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Arizona Quarterly (2006) - James's Birdcage/Hitchcock's Birds




For Kenner, whose treatise on the era as book is modeled on Ulysses, thus the implicit comparison between the didactic, "stately, plump Buck Mulligan" of the novel's introit and the didactic, portentous Henry James shepherding in modernity and seeing out the nineteenth century, James's "unimagined labyrinths" conspire with "art's antipathy to the impercipient" to produce a body of work that combines obsessive reflexivity and compulsive attention to detail. In both instances, I will suggest, the hidden agenda is to bolster a notion of human subjectivity as escaping, via a sleight of hand, the net of reality by becoming paradoxically trapped in what James figures in the preface to Roderick Hudson as the skein of social "relations" that "stop nowhere," the "exquisite problem of the artist" being "eternally ... to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so" (5).