… this phantasmal and unreal life of what we have not been, these figures with whom we have always had an appointment — exercised … a dangerous attraction, sometimes almost mad, that perhaps art alone allowed him to explore …
This is from the essay ‘The Turn of the Screw’ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003):
… As the years pass and as James moves in a more deliberate way toward himself, he discovers the true significance of this preliminary work that is precisely not a work. Endlessly, he speaks of these hours of preparation as “blessed hours,” “wonderful, ineffable, secret, pathetic, tragic” instants, or even as a “sacred” time, when his pen exercises “an enchanted pressure,” becomes the “deciphering” pen, the magic needle in movement, whose turns and detours give him a premonition of the innumerable paths that are not yet traced. He calls the principle of the plot “divine,” “divine light illuminating the ancient holy little virtualities,” “divine ancient joy of the plot that makes my arteries throb, with its little sacred, irrepressible emotions.” Why this joy, this passion, this feeling of a wonderful life, which he cannot evoke without tears, to the point that his notebook, “the patient, passionate little notebook becomes … the essential part of my life”?
Henry James in 1890 [image from Wikipedia]
[line break added to make this easier to read online] It is because in these hours of confiding in himself, he is grappling with the fullness of the narrative that has not yet begun, when the still undetermined work, pure of any action and any limit, is only possible, is the “blessed” drunkenness of pure possibility, and we know how the possible — this phantasmal and unreal life of what we have not been, these figures with whom we have always had an appointment — exercised over James a dangerous attraction, sometimes almost mad, that perhaps art alone allowed him to explore and plot. “The further I go, the more I find that the only balm, the only refuge, the true solution to the powerful problem of life consists in this frequent, fertile, intimate struggle with the particular idea, the subject, the possibility, the place.”