'The Figure in the Carpet'. Psychoanalysis and ways of reading.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1425 Downloads (Pure)


Henry James’s novella The Figure in the Carpet (1896) offers an ironic commentary on the failure of the literary critic or reader to fully establish the writer’s intentions. Drawing on Winnicott’s early interest in the work of James as well as Laplanche’s theory of the enigmatic signifier, I consider what James’s tale might have to tell us about reading as the cultural site of encounter with the message of the writer. After discussing how literature both provokes and inspires the reader, I then extend my field of inquiry to that class of literature we call psychoanalytic theory. I reflect on the unfavourable reception of Winnicott’s (1952) paper ‘Anxiety associated with insecurity’ and suggest that both Winnicott and James share an interest in the notion of ‘creative reading’. I go on to develop an understanding of reading as a place of being alone in the presence of the writer and conclude with some parallels between the figure of the literary critic and the psychoanalyst, offering some brief thoughts about the implications for creativity.

© 2018, John Hopkins University Press. This is an author produced version of a paper published in AMERICAN IMAGO uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link below. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-542
Number of pages25
JournalAmerican Imago
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2018

Cite this