<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>Dancing on the Threshold: Wilde's <i>Salomé</i> between Symbolist, Decadent, and Modernist Aesthetics</b> <p> <p> By the time Oscar Wilde got to the story of Salome, such writers as Heine, Flaubert, Mallarmé, Laforgue, and Huysmans (together with Moreau, Regnault, and other visual artists) had already fundamentally transformed the sparse biblical account of John the Baptist's martyrdom in the gospels of Mark (6:14–29) and Matthew (14:1–12). From the tale of a nameless, innocent daughter who obediently helps her power-hungry mother get rid of her dangerous personal and political opponent John the Baptist, who had denounced Herodias's incestuous marriage to Herod, the story had morphed into a lurid tale of dangerous female sexuality and cunning, physical passion, and pathological perversity. It focused on the daughter herself, who had by now regained the name first given to her by the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in <i>Antiquities of the Jews</i> (the first written historical record of John the Baptist's imprisonment and death at Herod's court, c. 93). As far as the gospel writers' accounts were concerned, Wilde "complained of the docility of the Biblical Salome, who simply obeys Herodias, and, once she receives the head, conveys it to her mother. The inadequacy of this account, Wilde said, 'has made it necessary for the centuries to heap up dreams and visions at her feet so as to convert her into the cardinal flower of the perverse garden'" (Ellmann, <i>Oscar Wilde</i> 344). Such scholars as Françoise Meltzer (<i>Salome and the Dance of Writing</i>) and Megan Becker-Leckrone have analyzed the intertextual and "fetishistic" obsessions with the fin de siècle Salome figure, which have much to do with the mystery and "secret-effect" of her irreducible narrative, which produced "a two-thousand-year-old game of textual telephone" (Becker-Leckrone 242, 251). Yet "[t]he dancing daughter we envision in the twenty-first century is a product of the mythic figure created by Wilde and Strauss" (Skaggs 125), not the biblical one or any of the other Salomes created during the European fin de siècle, when the Salome theme was "so prevalent in painting, literature, and music of the French-oriented Decadence, 1870–1914, that it has to be considered a significant cultural phenomenon, a symptom" (Rose, "Synchronic Salome" 146). <p> This chapter starts with the premise that simply looking at Wilde's <i>Salomé</i> in the nineteenth-century context disregards the truly innovative, subversive, forward-looking features of his play. Salomé's and Wilde's erotic and aesthetic transgressions embody central fantasies and fears of Western cultural and philosophical modernity far beyond the fin de siècle. Hence my analysis does not merely reconstruct the obvious historical chain of influence on Wilde's play and weigh his debts to predecessors, as other scholars have done, but offers a critical assessment of some of the major intellectual and aesthetic figurations that broadly prepared and influenced Wilde's conception and helped Wilde create a seminal text for the modernist aesthetics of transgression. <p> <p> Mallarmé's "Hérodiade" and <i>Salomé'</i>s Modern Aesthetic Idealism <p> Wilde's Salomé is a peculiar dramatic character. Profoundly isolated and alienated from others in her vaguely biblical yet timeless world, ruthless to the point of murder, obstinate and self-determined, touchingly vulnerable and soaring to lyrical heights of both hatred and love in her obsessive pursuit of pure beauty, Wilde's princess inspires horror and fascination in equal measures. For Salomé's configuration as an existentially lonely, misunderstood lover of ideal beauty, her contradictory character traits, and her symbolic scenic counterpart in the play, the moon, Wilde is particularly indebted to Stéphane Mallarmé's "Hérodiade." First conceived as a verse drama to be performed at the Théâtre Français but reconfigured as a dramatic poem after its rejection, "Hérodiade" was Mallarmé's self-declared masterpiece and obsession for over three decades. Despite multiple revisions, the piece remained unfinished at the time of Mallarmé's death in 1898. Fragments were circulated among the symbolist <i>maître</i>'s adoring friends and associates in Paris, however. Of these, "La Scène: La Nourrice—Hérodiade" is the most relevant for Wilde's version, since it contains the most extensive characterization of Hérodiade and most closely expresses the symbolist aesthetic that attracted Wilde. It was also the only one published during Mallarmé's and Wilde's lifetimes. Wilde attended many of Mallarmé's famous mardis gatherings while writing <i>Salomé</i> in Paris (1890–91) and was well acquainted with the work (Shewan, <i>Oscar Wilde</i>, 106–13). <p> "Hérodiade" was important as a model of the avant-garde French symbolist poetics and style that Wilde sought to emulate for the English stage. Even though Hérodiade does not dance in this text, it is the crown jewel of a larger body of work on dancers and dance by Mallarmé, in which he used female ballet dancers and the famous Loïe Fuller as ideal models for the fraught poetic quest for truth and beauty, encapsulated in these well-known lines from his essay "Ballets": "the dancer is not a woman who dances ... she is not a woman, but a metaphor ... she does not dance, suggesting, through the miracle of shortcuts and bounds, with a corporal writing what it would take