Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Importance of Becoming Oscar

I have always been a devoted Oscar Wilde fan. I can remember discussing The Importance of Being Earnest in one of my college courses and how shocked I was that the rest of the class had written him off as "amusing." "Amusing?!," I stammered in horror. How could they not recognize the scathing rebuke of the morals and ethics of Victorian society?

I have sense come to realize that very few take darling Oscar seriously. One shimmering exception is the writer/actor/director, Mr. Stephen Fry. Mr. Fry's recent blog post on Oscar Wilde touched me and I hope you enjoy it also.

Wallpaper, by Stephen Fry

. . . “Why, Mr. Wilde, do you think America is such a violent country?”

“I can tell you why,” he said. “It’s susceptible readily of an explanation. America is such a violent country because your wallpaper is so ugly.”

Now that seems, you might snort with laughter at first and say, “Well, how amusing.” Part you you may say, “Well this is just a typical peacocking primped camp remark from a shallow and trivial man who thinks it’s amusing to say things like that.”

But actually, to understand what the Aesthetic Movement is all about, one has to take that quite seriously. Instead of judging things as being good or bad, things are judged by whether they are beautiful or ugly. And we may say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but actually it’s a lot easier to judge when things are beautiful than it is when things are bad or good. We spend our time puzzling dreadfully over whether we can interpret something as being wicked or whether it’s virtuous. However, beauty, beauty, beauty acts on us in a very real way, and what Wilde was partly saying was, if we look out of the window into our world, we see things that are universally and entirely beautiful from nature. Whether they be palm trees swaying in an island, whether they be the arctic wastes, whether they be deserts, tundra steps. It doesn’t matter where you look in the world, we see nothing but beauty. Unconditional, remarkable beauty.

And what Wilde is saying is, imagine belonging to a species where all you believe that all you can do to the world is to uglify it. To make it worse. To despoil it. Which is what we do. We know that now in real and profound and terrible ways that Wilde couldn’t have known about because the science hadn’t yet discovered quite how harmful we are as a species to our planet. But he could see that we were harmful to our planet in terms of its aesthetics. That we were making the earth uglier. Uglier with bad architecture, uglier with badly designed factories, uglier with badly stamped out tin trays and cheap ornaments, ugly with appalling wallpaper. And if you’re someone who grows up in such an environment, who is surrounded by badly made ugly things, then you think ugly thoughts of yourself and world. You think ugly thoughts of your whole species. There is nothing for you to do but to, to, to crap in your own nest. It’s what we do when we don’t believe in ourselves. And so although it seems a cheap response to a question about violence, the aesthetic point if view is actually I think a very valuable one, a very profound one, a very extraordinary one. And it makes people think beyond the knee-jerk reflexes of conventional morality, of revealed texts, whether they be the Bible, the Koran or the Communist Manifesto. It doesn’t matter. You’ve got to think harder than that, Wilde was arguing.

1 comment:

Renae said...

Very interesting post, Mrs. Fox. Thank you for encouraging us to think!

I know what you meant, in your previous post, about the weather being too lovely to stay indoors. It has been so beautiful here in Texas, I just want to put my hands in the dirt and plant things!

Blessings to you.