Innocence and Rapture: The Erotic Child in Pater, Wilde, James, and Nabokov
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To perceive the central role of the erotic child in decadent aesthetics is to perceive the queer potential of literary pleasure in aestheticism. Such is Kevin Ohi’s claim in Innocence and Rapture, where detailed readings of Pater, Wilde, James, and Nabokov contrast the erotic child of aestheticism with the innocent child of contemporary sexual ideology. The protection of innocence aims, above all, to safeguard certainties of meaning and identity; at stake is less the well-being of any child than an autonomy unruptured by equivocal origination. The disorientations of meaning and identity that today occasion panic and punitive enforcement mark for aestheticist writers nothing short of the rapturous possibilities of art. An attentive reading of aestheticist style cannot but confront its queerness; aestheticism’s rapture, this book argues, harbors an unexamined political potential, which calls into question contemporary conceptions of childhood innocence and the ideologies of sexual normalcy that sustain them.
again on “indifference,” correlated here to a surmounting of loss: “It means the life of one for whom, over and over again, what was once precious has become indifferent” (183). This cultivated indifference seems to mark both an abstraction (divesting oneself of personal investments, relinquishing attachments or interests) and an assimilation (making the precious object part of the self as knowledge or experience). Pater’s rendition of “serenity” thus incorporates the conflictual, contradictory
emphasized in this circular return is the older Florian’s alienation from his younger self, a disjunction or displacement highlighted in the reiterated way of naming the younger Florian: “The child of whom I am writing.” Writing—linked in the tabula rasa passage to the very formation that would be narrated—is here identified as that which 54 Innocence and Rapture prevents the narrating “I” from coinciding with itself. Foregrounding the act of positing the past, the formulation—“the child of
the alternation between movement and stillness is enacted syntactically in the sentences’ combination, alternately, of semantic immobility (“polished leaves”) with syntactic motion (a construction centered on an action verb) and semantic movement (“tremulous” daisies) with syntactical stasis (a construction centered on a predicate adjective: “daisies were tremulous” rather than “daisies trembled”). Similarly, in other descriptions, sentences are, on the one hand, waylaid by heavy adjectival
things” to give way to “fresh shapes and colours” and for the “remaking [of ] the world in its antique pattern” to give way to a world “refashioned anew” is linked to a desire to obliterate conscious forms of obligation or regret haunting memory (and where the merging oppositions of joy and bitterness, pleasure and pain repeat those framing sleep at the beginning). The repeated or s make the linked alternatives for a remade world enactments of such refashioning: a series of parallel,
the panicked disavowal of eroticism, might be to begin hearing what Miles has to say before smothering him with protection. Thwarting any too opti-mistic assertion of escape, The Turn of the Screw underlines the pleasures of erotic innocence, and of succumbing to its traps. But is also hints at the pleasures of listening to what Miles might have to say. The difficulty of distinguishing between listening and forcing a confession—joining the governess as she squeezes the knowledge out of him—points