening News as being "decidedly original and [having a] feeling for character", and by the Telegraph as "[having a] rich glow and tender brilliance . . . [without] rival" (qtd. in Fleming 107). While these contemporary comments focused favourably on Whistler's use of colour and originality, others noted serious deficiencies in the work. The Builder decried the work as "careless in drawing and execution" (qtd. in Fleming 107); the Times noted Whistler's "slovenliness of execution" (107) and asked rhetorically why he found it necessary to "win our attention by doing everything unlike other people?" (107). The Art Journal called the work a "singular and clever conceit" but wished Whistler would "bring his talent under the control of common sense" (107). Virtually all reviews, both those written at the time and those written now, comment negatively on the fact that Whistler's work was not a fully-evolved japonisme but an eclectic unresolved pastiche of japonaiserie. For example, Elisa Evett notes that 176 the term 'japonaiserie' refers to using Japanese objects as props for conjuring up fanciful visions of Japan. Several of Whistler's paintings of women dressed in kimonos, holding Japanese fans, and looking at Japanese prints in rooms decorated with various other Japanese objects represent 'japonaiserie'. 'Japonisme' involves the assimilation of certain stylistic approaches and design principles [such as] the simplification of form, the emphasis on silhouette, [and] the intensification of color, (viii) Contemporary critical comment on the influence of the Japanese aesthetic on Western art disdained what they saw as japonaiserie's "unsynthesised application of certain superficial features of Japanese art to Western modes. They abhorred slavish, thoughtless imitation or unresolved, unintegrated pastiche" (Evett 101). The Lange Leizen was criticised as the work of a decorator rather than an artist, a decorator using oriental objects as studio props and conventional Western interior space and an obviously Western model to create an unsuccessful imitation of Japanese ukiyo-e prints?0 That twentieth century critics also abhor the "slavish, thoughtless imitation" and unintegrated pastiche of Lange Leizen is evident in the following sample of critical commentary: < This is one of the least satisfactory of [Whistler's] important pictures. It is cluttered with Japanese accessories, yet possesses very little of the Japanese spirit. (James Laver, Whistler. 1930, 114) [This painting], in which the objects shown, as well as the carpet, belonged to the artist, betrays a certain Victorian frowstiness; as if we were being shown some old Curio Shop. (Denys Sutton, Nocturne. 1964, 48-9) 177 As many writers on Whistler have pointed out, in [it] Whistler was painting an unexceptional Victorian genre subject. . . There is no attempt at an Oriental pose or composition. (Young et al, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler. I, 25) As a summary of these views John Sandberg's 1964 essay is worth quoting in detail: The subject of [Lange Leizen] is most unusual. . . . Stylistically, however, the picture is not at all revolutionary. The single female figure seated in the centre of a composition is a stock motif of nineteenth - century narrative art, as a glance at magazine illustrations will show. The brightly varied colours and the emphasis on precise detail also relate this painting to the Victorian genre tradition. Stylistically speaking, then, Whistler's Oriental composition is not Oriental at all; it is rather a Victorian genre scene with a few exotic accessories. It is even reactionary, for the artist had already transcended this pedestrian style in such unusual compositions as At the Piano and The Music Room of a few years before. The first shock of the discovery of the Orient has disrupted the otherwise steady flow of Whistler's artistic development. Reverting to a conservative style, he paints a curious paradox; a Victorian lady amidst a heterogeneous collection of Oriental accessories. (503-4) In the contemporary and twentieth-century reactions to the painting, we can see some of the problems it posed. Lange Leizen is not an integrated coherent whole; like James's Tragic Muse it is not a "mighty pictorial fusion" but something "monstrous". It is stylistically "reactionary" because Whistler has been unable to make a "perfected whole" from the disparate elements he has yoked together. 178 In Lange Leizen the aesthetic possibilities derived from both an exhausted Victorian narrative painting and a novel Japanese art are combined. The interior space depicted in the painting uses perspectival conventions to create what appears to be a realistic setting. Unlike that of The Music Room, the room here is not spatially disconcerting. However, while using the conventions of Western perspective, Whistler subverts the implications of that scientific system by representing a figure within it whose patent unnaturalism and phoniness resist it. The perspective system used in Western art since the Renaissance represents a rational space in which each object has its appropriate place and the scene depicted is a total logical whole. In modernity, as I discussed in chapter one, this totality has become fragmented and disunified and thus the persistence of perspective in images such as Lange Leizen serves as an emblem of totality lost or forsaken. Placed anomalously within the scientific logic of the room's perspective, the figure's evident caricature of subjectivity displays the threats modernity's logic poses to humanness in its representation of a human being as a consciousnessless thing. I have argued that Miriam, the Tragic Muse's central