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Introduction Oscar Wilde’s 1891 symbolist tragedy Salomé has had a rich afterlife in literature , opera, dance, ‹lm, and popular culture. Even though the literature and art of the European ‹n de siècle produced many treatments of the famous biblical story of Salome and Saint John the Baptist, virtually every major version in the twentieth and twenty-‹rst centuries has been some creative adaptation of or critical reaction against Wilde’s Salomé, with its infamous Dance of the Seven Veils and Salomé’s shocking ‹nal love monologue and kiss to the bloody, severed head of John the Baptist. For a work banned from the English stage by the theater censor before it was even produced , a play whose author remained intensely controversial for several decades after his notorious 1895 trials, this is a curious legacy. Why was it speci‹cally Wilde’s play, among the many provocative literary and artistic versions of the story of Salome, that proved so popular and fascinating? Why would Wilde’s conception of a sexually anarchic, aestheticized Salomé speak so importantly to artists and audiences of the twentieth and twenty- ‹rst centuries? What were the historical and cultural forces that established Wilde’s Salomé as a canonical text that, in turn, inspired more than a century ’s worth of creative cultural reinscriptions, adaptations, and transformations in many different genres and media? Finally, what can Western culture ’s ongoing fascination with ‹gures like Salomé and Wilde tell us about ourselves and about modernity? These are the some of the central questions Salome’s Modernity sets out to answer. In recent years, the bulk of Wilde’s work has come into the purview of modernist studies, and Wilde is often discussed as a modernist as a matter of course,1 yet Salomé is often still seen as an idiosyncratic stand-alone within the body of his work. Although Jean-Paul Riquelme’s mid-1990s article “Shalom/Solomon/Salomé: Modernism and Wilde’s Aesthetic Politics” opened up the subject of Salomé’s general relation to modernism, Wilde’s play continues to be examined almost exclusively through the lens of ‹n de siècle aesthetics, historical and biographical details of Wilde’s contact with the French symbolists and decadents, and aspects of gender and sexuality related to this period (e.g., the femme fatale and the dandy).2 In writing his version of the popular Salome myth as a French symbolist tragedy in 1891, Oscar Wilde was undoubtedly inspired by literary-philosophical themes, concepts, and stylistic ideas in previous versions, as well as by his vast knowledge of Salome in the visual arts from the Renaissance to his present.3 But Wilde developed and exacerbated his literary and artistic in›uences to a point that also marks a radical departure from his predecessors. Wilde’s Salom é de‹nes a complex cultural tradition of ideas about aesthetics, eroticism , and transgression, a tradition that forms an important undercurrent in the development of twentieth-century modernism and modernist aesthetics. Building on an innovative reading of Salomé as a forward-looking modernist text rather than a backward-looking compendium of ‹n de siècle themes and styles, Salome’s Modernity argues that Wilde’s play and the cultural reception of Wilde’s homosexuality after his 1895 trials helped fuel and express the rise of a new type of modernist aesthetics in early twentieth -century literature and culture. I call this the “modernist aesthetics of transgression,” by which I mean a replacement of traditional metaphysical, moral, and cultural belief systems with literary and artistic discourses that develop utopian erotic and aesthetic visions of individual transgression and agency. With roots in literary symbolism and decadence,4 Salomé participates in the modernist ‹eld of radical thought and aesthetic practice symbolically marked by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, on the one hand, and Georges Bataille’s and Michel Foucault’s literature and philosophy of transgression , on the other. In Wilde’s play, we ‹nd a unique pairing of utopian and apocalyptic elements that embody both a sense of crisis and a rebellious commitment to human agency in response to the fundamental shattering of worldly as well as transcendental authority and truth that is modernity. It develops a ‹erce, shocking, and alluring vision of erotic and aesthetic transgression as an ecstatic new realm for modern individualism and transformed secular humanism. Wilde directs artistic violence against the traditional institutions of moral, religious, and philosophical authority with his seductive, spectacular staging of a perverse, larger-than-life, yet deeply...


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