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The object of desire in James's fiction is an ironic construct designed to expose the inevitable deformations of the gaze. What we long for--to be seen (understood) from our own perspective or, conversely, to understand another from his or her own perspective--is impossible. Instead there is always a gap, an abyss, between what we see and what we imagine or wish to be true about the Other. For Jacques Lacan, the gaze is, simply, "the subject sustaining itself in the function of desire" (Four Fundamental Concepts 84). In James's fiction, the powerful impulse to create an "ideal" and to believe that one's ideal is "real" or "true" is undermined as characters confront the deeper truth of their subjective shaping of reality.


Originally published in: "The Finer Thread, The Tighter Weave": Essays on the Short Fiction of Henry James. Eds. Joseph Dewey and Brooke Horvath. Purdue UP, 2001.



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