character, has no central core of identity. She is not represented as having any subjectivity or consciousness. She is instead a narrative device whose function is to allow the other characters to come to understand themselves. As a "creature of show" and an "object of public pleasure" (Baudelaire Painter 36), the actress attests to the power of illusion, spectacle and publicity to generate desire and, as such, she is an emblem of modernity. Similarly, the central figure of the Lange Leizen has no central core of identity. Like Miriam, the picture's single female figure is an actress. Where the figures represented in At the Piano and The Music 179 Room were portraits of real individuals who retain some sense of subjectivity and interiority in their depiction as being absorbed in some "real" activity, the woman represented in Lange Leizen is not. She is represented as acting out a role in a pictorial tableau whose illusoriness is obvious. The identity of Whistler's female figure is indeterminate. While she is dressed in a generic Oriental costume, Whistler has made no attempt to make her look "Oriental". She is clearly Western and, as reviewers noted, a "stock figure" of Victorian genre painting and contemporary magazine illustration. She is represented as engaged in painting a pot, yet the pot she is supposedly working on is already finished and fired.21 Whistler has made no effort to convince us that this is indeed a realistic image of an Oriental artisan at work. Instead, his image proclaims its own status as masquerade and mimicry. The figure's stiffness makes her look unnatural - she is leaning back in her chair at an angle that is not conducive to the act of painting. Her posture looks uncomfortable and unconvincing. Rather than offering us a realistic image of someone absorbed in the creative process, Whistler's work offers us a caricature of both the creative act and of subjectivity. In so doing, Whistler's heroine is similar to James's Miriam. Like The Tragic Muse, the painting's subject is theatrical. In his most recent work Manet's Modernism Michael Fried has noted, with respect to Manet's work, that the Japanese woodcuts avant-garde artists admired in the 1860s were themselves formally and thematically theatrical. Many of the ukiyo-e or "floating world" woodcuts portray actors, famous beauties, courtesans, wrestlers and others who occupy the "pleasure quarter" of eighteenth and nineteenth century Tokyo, a world that 180 was itself "quintessentially theatrical" (Manet's Modernism 326). Fried describes these woodcuts as caricatural in their excessive theatricality: Indeed in woodcuts by Sharaku and others of actors in their roles the already heightened theatricality of Kabuki is further intensified to a degree that in the West could only be described as caricatural. Inasmuch as theatricality implies awareness of being beheld, we might say that the exaggerated, grimacing facial expressions and elaborate surface patterning and detailing of the ukiyo-e woodblock and the sense of a pose being held in the conspicuously inexpressive and generally "inartistic" carte de visite photograph have something in common across the obvious differences between the two classes of artifacts. (326-7) Fried draws an analogy between the painting techniques of Manet's Olympia. its sharp, unmodulated contrasts of colour, its contrasts of light and dark and its graphic line quality, and both contemporary photography and Japanese woodblock prints. A l l three techniques - photography, Japanese woodblock, Manet's painting style - evoke a sense, according to Fried, of strikingness, of impressing themselves immediately upon a viewer as reality itself does. With respect to the argument I am making here, the inherent theatricality of the Japanese print's subject matter and form and its perceived similarities to photography would only have added to its being seen as a lesser art form than western painting. As an aesthetic form that was devoted to the depiction of not only the material world but that world at its most theatrical, Whistler can push the inherent theatricality of the Japanese print to its most striking conclusion in this representation of his Irish mistress acting the part of a Chinese vase painter. 181 I indicated earlier that in the Tragic Muse we are never given an opportunity to enter into Miriam's consciousness as we were given with Isabel in the Portrait of a Lady. Unlike Isabel, Miriam is not depicted as having any interiority or subjectivity. As an actress she has no internal core of identity. Similarly, Whistler's female figure here is a mimicry of absorption. Unlike in his realist works, Whistler does not ask us to see this figure as absorbed in her activity. Where the earlier works discussed in chapter four used the conventions of an absorptive mode to explore the contradictions inherent in subjectivity under modernity, Lange Leizen presents absorption as being an exhausted visual convention. This imitation of an artisan is a frozen, hollowed-out object, an aesthetic commodity like the commodities with which she is surrounded. In "Whistler and the 'Lange Lijzen'" Linda Merrill makes the claim that Whistler's image is a "picture about painting" (685) in which the artist states his solidarity with the Japanese artist who created the pot the woman holds.22 Merrill sees the painting as being "in the tradition of paintings of artists' studios" (684) and suggests that Whistler made it at a time when he was intent upon establishing his reputation as a painter rather than an etcher. If this is in fact the case then Lange Leizen testifies to the concrete situation of an avant-garde artist within capitalism's burgeoning