Henry James often criticizes mass culture for having instrumentalized the novel by conditioning readers to reduce the text to its ending. Yet he also suggests that popular visual technologies—cinema and its predecessor, the magic lantern—are uniquely able to compensate for mass culture's end-driven tendencies by taking the viewing process out of the viewer's hands. While readers can read novels as they please, visual technologies function independently of the spectator. From them, James thought, twentieth-century novelists might derive formal strategies to solve the problem of instrumentalization. James's theories of technology and modernism recast familiar debates about the relationship among the early-twentieth-century novel, mass culture, and commodification. He neither posits the novel as a work of art that is exempt from economic pressures nor embraces the commodity as a model for a new aesthetic. Instead, he critically revises mass culture, using technology to nullify the hazards of commodification.
Heather Fielding; “The Projection of His Consciousness”: James and Narrative Technology. Modern Language Quarterly 1 June 2009; 70 (2): 223–243. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-2008-038
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