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The Challenge of Bewilderment

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The Challenge of Bewilderment

Understanding and Representation in James, Conrad, and Ford

Paul B. Armstrong

294 Pages
Paperback
ISBN: 9781501722714
Cornell University Press

The Challenge of Bewilderment treats the epistemology of representation in major works by Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Ford Madox Ford, attempting to explain how the novel turned away from its traditional concern with realistic representation and toward self-consciousness about the relation between knowing and narration. Paul B. Armstrong here addresses the pivotal thematic experience of "bewilderment," an experience that challenges the reader’s very sense of reality and that shows it to have no more certainty or stability than an interpretative construct.

Through readings of The Sacred Fount and The Ambassadors by James, Lord Jim and Nostromo by Conrad, and The Good Soldier and Parade’s End by Ford, Armstrong examines how each writer dramatizes his understanding of the act of knowing. Armstrong demonstrates how the novelists’ attitudes toward the process of knowing inform experiments with representation, through which they thematize the relation between the understanding of a fictional world and everyday habits of perception. Finally, he considers how these experiments with the strategies of narration produce a heightened awareness of the process of interpretation.

Reviews

"In short, Armstrong’s close, careful readings of James, Conrad, and Ford incorporate philosophical aesthetics into a unique interpretive vocabulary. As a result, The Challenge of Bewilderment finally advocates what it examines: the idea that readers may learn through a reflective response to bewilderment to suspend their investment in the social codes that construct their world, while attaining a capacity to reflect critically on the self-sustaining artifice of signs and meaning."

- Richard Swartz, The Henry James Review

About the Author

Paul B. Armstrong is Professor of English at Brown University. He is the author of Play and the Politics of Reading: The Social Uses of Modernist Form, also from Cornell University Press, and of How Literature Plays with the Brain: The Neuroscience of Reading and Art, The Phenomenology of Henry James, and Conflicting Readings: Variety and Validity in Interpretation.

This work can be downloaded for non-commercial purposes:

Creative Commons License
The Challenge of Bewilderment is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.