“Learned, lively, and original” –Jessica Feldman
Dandyism: Forming Fiction from Modernism to the Present (UVA, 2020) explores the gendered reception of aestheticism in the twentieth-century Anglophone novel, excavating the impacted, and often self-contradictory, gender ideologies underwriting a broad swathe of the most formally inventive twentieth-century fiction. The dandy’s modernist and postmodernist recodification involves the strategic rinsing of dandyism’s suspect associations with the queer, the effeminate, the recherché—what one might call the dandy’s heteronormalizing masculinization. For writers like Raymond Chandler and Ernest Hemingway, a transformed Victorian aestheticism informs cool prose surfaces overtly associated with machismo. The masculinist recoding of dandiacal aestheticism was not a simple, unidirectional process—the goal was not utterly to expunge the queer from the dandiacal, but to develop strategies for managing its embrace that would be acceptable to a large readership. Chandler and Hemingway are my primary exhibits of this popular macho dandyism, but the formal and intellectual precedents for their innovations can be traced to the pre- and interwar aesthetic theorizing of Wyndham Lewis, T.E. Hulme, and Ezra Pound.
This process’s historical terminus in the “psychopathic dandy” as he appears in such texts as A Clockwork Orange, American Psycho, and Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels pushes the dandy’s aestheticist emphasis on surfaces to its most shocking limit. For Djuna Barnes, conversely, the female dandy finds in aestheticist “decadence” the precedent for baroque interior investigations rendered in highly self-reflexive forms of stylistic parody. William Burroughs extended such paradigmatically fin de siècle concerns even further; his “cut-up” technique literalizes nineteenth-century literary theories about prose decomposition, enacting along the way a radical actualization of modernist claims to aesthetic autonomy. Drawing on modernist scholarship’s recent re-engagement with the aesthetic, and on novel theory’s renewed interest in problems of character, I uncover the formal traces of the affective and aesthetic entanglements occasioned by dandyism, whose history remains crucial long after the period conventionally associated with it.
A shorter version of Dandyism’s second chapter, on Raymond Chandler, Oscar Wilde, and epigrammatic speech, appears in ELH (or here for academia.edu). A much shorter version of Dandyism’s fifth chapter, on Djuna Barnes, decadent style, and parody, appears in Literature Compass (or here for academia.edu). A shorter version of Dandyism‘s third chapter, on William Burroughs, H.G. Wells, and decadent sci-fi, appears in Affirmations: of the modern.