paragraphs of prose, in dialogue and description, to express: she is a poem set free of any scribe's apparatus" (<i>Mallarmé in Prose</i> 109). Mallarmé lets his Hérodiade speak in beautiful, evocative poetic riddles to transport the reader into a symbolist universe of synesthesia, ennui, and reverie; the style of the poem embodies the corporalization of affect on which both Wilde and Strauss build in their versions. Chapter 2 discusses Mallarmé's style in more detail; here I wish to focus on his second major area of influence on <i>Salomé:</i> the protomodernist character of the Salome figure, whom Mallarmé calls "Hérodiade" to set her apart from previous Salomes. Mallarmé breaks with the gospels' presentation of the nameless, innocent dancing daughter used as a tool by her power-hungry mother (Mark 6:17–28; Matthew 14:3–11) and also with the theme's indirect association with incest and prostitution in Josephus's <i>Antiquities of the Jews</i> (the historical first-century AD account on which the biblical story is based). Instead, he made Salome/Hérodiade the central figure and put her inner struggles as well as her search for ideal beauty at the center of the legend. This creative interpretation of Hérodiade prepared the ground for Wilde's focus on Salomé's aesthetic individualism. Along with the iconic embodiment of symbolist aesthetics in "Hérodiade," Wilde also picked up Mallarmé's protomodernist conception of Hérodiade as a postreligious, rebellious, and split self in search of wholeness. "Hérodiade" anticipates such intrinsically modernist human concerns as existential isolation, human alienation, and rebellious modern individualism (the individual's attempt to argue and wrestle with fate in order to establish agency in the face of likely meaninglessness and defeat), and so does Wilde's Salomé. Hérodiade's suffering, pride, and impetuous rebellion already connect her to the crisis of the modern subject that we identify with early modernist culture, so aptly described by Nietzsche and the literary modernists as a challenging and confusing world after the death of God, in which human beings have to fight with existential loneliness and meaninglessness. <p> A strong sense of isolation, enclosure, and lack of human interaction permeates "Hérodiade." Mallarmé's heroine lives in a walled-in, hermetic "tour cinéraire et sacrificatrice, / Lourde tombe qu'a fuie un bel oiseau" ("cinerary tower of sacrifice, / Heavy tomb that a songbird has fled"), a tomblike place of stasis, decay, and disillusion (<i>Collected Poems</i>, trans. Henry Weinfield, 29). This was later splendidly parodied by Jules Laforgue, who placed his own ironic modernist Salomé in a hyperbolic place of solitary confinement, as a lonely princess in an isolated fortress in the remote Esoteric White Islands in his <i>Moralités Légendaires</i> (1887). With a kind nurse as her only caretaker and companion, Hérodiade is "exilée en son coeur précieux / Comme un cygne cachant en sa plume les yeux" ("exiled in her proud heart / Like a swan that hides its eyes in its plumage" [trans. Weinfield, 29]). In an 1865 letter to Eugène Lefébure, Mallarmé expressed his wish to isolate Hérodiade like a "solitary tableau," drawing her purely as "a creature of dream, with absolutely no link with history" (<i>Selected Letters</i> 47). Although she interacts with the Nurse, Hérodiade rejects the latter's fond kisses and touch. She is unable to feel any human kinship or fond connection even with her earliest caretaker, and she experiences her virginal beauty as a deadly, frozen state that not even the Nurse's kisses are able to penetrate: "Reculez. / ... O femme, un baiser me tûrait / Si la beauté n'était la mort" ("Stand back. / ... O woman, a kiss would kill me / If beauty was not death" [trans. Weinfield, 29]). <p> As Mallarmé's mouthpiece of the new symbolist aesthetic, Hérodiade turns away from the organic and celebrates the artificial. Hérodiade exists in isolated splendor and self-sufficiency, pure and perfect, highly stylized and artificial, virginal and sterile. She is "a creature self-purified of humanity" (Rose, "Daughters of Herodias" 174), signified by the metaphor of the "blond torrent" of Hérodiade's metallic, immaculate hair, which Hérodiade keeps stripped of all signs not only of femininity (flowers, perfumes) but of humanity (human pain). <p> <p> Je veux que mes cheveux qui ne sont pas des fleurs<br> A répandre l'oubli des humaines douleurs,<br> Mais de l'or, à jamais vierge des aromates,<br> Dans leurs éclairs cruels et dans leurs pâleurs mates,<br> Observent la froideur stérile du métal,<br> Vous ayant reflétés, joyaux du mur natal,<br> Armes, vases depuis ma solitaire enfance.<br> (30)<br> <p> <p> Hérodiade pursues this ideal of cold, hard, sterile stasis even though it separates her entirely from other human beings. Utterly solitary, she has learned to delight in the autoerotic touch of her pure hair on a virginal and gloriously "useless" flesh. <p> <p> J'aime l'horreur d'être vierge et je veux<br> Vivre parmi l'effroi que me font mes cheveux<br> Pour, le soir, retirée en ma couche, reptile<br> Inviolé sentir en la chair inutile ...