Oscar Wilde: Irony and the Art of Lying Ms. Tamar Gerstenhaber
"Lying and poetry”, tells us Oscar Wilde, "are arts…not unconnected with each other – and they require the most careful study, the most disinterested devotion”. Rhetoric teaches us that a possible form for the art of lying, of dissimulation, is the master trope of irony. And indeed, as the title of Wilde's most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People indicates, irony reins in Wilde's poetics, permeating almost every line and every sentence. In this course, we will carefully study the intimate relation Wilde forges between poetry and lying and explore the vicissitudes of his use of irony in relation to his life and his times.
We will read a la lettre Wilde's comedies of manners and map the specificity of the relation between the rhetorical structure of his early plays and his stance towards Victorian culture, as part of a singular psychorhetorical invention. We will go on to explore the modifications in Wilde's ironic poetics of "revealing art and concealing the artist" in The Picture of Dorian Gray in their relation to what was subjectively at stake for Wilde when his art no longer concealed who he was, that is, his very mode of life, and he was put on trial for "gross indecency". Finally, we will look at Wilde's post-imprisonment writings and attempt to trace the ways in which, late in his life, he used his art to try and treat the real horror that plagued him when irony no longer functioned for him as a veil in the form of a lie.
Thus, with the most disinterested devotion, we will uncover the vital place of what Wilde's earnest audience, who read him through the censoring prism of 19th century morality, considered either trivial or grossly indecent.
Requirements: midterm essay, final essay
Primary texts by Oscar Wilde:
The Importance of Being Earnest, A Woman of No Importance and Lady Windermere’s Fan
The Picture of Dorian Gray
“The Ballad of Reading Gaol”
“The Decay of Lying”, “The Portrait of Mr. W.H”, “Critic as Artist”, De Profundis
Sigmund Freud: Three Essays on Sexuality, “Fetishism”, “Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood” and “Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defense”. Jacques Lacan: excerpts from the fourth seminar on the relations to the object, “The Youth of Gide” and “Kant with Sade”.
George Puttenham: The Arte of English Poesie.