While it has become nearly axiomatic to read Henry James's style as a privileged site for discussions of the unrepresentability of desire, I argue that in The American Scene James exhibits a literary style intimately related to the historical specificity of homosexual desire and the material networks of male-male cruising. To do so, I focus on James's overriding interest in what he calls “the life ‘socially’ led.” Drawing on his use of the metaphor of a secret garden to praise the Presbyterian Hospital, I show how James's preferred social aesthetic forms appear modeled on a particular form of “the life ‘socially’ led”: the actual network of secret gardens, streets, and parks where men cruised other men. Male homosexual cruising, I suggest, can be read not only as James's model for aesthetic form itself but also as his privileged mode of sociality, and where both should be read as profoundly materialist in their confrontation with an increasingly pervasive commodity culture in America.

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