<br> (34)<br> <p> <p> Mallarmé brings Hérodiade's extreme self-centeredness to the fore when the Nurse asks for whom Hérodiade saves herself. Hérodiade replies unequivocally, "Pour moi." Hérodiade seeks nothing human; she sees herself like a deserted flower that blooms only for herself, in isolated splendor ("je ne veux rien d'humain ... / Oui, c'est pour moi, pour moi, que je fleuris, déserte!" ). Such unapologetic narcissism prefigures the insistence of Oscar Wilde's Salomé on her own idiosyncratic pleasure when she proudly asserts, "I do not heed my mother. It is for mine own pleasure that I ask the head of Jokanaan in a silver charger" (<i>Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde</i> [henceforth cited as CCW] 600). <p> Salomé's concept of beauty is abstract and pure, similar to Hérodiade's. In Salomé's invocations of the moon, she professes an inhuman ideal of beauty; similarly, it is not Jokanaan's human aspect but, rather, his abstract qualities as an earthly embodiment of the pure ideal that attract Salomé. Jokanaan the person is beside the point; Salomé's descriptions of his beauty suggest the same preference for coldness, chastity, inhumanity, and precious metals or materials (silver, ivory) that she associates with the moon. When she first lays eyes on Jokanaan, she calls his body a thin ivory statue, an image, and a shaft of silver. She also admires Jokanaan's "terrible" eyes, black and lifeless like black holes, caverns, or lakes. Emphasizing the uniqueness and otherworldliness of Jokanaan's beauty, she points out repeatedly that "nothing in the world" can compare to him. She cannot forget or overcome her desire: "I loved thee yet, Jokanaan, I love thee only.... I am athirst for thy beauty; I am hungry for thy body; and neither wine nor fruits can appease my desire. What shall I do now, Jokanaan? Neither the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion" (<i>CCW</i> 604). In Mallarmé's "Scène," by contrast, Hérodiade's love for John the Baptist and the story of his death are strangely absent (if perhaps unintentionally so, since the text remains a fragment). <p> Like Salomé, Hérodiade finds no solace among human beings. In fact, it is an especially ironic feature of Mallarmé's text that others, who admire the beautiful Hérodiade with radiant, diamond-like eyes, only increase her loneliness: they do not see Hérodiade's incompletion and unhappiness even though they are looking right at her. Ironically, others' adoration of supposed perfection only further cements Hérodiade's utter loneliness, and she is aware of it: "Je me crois seule en ma monotone patrie / Et tout, autour de moi, vit dans l'idolâtrie/ ... [d'] Hérodiade au clair regard de diamant ... / Ô charme dernier, oui! Je le sens, je suis seule" ("I am alone in my monotonous country, / While all those around me live in the idolatry / Of ... Hérodiade, whose gaze is diamond keen ... / O final enchantment! Yes, I sense it, I am alone" [trans. Weinfield, 34]). <p> The isolating look or gaze is a major theme in Wilde's text as well. Like Hérodiade, Salomé is constantly pursued and haunted by adoring eyes and minds attracted to her outward beauty. The other characters approach Salomé as a looking glass for their own narcissistic desires and needs, and yet they do not truly see her: Salomé is simultaneously the center of attention and completely alone. Wilde's play unfolds as a circle of frustrated looking with desire, awe, or doubt, introduced via two characters who look at Herod looking at someone. <p> <p> First Soldier: The Tetrarch has a sombre look.<br> Second Soldier: Yes, he has a sombre look.<br> First Soldier: He is looking at something.<br> Second Soldier: He is looking at some one.<br> First Soldier: At whom is he looking?<br> Second Soldier: I cannot tell.<br> (<i>CCW</i> 584)<br> <p> <p> Herod's looks at Salomé are initially open to interpretation, but it quickly becomes clear that they are inappropriately sexual. Salomé is repelled by Herod's looks; she asks herself why the Tetrarch "look[s] at me all the while with his mole's eyes under his shaking eyelids? It is strange that the husband of my mother looks at me like that" (586). She initially pretends ignorance, but she quickly admits to herself that she intuits his meaning: "I know not what it means. In truth, yes I know it" (ibid.). <p> Others are also looking at Salomé or look at others who look at Salomé. Narraboth constantly follows Salomé with his gaze; the Page of Herodias looks at Narraboth and warns his beloved that he should not look at the princess: "You are always looking at her. You look at her too much. It is dangerous to look at people in such a fashion" (584). Salomé promises Narraboth to look and smile at him through her muslin veil when she passes by in her litter the next day, yet she only uses Narraboth, who kills himself in despair. The soldiers look at Herod looking at Salomé; Herodias also looks at Herod and tries to avert his gaze from her daughter. She echoes the page's earlier warnings: "You must not look at her! You are always looking at her!" (592). Salomé, of course, looks at Jokanaan, who refuses to look at her and pays the ultimate price. Looking too much implies danger in Wilde's play; it is precarious and fatal. The circle of desire, like an eddy, will draw one in closer and closer, until all willpower and agency are lost: "Something terrible may happen," the page ominously intones (584). Not only are three characters dead by the end of the play (Narraboth, Jokanaan, and Salomé), but no one truly commands the object of his or her passionate fantasies. All lose what they most desire. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Salome's Modernity</b> by <b>Petra Dierkes-Thrun</b> Copyright © 2011 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.