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Sunday, October 18, 2015

On Oscar Wilde

Published posthumously in 1905, De Profundis is an angry manifesto which details the greed of Douglas, his vicious slights and most of all, his ingratitude. “While you were with me,” writes Wilde, “you were the absolute ruin of my art.” The relationship – which as Wilde stresses throughout he repeatedly attempted to end – drained him emotionally, artistically and financially. Wilde’s tone is formal and dramatic. Written, a page a day, on prison notepaper, the letter looks beyond a destructive affair, and reveals Wilde reaching an understanding about life, his response to it and his awareness of the time and gifts he had wasted. He was aware, and history agrees, that he could have achieved far more had he lived longer. His heartfelt letter also serves as a metaphysical meditation about the role of the artist.

“I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age... Few men hold such a position in their own lifetime, and have it so acknowledged. It is usually discerned, if discerned at all, by the historian, or the critic, long after both the man and his age have passed away. With me it was different. I felt it myself, and made others feel it…The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring; I made art a philosophy and philosophy an art; I altered the minds of men and the colours of things… to truth itself I gave what is false no less than what is true as its rightful province, and showed that the false and the true are merely forms of intellectual existence. I treated art as the supreme reality and life as a mere mode of fiction.”

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