CFP : "Reading Henry James in the Twenty-First Century : Heritage and Transmission"

Call for papers

Reading Henry James in the Twenty-First Century : Heritage and Transmission

The Third International Conference of the European Society of Jamesian Studies

20 - 22 October 2016 ; The American University of Paris, 6 rue du Colonel Combes, 75007 Paris

To commemorate the centennial of Henry James’s passing, the European Society of Jamesian Studies is organizing its third international conference at the American University in Paris on October 20-22, 2016, the theme of which will be “Reading Henry James in the Twenty-First Century : Heritage and Transmission.”

The notions of ‘heritage’ and ‘transmission’ in the work and literary life of Henry James may be more problematic than they appear at first glance and point to several potential paradoxes. Within James’s fiction, for example, ‘transmission’ is often staged as failed or enigmatic encryption and decryption of texts and objects, both material and immaterial. This could be rendered, inter alia, as the transmission of a child’s impressive yet unspecified knowledge of the sordid world of adults in What Maisie Knew (1897), of true aesthetic value and priceless objets d’art in The Spoils of Poynton (1897), or of an elusive ‘truth’ concerning unspeakable occurrences in “The Turn of the Screw” (1898) and other ghostly tales. Of particular interest is how James applies this same dynamic of thwarted transmission to his stories of authors and artists. In “The Middle Years” (1893), Dencombe, on his deathbed, eloquently proclaims that he will leave no rich literary legacy behind him, that the “pearl” will not be recovered by the public and passed on as it will forever remain “unwritten” and “lost”. In works such as “The Aspern Papers” (1888), “The Figure in the Carpet” (1896) and “The Real Right Thing” (1899), James similarly stages the failed transference of an author’s heritage. A dialectic of transmission and omission seems to pervade James’s fiction, an essential instrument among the author’s signature “techniques of ambiguity”.

Yet, how does one reconcile this staging of such problematic transmission of one’s literary or artistic heritage with the ‘sense of the past’ that permeates James’s fiction and with his calls, particularly in his critical works and paratextual writings, for the transmission and re-appropriation of the legacy of past masters in one’s literary endeavors ? What do we make of James, who even as a child of twelve on a hotel balcony in Paris would hear “some immortal quotation, the very breath of civilized lips” echoing from “every lighted window” he passed (A Small Boy and Others, 1913), and who, in so many essays, reviews and private correspondences throughout his lifetime, would call on his contemporaries to learn from past masters while forging the new novel, to seek “continuity, responsibility, transmission” in so-called modern movements (The American Scene, 1907) ? Similarly, the final stages of his writing career—the reassessment of his body of work for the New York Edition and his late autobiographical endeavors—all point to an author working feverishly to transmit as rich a legacy as possible to future generations of authors and scholars. On another level then, for James, the successful transmission of past heritage was not only possible, it was essential.

One of the most striking aspects of James may indeed be his ability to combine this ‘sense of the past’ with a ‘sense of the future’ and a related call for the advancement and development of literature. This is what Gertrude Stein would call his inherent “future feeling”, another apparent paradox in which James, in spite of or perhaps thanks to his back-reaching tendencies, could be seen as more forward-thinking than his English contemporaries, as more ‘modern’ than the self-proclaimed modernists that would follow him (Gertrude Stein : Writings, 1932-1946, 221). How would this aspect of James fit in with Barthes’s claim that to be truly ‘avant-garde’ one needs to be above-all part of the ‘arrière-garde” (“Réponses”, Oeuvres Complètes III. Paris : Seuil, 2002, 1038), or with Antoine Compagnon’s more recent work on the true ‘antimodernes’, those authors and thinkers who openly fight modernity and its implied break with the past but who are in the end the only true ‘modernists’ (Paris : Gallimard, 2005) ? To what extent would these paradoxical assessments apply to James ?

Participants in the conference are thus encouraged to address any of these myriad aspects of ‘transmission’ and ‘heritage’ in Henry James. Particular attention may be paid to appraising James’s own legacy and literary influence today. Other suggestions for topics might include new assessments of James’s aesthetic and textual devices, or of his impact on art, literature and criticism over the past century. How are James’s lessons in art and literature being applied today ? How has the ‘figure of the author’, of James himself, developed over time ? What does one make of current re-tellings, in both literature and in film adaptation, of James’s life and works ? How is James’s legacy still relevant to current trends, and how are his works re-interpreted for today’s audiences ? Indeed, what does it mean to be a ‘Jamesian’ in the twenty-first century ?

Please send proposals (300 words maximum) for a twenty-minute presentation and/or for a complete panel (in English or French) to and

Deadline : January 15, 2016

ESJS Advisory Board and Organizing Committee :

Annick Duperray (Professeur Emérite,Aix - Marseille Université) :
Jean Perrot (Professeur Emérite, Université de Paris XIII) :
Adrian Harding, Aix-Marseille Université& American University of Paris :
Dennis Tredy, Université de Paris 3 (Sorbonne Nouvelle) :