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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

8 - Oscar Wilde and the politics of style


When Sex Pistols Svengali Malcolm McLaren can convince the Irish Times (19 July 1997) that he is planning a film with Steven Spielberg about how Wilde discovered rock 'n' roll in the United States, it is clear that his name has acquired a resonance and currency which even Oscar would have been surprised by. 'Wilde' is now a pop-cultural icon, a multiform signifier of youth, rebelliousness, individualism, sexual freedom, modernity. Indeed the commemorative industry surrounding the centenary of his death in 2000 resolutely commodified him as such: his image is now almost endlessly reproduced on playing cards, ties, T-shirts, mousemats and fridge magnets.

This relocation ofWilde among the ephemera of a supersophisticated consumer culture has been accompanied by an efflorescence of academic interest. Writing in the 1930s Wyndham Lewis dismissed Wilde as a ‘fat Dublin buffoon’, frozen into a posture of adolescent refusal and revolt: an historical curio who could be consigned to the snobbish ‘Naughty Nineties’. These remarks represent the nadir of Wilde’s critical reputation, while Christopher Nassaar’s Into the Demon Universe (1974) marks the beginning of a thorough and almost exclusively favourable reassessment of his writing.

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The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Irish Drama
  • Online ISBN: 9780511999567
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