Kathleen McDougall - Sexuality and Creativity

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Kathleen McDougall Sexuality and Creativity Essay Article
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  OSCAR WILDE: SEXUALITY AND CREATIVITY IN THE SOCIAL ORGANISMAuthor(s): KATHLEEN McDOUGALLReviewed work(s):Source: Victorian Review, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Winter 1997), pp. 212-226Published by: Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27794869. Accessed: 26/02/2012 05:58 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspJSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of¬†content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to Victorian Review. http://www.jstor.org  OSCARWILDE:SEXUALITYANDCREATIVITY INTHESOCIALORGANISMKATHLEENMcDOUGALL Ottawa,Ontario OscarWilde,likemanyofhiscontemporaries,grappledwiththeauthorityofscientificnaturalism,thescientificmovementthatdominatedthesecondhalfofthenineteenthenturyndthatedtothe widespreadviewthatsociety,ruledbythelawsofnature,wasgearedto collectivesurvival ratherthanindividualfulfillment.Inaworld dominated,fromanevolutionarypointofview,byprocreationand otherformsofdutifulproduction,Wildeendeavoredtodefendanonprocreativeerosalliedwithartisticcreativity.hisinvolveddrawing uponvariousdiscourses,inparticularscientificdiscourse,tofashionarangeofcredibleversionsofself,eachfeaturingasexual/creativemode. In thisssay,Iwillfocusontheversionofselfthatildeputforward mostconsistentlyandthat hefeaturedinanarrative,threadedthroughvarioustexts,of theartisticlife[as]...alongandlovelysuicide (Letters185).Theincreasinguthorityfscience,inthenineteenthentury,mustbeplacedinthecontextofageneraltrend owardssecularization,tselftobeplacedinthecontextofindustrializationandtheriseofthebourgeoisie(seeBarnes andShapin93).Despiteitscontingentnature, however,Victorian scienceoftenfiguresas acauseproducingeffectsin otherdiscursivefields,asthoughtwereakind ofprimarydiscourse,onewithahigh truthvalue, lendingshapetosupposedlymore fictionaldiscourses suchasWilde'sformulationsofself.Thisisbecause manyVictoriansfelt thatitwasscience thathadinvalidatedthetraditionalefenseagainstlife'sabsurdity,namelyChristianity.Sincemostthinkers mbracedtheprinciplewherebyallmanifestationsoflifecanbe accounted forbynatural lawtheprincipleofcontinuityr uniformity?afrequentreactionwastoturn toscience forthemost credibleargumentsagainstthe fears thatit hadcreated.Precisely because Darwin'sargumentsagainstanthropocentrismweresoVictorian Review232(Winter1997)  KATHLEENMcDOUGALL213 convincing,forexample,itwasfeltthattherelevanceof humanaspirationshadtobe re-establishedinDarwinianterms?hencetheideaofcertain humanbeingsasevolution'sproductandpilot, summing upthebestthat hasgonebeforeandpointingthewaytowards the fullestrealizationofhumanity'spotential.Wildewasverywell-informedinscientificmatters,asattestedbyhisOxfordnotebooks,andvariousaspectsofscientifictheoryarefeaturedinWilde'sconstructionofanerotic/aestheticmode ofbeing.Forthe purposesofthisessay,Iwillbesinglingoutthosetheories that contributedtotheideaofsocietyasanorganism composedofinterdependentparts.Thisoldanalogywasrejuvenatedthanks,largely,tocelltheory.In1858,forexample,Rudolf Virchow'sDie Cellularpathologiecomparedthebodyto astateinwhicheverycellisacitizen, anddefineddiseaseas civilwar (qtd.inSinger413).This metaphoristheconverseofPaulBourget's description,nowamustquoteindiscussionsoflate-nineteenth-centuryfearsofdegeneration,ofthe individualas a socialcell, onethatmustsubordinateitsenergytothatofthelargerorganism,lest socialdecadencesetin.1Inthesame vein,Wildewrote inoneof hisOxfordnotebooks: Thehistoryofeverynation...is...thepassagefromcantonalindividualitytonationalunity:thegrowthofanorganisminfact....Thedivision ofLabour,thedifferentiationoffunction,theevolution oforganismscanbe illustrated romistoryasclearlyasfromthemicroscope.