The Savior of the Aesthetic Life: Decadence, Taboo, and Oscar Wilde's Jesus




Meljac, Eric
Reeves, Brinn

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In De Profundis, Oscar Wilde runs the gamut from bankruptcy numbers to gentle tenderness. Addressed to Bosie, the letter is as much about their relationship as it is about Wilde's relationship with himself. One portion of the letter that nearly reads matter-of-factly defines and characterizes Wilde's notion of the bodily and not ethereal body of Christ. Arguing that Christ would welcome the low and disposed, and in welcoming them forgive them, Wilde puts forward a Jesus that he claims is the greatest Individualist and Artist. However, transgressive and decadent theory lends new meaning to this portion of the letter, giving reason to believe that Wilde insinuates a Christ that is at least and erotic being, if not even a queer being. Tracing a line of religio-social power through the erotic as articulated by Georges Bataille, a landslide of writers and theorists from the Marquis de Sade to Julia Kristeva help to inform this reading of Wilde's Christ. Furthermore, when matching Wilde's version of Christ deconstructed by theories of the erotic to The Catechism of the Catholic Church , one finds that Wilde's Christ is indeed the more accurate version of Christ when considering the doxa of the Church.


In preparation for B. Reeves to apply for PhD programs, her interest in a short paragraph I wrote on Oscar Wilde led from discussion to an article-length, co-authored essay that we are shopping to Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, which will give B. Reeves a publication credit prior to entering graduate school. Our shared interest in the decadence of the 1890s, and the theories employed in the process of discussion, created a perfect storm of education for B. Reeves and authorship and authority for both Reeves and Meljac. We hoped to uncovered through difficult theoretical readings, as well as rigorous re-readings, to uncover exactly how Wilde's Christ is embodied in a queer aesthetic. We believe we have found a plausible answer. Our materials include the following: Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Edited and translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor, University of Minnesota Press, 1998. Augustine. On Christian Doctrine. Translated by D. W. Robertson, Prentice-Hall, 1958. Barthes, Roland. Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. 1977. Translated by Richard Howard, University of California Press, 1994. Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share: Volumes II and III. Translated by Robert Hurley, Zone Books, 1993, --Eroticism: Death and Sensuality. Translated by Mary Dalwood, City Lights Books, 1986. --"Happiness, Eroticism, Literature." The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism, translated by Michael Richardson, Verso, 1994, pp. 186-208. --Theory of Religion. Translated by Robert Hurley, Zone Books, 1992. --"What is Sex?" George Bataille: Critical Essays Volume One: 1944-1948, edited by Benjamin Noys and Alberto Toscano, translated by Chris Turner, Seagull Books, 2023, pp. 134-45. Baudelaire, Charles. "Satan's Litanies." Flowers of Evil. Translated by Robert Howard, Godine, 2022, pp. 143-45. The Bible. The New Standard Revised Version with Apocrypha, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Libreria Editrace Vaticana, 2003, Accessed 1 October 2023. Derrida, Jacques. The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation. Edited by Christie McDonald and translated by Peggy Kamuf, University of Nebraska Press, 1988. Josipovici, Gabriel. The Book of God: A Response to the Bible. Yale University Press, 1988. --On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion. Yale University Press, 1999. Kristeva, Julia. Tales of Love. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia University Press, 1987. Nancy, Jean-Luc. Sexistence. Translated by Steven Miller, Fordham University Press, 2021. Sade, Marquis de. "Philosophy in the Bedroom." Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. Compiled and translated by Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse, Grove Press, 1965, pp. 177-367. Simmel, Georg. "Individualism in Art." Georg Simmel: Essays on Art and Aesthetics, edited and translated by Austin Harrington, University of Chicago Press, 2020, pp. 191-96. Steinberg, Leo. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. 2nd ed., University of Chicago Press, 1997. Sturgis, Matthew. Wilde: A Life. Knopf, 2021. Wilde, Oscar. "The Critic as Artist." The Complete Work of Oscar Wilde: Stories, Plays, Poems, and Essays. HarperPerennial, 2008, pp. 1009-1059. --"To Lord Alfred Douglas." The Letters of Oscar Wilde, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis, Harcourt, 1962, pp. 423-511. --"The Soul of Man under Socialism." The Complete Work of Oscar Wilde: Stories, Plays, Poems, and Essays. HarperPerennial, 2008, pp. 1079-1104. Wroe, Ann. Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself. Pantheon Books, 2007. Yeats, W. B. "Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop." The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats, edited by Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach, Macmillan, 1968, p. 513. Data collection methodology: Scanned De Profundis and Wilde's materials, noting theoretical notions presented in various other texts by Kristeva, Bataille, and others. Books in our libraries were gathered, and extras were purchased. This is a text-based project requiring only textual materials as found in literature and philosophy.