- Pater, Wilde & the Doppelgänger
"The objective of this study," states Anna Budziak, "is to explore how the reintegration of the self is achieved in the four stories of Pater published as Imaginary Portraits and in the four portraits which have been selected from Wilde" (vii); the latter are "The Sphinx Without a Secret," "The Portrait of Mr. W.H.," "The Fisherman and His Soul," and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Budziak's subtitle is more immediately intelligible than her title: we expect analysis of the figure of the "double," and while we do get this, it's her title that, once understood, better indicates the themes she explores. Her study, she tells us, "acknowledges the impact and inspiration of the philosophical debate on the nature of selfhood originating within American neo-pragmatism" (11). Briefly, the main issue in this debate is whether the self should be seen as purely linguistic, as created by the languages we use to describe ourselves and held together by the stories we tell ourselves—the "Text" of her title—or whether an adequate account of the self has to include our physical natures—the "Body" of her title. The main figures Budziak uses to present the debate are philosophers Richard Rorty, advocate of the "textual self," and Richard Shusterman, advocate of the embodied self. Views of the self, Budziak observes, have implications for ethics, for how we treat each other; given Rorty's view, other selves become texts to be deciphered. For Budziak, the embodied selves of others are and should remain unknowable, mysterious—the "Indeterminacy" of her title. Pater and Wilde have apparently been mentioned in this debate: Shusterman claims that they both anticipate Rorty's position and exceed it by recognizing the value of sensuous experience. [End Page 269] Inspired by this, as well as by Shusterman's writings more generally, Budziak tries to recover for us in detail Pater's and Wilde's conceptions of the self with their implications for how to engage others.
Let me say right away that my discussion will be partial. Budziak not only intends to recover Pater's and Wilde's views: she regards these views as largely sound and so sees her study as a contribution to the philosophical debate. I'll leave the assessment of that contribution to others. I'll also respond to her treatments of Pater and Wilde differently, approaching her treatment of the former as an academic common reader, if that's not an oxymoron, and of the latter as a fellow worker in Wilde studies. I should also say now, since I'll be registering several reservations, that I regard the book as a substantial achievement.
This is a dense book. It's so partly because of Budziak's extensive reviews of the scholarship relevant to her interests. These reviews are so thorough that the book could be consulted solely for its surveys of criticism. While I can't speak about her digests of scholarship on Pater, her account of Wilde criticism seems to me accurate and fair-minded. The downside of this thoroughness is that her frequent, lengthy footnotes interrupt one's efforts to follow the analysis in her text, making necessary some rereading of that analysis by itself. The discussion is also dense because Budziak can't assume an acquaintance with the philosophical debate so important to her. She certainly has to explain the positions in that debate more fully than my remarks above do, but in my view she could define the issues more efficiently than she does. Finally it's dense because the features of the texts that she discusses interact in her analyses to create further permutations. Thus having discussed the "dichotomies" in three of Pater's Imaginary Portraits, she continues: "the figures of Antony, Denys and Sebastian [the protagonists of the three Portraits] are doubled in yet another sense: they are emblematic not only of a split sensibility but also of two ways of representing it" (125). There are eight intricate readings, each running about thirty pages...