Rethinking the Racial Politics of Decadence: Taking Wilde to Sri Lanka and Beardsley to Harlem

54 Pritchatts Road (G10 campus map)
Friday 8 November 2019 (16:00-18:00)

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Rethinking Racial Politics

SPEAKER - Dr Kristin Mahoney, Michigan State University

Late-Victorian Decadence is known as much for its cosmopolitanism as its Orientalism, and criticism on the movement has struggled with how to categorize its racial politics, linking Oscar Wilde and his circle to both ethical engagement with otherness and appetitive forms of exoticization and appropriation. In this talk, Dr Mahoney will turn to the works of the Harlem Renaissance author and illustrator Richard Bruce Nugent and the Sri Lankan dandy Lionel de Fonseka in order to pose the question concerning the racial politics of Decadence in a slightly different fashion. What attracted colonized subjects or writers of color to the Decadent aesthetic in the early-twentieth century? To what uses did they put Decadent style while engaging in anticolonial critique or the negotiation of racial trauma? Kristin will take their playful retooling and repurposing of Decadent aesthetics as a model for how we, as contemporary scholars of the period, might enter into a more nuanced understanding of the politics of Decadence.