"And one lucky bastard who’s the artist" : V. I. Lenin and Oscar Wilde's ideologico-aesthetic debate in Tom Stoppard's Travesties
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Tom Stoppard's play Travesties was revised considerably between its first edition of 1975 and the new edition of 1994, with the parts pertaining to V. I. Lenin and Marxism bearing the brunt of the cuts. The political fall of Marxism is not sufficient to account for these cuts since the play occurs in 1974 via the erratic memory of Henry Carr, a minor official at the British consulate in Zurich in 1917. The published textual history of Travesties is also insufficient to account for Lenin's diminishment. The archive of the play's composition at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin provides a more detailed history of the play's debate over whether or not an artist can also be a revolutionary, suggesting that the debate can be reduced to two sides, one representing the subversive wit of Oscar Wilde via the intertext The Importance of Being Earnest and the other Leninist-Marxist functional-revolutionary aesthetics. The genius of Wilde functions like an ideologico-aesthetic edifice, manipulating the action to maintain its hegemonic position via theatrical devices in three main ways. Joyce, Tzara, and Carr are pitted against each other in order to split the Wildean aesthetic that makes a claim to the inextricable linkage of freedom and subversion in a sort of aesthetic Bunburyism, which displaces the terms of the debate from an ontology of the artist to the ethics of art. The 'time slip' device simultaneously lets us enjoy and neutralizes the obscene underside of Wildean subversive wit by allowing the play to go "off the rails" (12) and quickly rebound to a state of normalcy. These previous two features represent an effort to demonize Lenin by denying the subversive creativity he shows in the pursuit of his goals. Travesties, in its valorization of detached subversive wit, answers the question of whether an artist can simultaneously be a revolutionary with a dizzying 'no.'