mass culture. By using the objects of Japanese art to reinvigorate his practice, yet placing them within the visual context of an outmoded Victorian genre painting, the Oriental objects become chic commodities rather than objects of decorative art. The woman is then herself a maker and vender of these aesthetic commodities, a caricature of the avant-garde artist. This image in its unintegrated pastiche pictures a stage in the constant evolution of culture in which each subsequent 182 innovation of the avant-garde is reappropriated by mass culture and turned into fashionable commodities. Modernism's innovations, as Burger and Crow both point out, are in turn incorporated into a new academicism and then into "chic items of upscale consumption and glamorous facades for state and corporate powers" (Crow 223). In Whistler's image we see a stage in this ongoing process of cultural manufacture. Lange Leizen represents a fascinating paradox, the position of the advanced artist under modernity. Firstly, the female model - Whistler's mistress Jo Hiffernan - is acting the part of an Oriental porcelain painter entirely unconvincingly. As a symbol of the artist, she is not particularly appropriate because as we have seen, the avant-garde was primarily a masculine affair and women were excluded from the discourse of cultural modernism. She is female and an actress representing an Oriental artisan. Whistler has combined the then-current theoretical thinking about the deficiencies of femininity, eastern art and decorative art into one image. Rather than executing a painting, the female model acting the part of an easterner is decorating a pot. She is obviously acting and depicted as being entirely unconscious; her eyes appear to be closed and she seems as if she's in a stupor. Secondly, rather than inhabiting an artist's studio, she inhabits a curio or gift or souvenir shop. She and the things that surround her are objects for the self-understanding of others. As luxury commodities designed to appeal to upscale consumers, both the objects painted, the painting itself and indeed the artist serve the social purpose of allowing an elite audience to realise itself in the experience of the aesthetic. That this experience is not entirely affirmative is as it should be. After all, the elite audience for whom the work was made, 183 the audience to whom Whistler is joined by "an umbilical cord of gold", was often able to accept an oppositional art even as it could not accept opposition in other spheres of life. Rather than effacing the contradictions inherent in a modem high art practice, the Tragic Muse and Lange Leizen put them on display. What could more clearly articulate the position of high art within commodity culture? Whistler's pastiche of Victorian narrative painting, contemporary magazine illustration and pseudo-Japanese painting and James's "scenic novel" with its coexistence of excessive rhetoricity, narrative objectivity and theatricality yoke together many of the competing cultural modes coexisting within modernity. Their "mediated syntheses of possibilities" derived from both the failures of existing artistic forms and from popular cultural forms do not achieve the perfected aesthetic wholes their authors desire. As a result, both Tragic Muse and Lange Leizen clearly represent the conflicted and contradictory position of autonomous art and the avant garde artist. In this chapter I shall be distinguishing between high, or autonomous, art as identified in chapter one and low, mass or popular culture. I am using the terms "low", "mass" and "popular" to designate those cultural forms which are opposed to high art and produced for entertainment or profit, as commodities for sale in response to mass taste. While popular art and mass culture are not "the same" they are both low forms which were strictly differentiated from high art such as easel painting and serious literature. 2 The argument that I will be advancing here is indebted to Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. The authors argue that in modernity the very rationality that was to give human beings freedom from mythic powers brings about a return to myth and to new and more absolute forms of domination. The feature of enlightenment reason which accounts for this reversal is its connection of rationality and understanding with the subsumption of the particular under the universal - "identity thinking". In so doing, subsumptive or instrumental rationality ignores properties which make things and people particular as it groups such particulars under universal concepts. All particulars then become exchangeable objects for the use of a subject. Mass cultural products epitomise identity thinking in their equation of cultural wares with their market value. Such wares are valuable not in themselves but for the profit they bring. In contrast, autonomous art is valuable in itself. For a clear and concise account of the role of art in the dialectic of enlightenment, see Jay Bernstein, "Art Against Enlightenment: Adorno's Critique of Habermas". 3 In "The Painter of Modern Life" Baudelaire had described the actress as an emblem of modernity because she was a "creature of show, an object of public pleasure" (36) whose being attests to the power of illusion and publicity to generate desire. James was not the only writer to be interested in theatricality in the late nineteenth century. See Rachel Bowlby, Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing and Zola for an interesting discussion of the function of the theatrical stage in Dreiser's Sister Carrie. 