Sunday, August 25, 2013

Oscar Wilde's Breakthrough

I bore up against everything with some stubbornness of will and much rebellion of nature, till I had absolutely nothing left in the world but one thing. I had lost my name, my position, my happiness, my freedom, my wealth. I was a prisoner and a pauper. But I still had my children left. Suddenly they were taken away from me by the law. It was a blow so appalling that I did not know what to do, so I flung myself on my knees, and bowed my head, and wept, and said, ' The body of a child is as the body of the Lord : I am not worthy of either.' That moment seemed to save me. I saw then that the only thing for me was to accept everything. Since then — curious as it will no doubt sound — I have been happier. It was of course my soul in its ultimate essence that I had reached. In many ways I had been its enemy, but I found it waiting for me as a friend. When one comes in contact with the soul it makes one simple as a child, as Christ said one should be. - Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

There is, in De Profundis, an odd mixture of great humility and repentance, along with a touch of pride and a hefty dose of the strange aestheticism that brought Wilde to prison in the first place.

In prison, Wilde finds humility and recognizes love and suffering as central to life - but he tends to make of suffering another sensation, the greatest and most honest of aesthetic experiences, but something somehow to be savored for its own sake.  And yet suffering for suffering's sake makes no more sense than art for art's sake.

Still, when one thinks of how far he came - from an effete dandy, full of himself, having abandoned his family for his boyfriend, having believed his press clippings and his own cynical wit; having come from that to the man who finally finds his soul in a moment that is simply a collapse under the weight of his cross - one can see a great grace at work; and it is a grace whose outline Wilde recognizes as Christ, though Christ for him is more poet than savior.

And yet, even the best of us would, in a moment of great purgation, still retain a bit of our old and mistaken selves.  Wilde, then, is much like all of us.

And may we each have such a moment of great truth in our own lives - even at the cost of great suffering.


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