Dustin Friedman deposited “The rarest, most complex & most lately developed form of aestheticism”: Olive Schreiner, decadence, and the aesthetic education of the senses in the group TM Literary and Cultural Theory on MLA Commons 1 year, 8 months ago
This essay focuses on Olive Schreiner’s personal correspondence and the allegories collected in Dreams (1890) to explore her complicated relationship to late-Victorian Decadence. I argue that Schreiner modified Decadent writers’ use of intersensoriality and synaesthesia to educate her readers into a new kind of common sense, one aligned with her own position as a progressive woman writer from the global periphery. While she rejected the exclusivity, individualism, and celebration of sensual indulgence for its own sake found in much canonical Decadent writing, she was nevertheless inspired by its deployment of the aesthetic to retrain the body to appreciate alternatives to a sensus communis of the kind described in Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790). She saw Decadence encouraging the discovery of new ways of perceiving reality beyond the apparent “common sense” of Victorian liberal humanism. Like the Decadents, but in her own way, Schreiner challenged the aesthetic norms that helped to secure the hegemony of bourgeois European culture, contributing to the late nineteenth century’s broad eruption of interest in art’s role in both producing and contesting the prevailing liberal order.