184 4 James tried for years to become a playwright, a venture that culminated in the chorus of boos that greeted the opening of Guv Domville in 1895. For a discussion of the audience reaction to James's plays, see Miranda Seymour, A Ring of Conspirators: Henry James and His Literary Circle 1895-1915. 5 James's theatre reviews are collected in The Scenic Art: Notes on Acting and the Drama 1872-1901. 6 On the equation of the actress with the prostitute, see John Elsom, Erotic Theatre, esp. 14-35. 7 As discussed in chapter two, these criticisms of the English theatre are similar to those James had levelled at English literature in his essays on the art of fiction. 8 For a discussion of these debates and their impact on James's novel, see D.J. Gordon and John Stokes, "The Reference of the Tragic Muse". The Air of Reality: New Essays on Henry James. For a discussion of the Tragic Muse's popular sources, see Marcia Jacobson, Henry James and the Mass Market. 9 In the Tragic Muse the theatre is situated among other competing forms of representation - novelistic, pictorial, political. The theatre, while a lower art than both painting and literature, is still a higher form than politics. Gabriel Nash asserts this belief when he says: "I think the Theatre Francais a greater institution than the House of Commons" (VII 55). In my account of the Tragic Muse as describing a progression from vulgarity to artistry, I am indebted to Joseph Litvak's analysis of the novel in his study of theatricality and the nineteenth century novel. See Caught in the Act: Theatricality in the nineteenth century English Novel. 1 0 Alfred Habegger, Henry James and the "Woman Business" and William Veeder, Henry James - The Lessons of the Master: Popular Fiction and Personal Style in the Nineteenth Century. 1 1 For Nietzsche's critiques of Wagner, see "The Case of Wagner" in The Birth of Tragedy and the Case of Wagner and Nietzsche Contra Wagner, in The Portable Nietzsche. 1 2 Evan Carton, "Henry James the Critic", 132. Nineteenth century avant-garde male artists are not the only ones to see women in terms of threatening metaphors of liquidity and dissolution. For a fascinating and deeply troubling examination of twentieth century German men's fantasies about women, see Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies. Vol. I: Women. Floods. Bodies, History. 1 3 That the contemporary identification of women with the masses has political implications is pointed out by Huyssen who writes "Images of the raging mob as hysterical, of the engulfing floods of revolt and revolution, of the swamp of big city life, of the spreading ooze of massification, of the figure of the red whore at the barricades - all of these pervade the writing of the mainstream media. . . The fear of the masses in this age of declining liberalism is always also a fear of woman, a fear of nature out of control, a fear of the unconscious, of sexuality, of the loss of identity and stable ego boundaries in the mass" (52). 1 4 Huyssen 51. 1 5 For a discussion of the late century conception of women as imitative and lacking the capacity to be original, see Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture and Kimberley Reynolds and Nicola Humble, Victorian Heroines: Representations of Femininity in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Art. 1 6 James was certainly not alone in identifying the actress as an excessive and dangerous figure. In Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth Nina Auerbach argues that the actress was fascinating because she combined the attributes of divine angel and demonic femme fatale which haunted the Victorian imagination. 1 71 believe, contrary to Adeline R. Tintner's assertion in The Museum World of Henry James that James based his heroine on Mrs. SiddonSi that James based his portrait of Miriam on the actress Ellen Terry. In many theatre reviews James enumerated what he saw as the actress' flaws, among them her lack of "dramatic art", her lack of acuteness and her amateurishness. These flaws are similar those those given Miriam prior to her aesthetic education. James remakes Ellen Terry as the actress she should have been in Miriam, using the faults he identifies in the real actress. For information of Ellen Terry see Nina Auerbach, Ellen Terry: A Player in her Time. 1 8 The qualities nineteenth century critics and artists attributed to Japanese art were similar to those they attributed to women's art. Both kinds of art were characterised as revealing their producers' closer relation to nature, deficiency in intellect, lack of originality and superficiality, making them inferior products without the qualities necessary to be considered high art. On critics' views of women's art, see Griselda Pollock and Roszika Parker, Old Mistresses: Women. Art and Ideology. 185 1 9 For an inventory of the contents of the painting, see Whistler's mother's letter to Mr. Gamble dated 10 Feb. 1864 in Robin Spencer, ed., Whistler: A Retrospective. 72-3. 2 0 Elizabeth Broun, "Thoughts that Began with the Gods: The Content of Whistler's Art", 39. 2 1 In "Whistler and the 'Lange Lijzen" Linda Merrill notes this point, saying that "The cobalt oxide used for painting in underglaze blue appears grey until the porcelain is fired" (684). 2 2 You will notice that here, with respect to Merrill's analysis, the artisan is identified as "Japanese". In critical commentary on the painting some critics see her as meant to be Chinese and others as Japanese. Whistler himself identified her as Chinese. 186 CHAPTER SIX Modernity and Masculine Subjectivity: In Venice Throughout this study I have been discussing some aspects of modernist high art's dialectical relationship with modernity. Thus far I have concentrated on James's and Whistler's critiques of moderni