Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Teaching Day (Wilde)

Tiptoeing through the tulips of figurative language today, distinguishing tropes from schemes, highlighting the four master tropes (metaphor, metonyny, synecdoche, irony), as well as introducing the catachresis and paradox (tropological hanky panky at the lexical and propositional level, respectively). From paradox, where better to go than Oscar Wilde? We will discuss "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," which deploys paradox to demolish every authoritarian formation it gets its hands on, from church to charity, beginning with the poignant paradox that matters most of all, namely, that we are dispossessed by our possessiveness -- but then paradoxically traps Wilde himself, who in his effort to control the terms on which he circulates in a murderously heterosexist society he re-erects property as art and his dispossessed himself. To amplify this point we read Wilde's marvelous "Phrases and Philosophies for the Instruction of the Young" and his defensive Preface to his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, both of which take the uncharacteristic form of a string of loosely related paradoxical assertions without the usual connective tissue of framing, elaboration, support. I compare this rhetorical strategy to the one deployed in Soul of Man, and then discuss its devastating vulnerability, as demonstrated in the transcripts of Wilde's trial in which the juridical energies he always dreaded and defied re-literalize his paradoxical figures and make his gorgeous rhetoric a leaden weight as constraining as a shackle.

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