(117) Thisquotationdemonstrateshow thesocialorganismwas a dead metaphor inthelate nineteenthenturyPick180);theliteralnessithwhichitwasemployedreinforced thenotionofapowerlessselfpermeatedbybiologicalprocesses. Bourget'sdescriptionofsocial healthintermsofenergyuseillustrateshow degenerationis theculturalcounterpartofthesecond law ofthermodynamics Brush14).Thislaw,alsocalledthelawof energydissipation, assertsthatalthoughthetotalquantityofenergyremainsconstant,itsqualityor'usefulness'iscontinuallybeing degraded (10).Thusnatureisrunningdown,asallmattertendstowardsstateof uniform nertness.ntheverylongtermhissignifies theeventual heat death of theuniverseannouncedbyLord Kelvin.Inthe shortterm,to returntothesocio-organicpointofview,itmeansthatallenergymustbeputtogood,i.e.collective,use.Nationalhealth requiresthatnergybe harnessedinfavorofthecollectivity'shigheraims;individualhealth,onsequently,s definedintermsfsublimation:thenergyofthelowest and oldest instinctsustberedirectedtowards thehighestandmostrecentlyevolvedintellectualfaculties,suchas  214 VictorianReviewaltruism,volition directed towardspracticaland rationalaims,etc.Such controlsprecariousin that temandsthathewillbeactiveatalltimes,whichinvolvesagreatdealofenergyexpenditure.Thus,tothelateVictorians,the iskofregressionseemedveryreal;allitrequiredwasthatthewill berelaxed.Forexamplesofpaths alongwhichtoretrace one'sevolutionarysteps,onehadonlytolooktothose whohadeither notreachedthedegreeofdevelopmentofthe adultwhitemaleorwho hadregressedtoanearlierstate:women,children,sexualdeviants,criminals,theinsane, primitives, ...andartists.Allof thesepeople'spersonalitieswerethoughttobe characterizedbyemotiveness,irrationality,excessive self-assertionatthesametimeasweaknessofwill,etc.Artistswereincludedinthisgroupbecauseitwassupposed thattheyhadtocallupontheprimitiveself,andtherefore lirtwith degeneration,inordertocreate.Evolutionary psychologists,for example, following anthropologistEdwardTylor,likenedprimitiveanimisticthoughttopersonificationinpoetry,andlinkedartisticcreativityngeneraltothethoughtrocessesofprimitives,hildren,nd dreamers(seeBlock).Soart,likesex,demandedthatone gonative andthatonesquanderenergy;furthermore,bothsexandartwereassociatedwithpleasure,whichwassuspectbecauseas arule itwasopposedtocollectivepurposes.Thefirst law ofthermodynamics,thelawofenergyconservation, positsthat throughlltransformationsfenergythesumtotal ofallenergiesin theuniverse remainsconstant Singer377).Thislawhadasecularizingimpactinthattruledoutsupernaturalauses:there ouldbenoinfusionsfdivineenergyintotheclosedsystemfnature.Butthissecularizing impactwascounteractedyatendencyointerprethefirst aw ofthermodynamicslongmysticallines,picturingtheuniverse as a greatdiapasonofforces whichcanbeextended toorganiclife, tosocialexperience,toconsciousness itself (Benson145,148).Anexampleof suchaninterpretationanbefoundinThePictureofDorianGray,inwhichDorianspeculatesthathisportraitis abletomirrorhissoulbecause thoughtxercisefs]aninfluencepondeadand inorganicthings and because thingsexternaltoourselves vibrateinunisonwithourmoodsandpassions,atomcallingto atominsecretlove ofstrangeffinity Works88).2Thefirstawofthermodynamics,hichrestatestheprincipleofcontinuitynenergeticterms,reinforcedthetendencyfVictorianscientists ndpopularizersof sciencetoimportprinciplesderived fromone areaofknowledgeintoanother;it isbecauseofthistendencythatmetaphorssuchasthat ofthesocial organismwere deadened. Theprincipleofcontinuitys thebackboneofevolutionarytheory, withitsnon-providentialcausal chain.Darwinism,whichwasbyno meansuniversally acceptedbutwhichprovidedafocalpointofdebate,
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