Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

"The Idea Of Beauty In Their Persons:" Dandyism And The Haunting Of Contemporary Masculinity

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Juan Bes (Other)

Third Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Committee Member)


In this dissertation, I argue for the dandy as a spectral force haunting contemporary masculinity. Using the framework of Derridean hauntology, I posit that certain contemporary performances of masculinity engage with discourses of dandyism, and that such performances open up a space for the potential expression of a masculine identity founded on an alterity to hegemonic gender norms. The basis for this alterity derives from the philosophical underpinnings of dandyism as articulated by its most prominent nineteenth century theorizers. As a result, I divide my study into two halves: the first focuses on a close reading of texts by Balzac, d’Aurevilly, and Baudelaire; the second centers on three case studies illustrating the spectral nature of dandiacal performance in relationship to contemporary masculinity. Chapter One establishes the framework for my argument, articulating the way in which both nineteenth century French philosophical dandyism and Derrida’s concept of hauntology, particularly his “three things of the thing” (mourning, language, and work), serves to structure the rest of the study. Chapters, Two, Three, and Four, which constitute Part I, provide close readings of texts by Balzac, d’Aurevilly, and Baudelaire, respectively. Chapters Five, Six, and Seven form Part II, and consist of individual case studies examining the spectral traces of dandyism in performances of masculinity by three contemporary celebrities. Chapter Five takes as its subject the self-proclaimed dandy Sebastian Horsley. I position him as the object of a performative act of mourning, one which identifies and locates the spectrality within the dandy’s performance. In Chapter Six, I explore the commodification of the dandy’s identity in the person of David Beckham, deploying Werner Hamacher’s arguments about commodity-language as a means of exploring the dandiacal performance’s relationship to contemporary consumer culture. Andre Benjamin, more popularly known as Andre 3000 of the hip-hop duo OutKast, serves as subject for Chapter Seven’s case study. I foreground Benjamin’s performance as an expression of the dandiacal imagination serving as a kind of transformative “labor.” Ultimately, I argue that such performances result in the potential for a masculinity less constrained by the conventions of hegemonic gender norms.