The importance of being Oscar Wilde



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Oscar Wilde, Irish Literary Giant, discusses The Importance of Being Oscar Wilde with Mark Ulyseas at The Late Writers & Readers Festival 

In Gethsemane: Transcripts of a Journey

We are now into the second day of this lively festival of internationally renowned dead writers who have arrived in paradise wearing coats of many cultures waxing eloquent on the frailties of life and the temptations of physiological attractions.

When I dropped into the festival office to collect my Press Lunch Pass I was greeted by the apparition of Oscar Wilde singing platitudes in a longitude position, sipping ever so gently on absinthe whilst tapping his upright knee with his index finger.

He glanced at me and said with a flourish, “My dear fellow are you one of the locals? Could you be so kind as to tell one what a gentleman of leisure may indulge in after 10.30 pm in Ubud, for I’ve noticed it gets awfully quiet and submissive to the elements?”

I invited him to join me on a nocturnal run, down to Kuta, to partake of decadence in throbbing environs.

“You’re a good soul, if ever one exists. Thank you,” he replied.

Before I embark on an evening with a Victorian celebrity permit me to enlighten you on the distinguished gentleman in question.

To understand this famous Irish Playwright of the Victorian Era it is essential to read his two famous works, a play titled The Importance of Being Earnest and the sole novel that he wrote, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin in1854 and died penniless in Paris in 1900. His life as a dandy and bisexual was the subject of much gossip in the hypocritical and suppressed Victorian society. His  downfall came when he was convicted of homoeroticism and incarcerated for two years. On his release he quietly left for Paris where he spent the last three years of his life under the assumed name of Sebastian Melmoth. He is buried at the Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The works of Oscar Wilde continues to be relevant even today where sections of society in many countries still remain suppressed by self appointed moralists masquerading as keepers of a faith.

Later in the day when the sun had set and the full moon rose to the occasion, we drove down to Mix Well on Jalan Dyana Pura to witness the likes of Priscilla Queen of The Desert perform, in the heat of the night, a hip displacing rendition of Dancing Queen.

The steamy atmosphere, blinking lights and perspiring bodies of plebeians sandwiched between Johnny Walkers and Bintangs was acutely unbearable even for Oscar who appeared flustered by the scene.

“Let’s go somewhere else, please”, he said.

We walked across the street to Kudos and ensconced ourselves on a cement sofa festooned with red cushions; and soon we were whetting our whistles with strawberry martinis and gazing, albeit a bit distractedly, at the shenanigans of the night crawlers.

I turned to Oscar and asked, “Could you share with the readers some of your thoughts on life in general and a brief sketch of your novel The Picture of Dorian Gray?”

His reply encapsulated a number of his witticisms from his published works and is probably familiar to Wilde’s avid followers. However, for the benefit of those unfortunates who have yet to encounter this literary
giant’s outpourings, here is a taste of Oscar Wilde!

“Let me begin by saying that it is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.

Mark, I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good character and my enemies for their good intellect.

I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.
What a fuss people make about fidelity. Why even in love it is purely a question of physiology. It has nothing to do with our own will. Young men want to be faithful, and are not, old men want to be faithless, and cannot.

And when it comes to reason, I have this to say – I can stand brute force, brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.

As for society – civilized society, at least is never very ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating. It feels instinctively that manners are more important than morals.

However, I love scandals about other people, but scandals about myself don’t interest me. They have not got the charm of novelty.

I was married once and the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties. Most of the time, I never knew where my wife was and my wife never knew what I was doing.

Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love; it is the faithless who know love’s tragedies. Therefore, one should always be in love. That is the reason why one should never marry.

To love oneself is the beginning of a life long romance.

I believe that if a man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream – I believe that the world would gain such fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of medievalism. But the bravest among us is afraid of himself. The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives. We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure or the luxury of regret. The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.

And speaking about temptation, let us yield to another round of martinis. What say you my friend”, said Oscar.

I ordered another round of drinks. By now two Bencongs (girly boys) were sitting at our table listening to Oscar craft each sentence and enunciate every word, rolling them on his tongue and spinning them out. Though they didn’t understand a word it was apparent that they were mesmerized by Oscar’s theatricals.

A rough sketch of The Picture of Dorian Gray:

Dorian gray is an effeminate and beautiful young man whose portrait is painted by an artist named Basil Hallward. When Lord Henry, a friend of Basil’s, meets Dorian he convinces him that beauty and fulfilling one’s desires were the main essentials of life. Aware at this point that he would in time lose his beauty the narcissist in him comes to the fore. “How sad it is!” murmured Dorian Gray with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait, “How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June…If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”

Though Dorian’s wish comes true his portrait absorbs all the ugliness of his life. It slowly morphs into a grotesque image. Dorian in a fit of conscious rage murders Basil Hallward (the artist) for having created the portrait. At the end of the novel he attempts to destroy the picture with a knife. He fails and is discovered by his servants in a mummified form with a knife in his heart. The picture reverts to its original splendor.

Oscar took a sip of his drink and looked at me and said, “Aaahhhh! …fair youth and beauty are both impostors for they lull us into false notions that we can remain the same forever. But youth is a passing phase, just one part of our whole lives. Narcissism reigns supreme when we feel the freshness in our loins and the brightness in our hearts. For a moment we think we can be young and beautiful forever.”

Loud music suddenly erupted in the restaurant drowning out all hopes of further conversation. I fondled my drink as Oscar went into spasms trying to communicate in sign language with the Bencongs. After a few minutes he turned to me and patted my hand to catch my attention. He gestured that he would not be returning to the hills with me that night.

I left the pulsating place for the comfort of my room and the words spoken by one of the greatest playwrights who had fallen from grace in his mortal life but was resurrected in death.

“It is better not to be different from one’s fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat”.

(Parts of this article appeared in The Bali Times)

© Mark Ulyseas

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