30 January 2005

Dear Henry

Cynthia Ozick conducts An (Unfortunate) Interview with Henry James (via Conversational Reading as Ozick v. James). Although the demeaning way in which she paints James as a precious old fool undermines any intended humor, it is worth reading as an exhibit of the absurd, self-righteous insistence of the current tendency to view past lives through the lens of our present context.

But there are a couple good lines that she puts in his mouth:

I warned her, as I now warn you, madam, that one's craft, one's art, is in one's expression, not one's person.

In response to the questioning of his letter-consuming bonfire:

Put it that the forewarned victim subverts the future's cunning. I have been easier in my mind ever since, and my little conflagrations scarcely appear to have impeded posterity's massive interventions.


I say I deeply, deeply, infinitely favor the universalization of epistolary arson.

And my favorite line:

Never say you know the last word about any human heart.

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