In the first half of his remarks about Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove in The Parallax View, Zizek looks at the way James uses his long, winding, unexpected style to set a scene in a particular way. In the second part, he looks at the actual meaning of this particular, very Jamesian, scene:
She continued gently. “I think that what it really is must be that you’re afraid. I mean,” she explained, “that you’re afraid of all the truth.If you’re in love with her without it,what indeed can you be more?And you’re afraid—it’s wonderful!—to be in love with her.”
“I never was in love with her,” said Densher.
She took it, but after a little she met it. “I believe that now—for the time she lived. I believe it at least for the time you were there. But your change came—as it might well—the day you last saw her; she died for you then that you might understand her. From that hour you did.”With which Kate slowly rose. “And I do now. She did it for us.”
Densher rose to face her, and she went on with her thought. “I used to call her, in my stupidity—for want of anything better—a dove. Well she stretched out her wings, and it was to that they reached.They cover us.”
“They cover us,” Densher said.
Relying on Seymour Chatman’s 1972 book “The Later Style of Henry James,” Zizek goes on to explain:
Here Kate spells out the truth of Densher’s betrayal: he feels guilty, and refuses to proﬁt from Milly’s death, not because he doesn’t love her and is for this reason unworthy of her gift, but because he does love her—not while she was alive, but from the moment she died. He fell in love with her gesture of dying for him and Kate, with how she turned her inevitable death from illness into a sacriﬁcial gesture. Why, precisely, is this a betrayal? Because such love is a fake, a case of what Freud called “moral masochism.”
Poor Densher. In a footnote, Zizek describes the type:
In more political terms, Densher is a model “honest” bourgeois intellectual who masks his compromising attitude by “ethical” doubts and restraints—types like him “sympathize” with the revolutionary cause, but refuse to “dirty their hands.”They are usually (and deservedly) shot in the middle stages of a revolution (it is all the Millies of this world—those who like to stage their own death as a sacrificial spectacle—whose wishes are met in the early stages of a revolution).