Folklores of the Future

Wilde and Lawrence
  • Patrick McGee


To read either Oscar Wilde or D. H. Lawrence at the beginning of the twenty-first century is an astonishing experience. This is especially true if you are reading them not as literary figures who, in radically different ways, made names for themselves in the history of the sexual revolution of the last century but as critical moments in the history of a discourse that, first, challenges common sense with an alternative version of itself, and, second, calls into question the higher discourse of philosophy that extracts itself from the styles of ordinary language. They follow in the wake of Marx and Nietzsche, who may not have been the first thinkers to disrupt the hegemony of philosophical and scientific language as the language of truth, but who did so at a time and in a way that eventually achieved critical mass. Though Wilde and Lawrence are part of that critical mass, they did not consciously align themselves with their precursors (even if Lawrence had read early translations of Nietzsche), nor can they be said to have the same influence on the history of thought; nonetheless they represent a number of writers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who dissolved the boundaries between literature and theory, or, to put the case differently, wrote as if the condition of literary innovation were the reinvention of common sense—about sexuality, gender, class, race, human psychology, wealth, politics, art, and so forth. Such a reinvention means their works are necessarily theoretical, though they couch their theories in styles that are readable, translatable (in more than one sense), and ultimately, despite their claims to the contrary, designed to have an explosive effect on social life.


Common Sense Class System Ordinary Language Creative Power Prison Experience 
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© Patrick McGee 2009

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  • Patrick McGee

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