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ELT 36:2 1993 Bologna, and Venice before returning to England to begin anew his life in Grub Street. Martha Vogeler California State University, Fullerton Aesthetics and Eros in Wilde Patricia Flanagan Behrendt. Oscar Wilde: Eros and Aesthetics. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991. xiv + 194pp. $45.00 PATRICIA BEHRENDTS STUDY begins with a brief "Note on the Title," which states that the implicit connection between Eros and aesthetics "lies in the fact that both are ways of accounting for processes of creation. . . . While Eros is an ancient mythic figure at the center of creation mythology who is said to have emerged from an enormous egg to create the earth, aesthetics, on the other hand, is the study of how artistic creations achieve meaning. The two are linked uniquely, however , in the study of the works of Oscar Wilde." The genealogies of Eros, like most other mythical figures, are wondrously complex, but Behrendt —without reference to the various versions of the Eros myth— chooses one of them for her own purposes, notably the version depicting Eros as both male and female with sexuality "as the central expression of the life force." Her study of Wilde, then, purports to reveal "that at the core of his work is his own exploration of the complex sexual themes associated with the Classical concept of Eros." And, says Behrendt, "One of the more overlooked aspects of the concept of Eros is the bisexuality of the original image.... Thus the early image of Eros suggests a being that is complete unto itself or self-contained; likewise, Eros may be attracted outwardly by either or by both sexes simultaneously." Chapter 1 consists of Behrendt's lengthy apologia defending her approach to Wilde by emphasizing the intimate relationship between Eros and aesthetics. Defensively, she points out that, in the past, much critical writing on Wilde had avoided such a subject, but she informs us that "controversial presumptions and assumptions which surround the subject of sexuality occupy more than the thoughts of the esoteric few; they occupy to varying degrees the thoughts of every human being." Such a statement reads as though it were written in 1891 rather than in 1991. (A weird printing mishap occurs at the end of this chapter, where the entire "Note on the Title," approximately a page and a third, is repeated word for word as the concluding paragraphs.) 212 BOOK REVIEWS Part of Chapter 1 is also a seemingly unnecessary historical survey of such matters as nineteenth-century attitudes towards prostitution and the Contagious Diseases Act (1866). Behrendt's apparent intent is to contrast attitudes towards prostitution with the homophobia that resulted in such stringent laws against male homosexuality as Parliament 's passage of a law in 1533, making male homosexuality a capital offense punishable by death, and the famous Criminal Law Amendment Act (1885), under which Wilde was imprisoned. When she moves forward , in this odd chapter, to Christian theology, attitudes towards women, and to the current AIDS crisis, one wonders how this is all related to Wilde's works. Another aspect of this chapter is Behrendt's critical orientation: the words politics and political begin to saturate the text with the blessings of such inevitable authorities as Michael Foucault and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Following her mentors, Behrendt asserts that "the act of writing itself cannot be separated from the political, even when carried out in the sphere of literary criticism, which may seem, to some, remote from any sphere of influence other than the academic." Unfortunately, "sexual politics" has for so many years inundated literary criticism that the concept has become wearisome and less meaningful with time since the human imagination in the realm of autonomous art has the capacity to transcend even politics when culture attempts to control or restrict the artist. When Behrendt turns to five early narrative poems that appeared in Poems (1881), she devotes her attention to Classical myths involving destructive passions in such poems as "The Garden of Eros," The Burden of Itys," and "Panthea," from which she quotes the following: "One fiery-coloured moment: one great love; and lo! we die,"—followed by: "... we are part/ Of every rock and bird and beast...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 212-218
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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