States of Desire: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and the Irish Experiment

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This book is an intimate study of the three giants in Irish literary history: Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce. In addition to constructing a narrative of Irelands political and literary past, Vicki Mahaffey interweaves the lives and writing of the authors into a portrait of national imagination, shaped not only by a vast cultural and mythic heritage, but also by the hard fact of English political domination.

States of Desire argues that what people desire is fundamentally connected to how they write and read. Not only do language and narrative shape desire (and vice versa), but because these processes are socially conditioned, some political circumstances, such as those present in Ireland at the turn of the century, foster experimental desire more successfully than others. Mahaffey's contribution to the critical discourse on literary modernism is to assign a political motive to the art of modernist wordplay; in doing so, she offers a more compelling and socially driven version of the oft-told tale of literary modernism. Irish writers, she argues, sought to disrupt the rigidity of political thinking and social control by turning language into a weapon; by opening up infinite new possibilities of meaning and association, linguistic play makes it impossible for thought to be monopolized by the state or any other institutional power. In this light, the text becomes a prism of political, cultural, and erotic desires: a fountain of conscious and unconscious linguistic suggestion. Defying semantic control and refuting societal repression, Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce literally fought, in their lives and in their work, for a freedom of expression which—as was painfully evidenced in the case of Wilde—was not to be had for the asking.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195115925
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/28/1998
  • Edition description: ON DEMAND
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Reading and "Irish" Desire 3
Reading as "Habit" 7
Starting Again: Experimental Reading and Desiring 8
Verbal Experimentation in Ireland 9
Iconoclasm as De-siring 13
A Micropolitics of Experiment 19
Fretting Nationalism and Masculinity 21
Beyond Radicalism 24
Oedipal Desire 27
Territorializing and Deterritorializing Desire 31
2 Wilde's Desire: A Study in Green 37
A Scary Wildman, or Nothing Wilde? 41
Flowers of Green: Ireland, Crime, and Youth 50
Mature Individualism 65
De Profundis: Taming Wilde 70
Pere-version and Im-mere-sion: Parental Corruption 73
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the Prohibition of Desire 76
Wilde Im-mere-sions of Desire 81
3 "Horrible Splendour of Desire": The Will of W. B. Yeats 87
Hanrahan's Passion: Hunt as Flight 92
"It Was the Dream Itself Enchanted Me" 96
The Rose 101
Celtic Rosicrucianism 108
A Woman's Rose 112
The Secret Rose 121
The Wind Among the Reeds 124
The Tower and The Winding Stair 132
4 Joyful Desire: Giacomo Joyce and Finnegans Wake 142
Joyce's War on Status 146
Giacomo Joyce: Joyce and Wunderlich 150
Fascism and Silence: The Coded History of Amalia Popper 167
From Italy to Ireland: The Ambivalence of Men toward Men 177
Female Desire and Power in Finnegans Wake 183
Marriage as "Marrage" 193
"Male and Female Unmask We Hem" 198
Waking Desire 205
5 Conclusion 210
Notes 213
Selected Bibliography 253
Index 261
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