Bordering the aesthetic : Oscar Wilde and the discourses of literary modernity.
My thesis is that the determinate categories and identities with which existing
scholarship has framed interpretations of Oscar Wilde are themselves rendered
uncertain by Wilde's emphasis upon figures of paradox and artifice. Drawing on the
work of Jacques Deirida, the thesis examines the manner in which conceptual borders
and frames of reference become increasingly complex in literary modernity, arguing that
Wilde's corpus embodies a philosophy of modernity that is actually more powerful than
the critical discourses which seek to master it. My focus on Wilde is twofold, looking at
both his image as a privileged site of cultural memorialisation and his thought as a
problematisation of institutional and subjective limits.
The thesis is divided into two main sections, each containing two chapters.
Broadly speaking, the first section deals with issues raised by historicist interpretations
of Wilde, whereas the second concentrates upon the way in which readings of Wilde's
literary corpus have been inextricably tangled up with physiological metaphors of
biography, medicine, psychoanalysis and sexology. It is my contention that this
entanglement is no mere accident, but rather is a manifestation of an underlying
complicity between aesthetic, erotic and physiological figures.
Chapter One looks at Wilde's and Nietzsche's attitudes toward history, relating
this to general questions about modernity and postmodemity which are inextricable
from (particularly Kantian) aesthetics. Chapter Two examines the concept of
transgression and the complex manner in which it is thematised both in Wilde's corpus
and in various critical approaches to his life and works. Chapter Three deals with the
biographical overflow into interpretations of Wilde, considered in reference to his own
writings on biography, portraiture and criticism. Chapter Four explores the passage
between life and art to argue that the protean history of Wilde's corpus presents a
challenge to materialist critical theories, and that the most powerful reading is one in
which the essentially textual resources of Wilde's life, as well as his works, are brought
to bear on the interpretative strategy itself.