While Sontag is prepared to acknowledge the moral dimension to stylization, Dick Hebdige has argued for its political potential - particularly when associated with the transgressive and transformative practices of subcultures. He begins by claiming that Jean Genet 'more than most has explored in his life and work the subversive implications of style' and identifies Genet's major themes as the 'status and meaning of revolt, the idea of style as a form of Refusal, the elevation of crime into art' and sees these as central to his own analysis.76 I would argue that Wilde's own life and work are at least as instructive as Genet's, and that Hebdige's list is equally descriptive of Wilde's major preoccupations. Hebdige focuses on Genet's The Thief's Journal and his description of how a tube of vaseline, found in his possession, is confiscated by the Spanish police during a raid - and how it is thus transformed by Genet into a badge of his 'otherness', and his refusal of the heterosexual norm. For Hebdige, Genet's example provides a way of beginning to understand post-war youth subcultures: 'Like Genet also, we are intrigued by the most mundane objects-a safety-pin, a pointed shoe, a motor cycle-which, none the less, like the tube of vaseline, take on a symbolic function, becoming a form of stigmata, tokens of a self-imposed exile.'77 Much the same might be said of Wilde's significant ephemera such as the green carnation buttonhole and the dandy's cravat, waistcoat and rings. For Hebdige, the process whereby objects signify in subculture begins with a crime against the natural order, 'though in this case the deviation may seem slight indeedthe cultivation of a quiff, the acquisition of a scooter or a record or a certain kind of suit.'78 However, the process ends with the construction of a style which issues an oblique challenge to hegemony on behalf of a specific subculture: a challenge displayed at 'the profoundly superficial level of appearances: that is, at the level of signs.'79 Wilde's own manipulation of profound superficiality was an attempt to maintain a kind of 'exile' within societyan increasingly precarious attempt to enjoy celebrity, wealth and position while interrogating them (Wilde commodified himself for a society he was simultaneously contradicting). In this respect, he foreshadowed the paradoxical relationship of post-war subcultural style to the social and political hegemonies it successively tried to undermine; Hebdige points to the continual processes of recuperation by which the 'fractured order' is repaired and the 'subculture incorporated as a diverting spectacle within the dominant ideology from which it in part emanates.'80 I shall return, in the final chapter, to Wilde's significance for contemporary 'popular' style, with a particular
emphasis on dandyism and its complex relationship to stardom. But for the moment I want to concentrate on the relevance to Wilde of one particular technique which Hebdige regards as constitutive of a politically charged subcultural style: bricolage.