Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2007—2008 Forum on Origins
French, Comp Lit
“A Cult of the Self”: Dandyism and the Origins of Gay Identity
In the contemporary world, “sexual orientation” has become an axiomatic facet of one’s individual identity. If we agree with queer theory’s dating of the alleged origin of “sexual identity” as we know it at the end of the nineteenth century, what insight can we gain from an analysis of a concomitant cultural emergence, the practice of dandyism? With particular attention to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), along with the works of French writers such as Charles Baudelaire, I intend to examine the various relationships which bind together the aestheticized lifestyle of the dandy with the notion of “the” homosexual as a distinct type of individual. A study of this incipient moment of gay identity will, in all hope, provide us with new ways of understanding the imbrications of sexuality, selfhood, and material culture in our consumerist age.