Queens of Hearts: Dorian, Princess Diana and the Sign of the Authentic
AbstractContemporary culture is caught in a representational bind: fascinated by - and yet tired of - its tendency towards artifice and involution, whilst simultaneously attracted to - and yet sceptical of - the idea of the authentic. The hermeneutical confusion brought about by this self-identity crisis has given rise to a semiotic indistinction around artificiality and authenticity, leaving the observer trapped not by their bipolarity, but caught within their layers as they interleave. This essay explores the ramifications of this through an examination of the relationship between Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and Will Self’s Dorian: An Imitation (2002). Identifying the imitative intent of Self’s rewrite as problematic, the essay situates the twentieth-century’s shift towards an ethic of private authenticity over sincerity as indicative of a significant change in self and social understanding. However the demands and desires of late-capitalism have made it increasingly difficult to isolate what that authenticity might mean, and what credibility can be attached to it. By examining Self’s portrayal of Princess Diana’s life and death, it is argued that for all its importance as a signifier of value, contemporary authenticity is hopelessly caught within the representational order of the artificial.