A two-parter: As mentioned in class previously, Beerbohm ends his essay, "The Pervasion of Rouge" with a call to a party: "She is kind. Let us dance and be glad, and trip the cockawhoop! Artifice, sweetest exile, is come into her kingdom."

The word cockawhoop, as discussed, is an archaic term from ostensibly British mass culture, which acted much like Swift's "devoured" and Wilde's "Oh, but nature is so uncomfortable..." — the break that allowed the contemporary (meaning 1990-2005, not contemporary of Beerbohm) reader a glimpse at Beerbohm's smirk. It typified the aesthetes' punchy attitude towards Victorian seriousness, but while it precedes the period by a while, it seems like a dig at high modernism's division between "high" and "low" culture. In an essay that seeks to refine and educate the wealthy, it uses a word that absolutely no one could have known — "cockawhoop" was archaic at the time of publishing. At the same time, the word was borrowed from a "lower" popular culture, and is closer in spirit, if you will, to the unwashed masses.

My question: does the essay fail to meet this standard I've given it? Where does Beerbohm fall back into the old one-two of the early moderns' split in culture?

Jean-Luc Godard once described film as "magic, and a crime (from Cahiers du Cinema)." Jacques Derrida is quick to rescue the primacy of the "violence" and "poisonous image" (from Of Grammatology) of writing. But nearly 100 years earlier, Oscar Wilde sought, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, to reclaim "lying."

The actual people who live in Japan are not unlike the general run of English people; that is to say, they are extremeley commonplace, and have nothing curious or extraordinary about them. In fact, the whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people.

Art never expresses anything but itself.

Lying, of course, has a definition closer to "metaphor" or "imagination" in Wilde's essay. But nonetheless, Wilde writes a few of his characteristic epigrams — a touch catty, but frighteningly wise and prescient. Unlike the theorists I've glossed over, Wilde's speaker, Vivian, does not avoid a gaping trap in the project of critical theory on the image — completely reversing the mimetic model: "Life is Art's best, Art's only pupil." The trap of this, of course, is that by merely playing role reversal, it reasserts the primacy of the original model, even when attempting to demolish it. That may be unavoidable, as the essay is a reaction to an era very long before the 1960s

My first question: much like Swift, can we take this seriously? Wilde's double moves in satire and seriousness here are, well, doubly confusing, given the period — in a time where this mode of criticism would have been found absurd and comical, how do we take an absurd and comical satire that puts these views forth?

And another: how can we take Wilde's main two modes of rhetorical power here? Most of his statements are delivered in epigram, not far from a sage-y sententia, and most of his evidence is in very specific, and equally crabby examples (note his sentence on Henry James). Is this another Beerbohmian poke at seriousness, a bad rhetorical move, or maybe a clue at how to read the essay?


Victorian Web Overview Aesthetes & Decadents Max Beerbohm Oscar Wilde Leading Questions

Last modified 6 April 2005