Rethinking the Racial Politics of Decadence

Institute for Advanced Studies - 54 Pritchatts Road
Friday 8 November 2019 (16:00-18:00)

19CC Seminar Series welcomes IAS Vanguard Fellow Dr Kristin Mahoney (Michigan State) and respondent Dr Ana Parejo Vadillo (Birkbeck) for a fascinating afternoon.

All are welcome.


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, I 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? I 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.

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