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As in lockes narrative of the creation of property

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As in Locke's narrative of the creation of property, the germ or fragment becomes James's alienable (and valuable) property once he has mixed his labor w^ith it. But once composed and sent into literary and commercial circulation, the tale takes on a life of its own. James eschewed elaboration of his tale's "blanks" outside of the novella as much as he did within it. For instance, in a letter replying to a request from the spiritualist F. W. H. Myers for further specification, he wrote: "I'm afraid I don't quite under- stand the principal question you put to me about 'The Turn of the Screw.' However, that scantily matters; for in truth I am afraid ... that I somehow can't pretend to give any coherent account of my small inventions 'after the fact.'"'^ As Felman argues, James's "mastery" in and with regard to The Turn of the Screw (and indeed with regard to his fiction tout court) is in fact self-dispossession: "Dispossessing himself of his own story, James . . . at the same time dispossesses his own story of its master."" This process of self-dispossession reverses the Lockean paradigm of self-possession that informs James's account of his canny mastering of the fragmentary material provided by Benson. In the preface, in fact, the tale takes on the self-consciousness, independence, and self-sufficiency accorded to the liberal masculine self: "This perfectly independent and irresponsible little fiction rejoices, beyond any rival on a like ground, in a conscious provision of the prompt retort to the sharpest question that may be addressed to it. For it has the small strength—if I shouldn't say rather the unattackable ease—of a perfect homogeneity" (169). James's account of his relation to his tale, we could say, swaps the attributes of property and owner: the ghost-story "commodity" is personified as can- ny and independent, while the author suffers a helpless unknowingness
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470 Guy Davidson that renders him little more use, when it comes to the vexed question of his story's meaning, than an insensate object. The exchange of properties here calls up what Emily Apter calls "the famous Marxist chiasmus of double alienation," in which, in market society, social relations are like object relations, and commodities (such as ghost-stories) are endowed with the lineaments of personality.^'' But if James virtually personifies his tale here as a homogenous, self-identical entity (and hence, in the terms of the prevailing cultural stereo- types of gender, as a masculine one), critics have subsequently pointed to the way in which the novella's lack of "an eligible absolute" can instead be understood to position it as a kind of fluid or "feminine" writing.^' Again anticipating his commentators, James himself raises the notion of fluidity in the preface. Referring to the possibilities for improvisation provided by his fragmentary material, James points out the danger of the overindul- gence of this capacity in an extended metaphor of story-writing "get[ting] into flood" so that "the waters ... spread ... violating ... our sense of the course and the channel, which is our sense of the uses of a stream and the virtue of a story" (172). James presents himself in the preface as having
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