Oscar Wilde is more than a name, more than an author. From precocious Oxford undergraduate to cause célèbre of the West End of the 1890s, to infamous criminal, the proper name Wilde has become an event in the history of literature and culture. Taking Wilde seriously as a philosopher in his own right, Whiteley's groundbreaking book places his texts into their philosophical context in order to show how Wilde broke from his peers, and in particular from idealism, and challenges recent neo-historicist readings of Wilde which seem content to limit his irruptive power. Using the paradoxical concept of the simulacrum to resituate Wilde’s work in relation to both his precursors and his contemporaries, Whiteley’s study reads Wilde through Deleuze and postmodern philosophical commentary on the simulacrum.
In a series of striking juxtapositions, Whiteley challenges us to rethink both Oscar Wilde’s aesthetics and his philosophy, to take seriously both the man and the mask. His philosophy of masks is revealed to figure a truth of a different kind - the simulacra through which Wilde begins to develop and formulate a mature philosophy that constitutes an ethics of joy.
Giles Whiteley is an independent scholar based in Stockholm, Sweden. He is the author of Aestheticism and the Philosophy of Death: Walter Pater and Post-Hegelianism (2010), also published by Legenda.
‘The strength of this study for the reader of Wilde is the way in which Whiteley seeks to connect Wilde’s theoretical writings with his fictions. This is central to its Deleuzian approach, its ‘active refusal of the critical either-or’, its determination to find the complementarity between Wilde the ‘producer of concepts’ and Wilde the producer of ‘percepts and affects’ (p. 24)... there is intellectual provocation at every turn, and difficulty to be celebrated.’ — Anne Varty, The OScholarsApril 2017
‘Giles Whiteley’s provocative monograph announces a reading of Wilde ‘through Deleuze and postmodern philosophical commentary on the simulacrum’. It also signals a challenge to ‘recent neo-historicist readings’ which ‘limit [Wilde’s] irruptive power’. Drawn to Deleuze’s notions of ‘disjunctive synthesis’, Whiteley emphasizes Wilde’s credentials as a ‘serious’ thinker, presenting him as a fusion of philosopher and artist. Where many recent critics have been at pains to place him in a precise historical and cultural context, Whiteley maintains that Wilde’s ‘contemporaries’ are properly determined by his intellectual outlook, and are therefore drawn from his past (Plato, Aristotle, Hegel), present (Arnold, Ruskin, Baudelaire, Nietzsche), and future (Deleuze, Blanchot, Foucault, and Klossowski, among others).’ — Nick Freeman, Modern Language Review 116.2, April 2017, 499-500 (full text online)
‘From the point of view of presentation, the volume is of the highest standard... Oscar Wilde and the Simulacrum is, in my opinion, an important contribution to Wilde studies in at least two respects. Firstly, it pertinently resituates Wilde’s works within the intellectual context in which they were conceived and convincingly challenges the idea according to which Wilde’s philosophy of art is simply a derivative, Platonic and Hegelian, idealism. Secondly, it stages a large number of fruitful encounters between Wilde’s texts and contemporary theory, thereby taking much further Richard Ellmann’s intuition that Wilde was ‘one of us’ and shedding new light on the Irishman’s literary production. Oscar Wilde and the Simulacrum is itself a Deleuzian event, creating ‘lines of flight’ and causing renewed delight in the reader’s apprehension of Wilde’s shimmering surfaces.’ — Xavier Giudicelli, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens85, Spring 2017
Whiteley, Giles, Oscar Wilde and the Simulacrum: The Truth of Masks, Studies In Comparative Literature, 35 (Cambridge: Legenda, 2015)
First footnote reference:35 Giles Whiteley, Oscar Wilde and the Simulacrum: The Truth of Masks, Studies In Comparative Literature, 35 (Cambridge: Legenda, 2015), p. 21.