The Tragedy of Old Age: Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. 

– Oscar Wilde

On this day in 1854, the crown prince of the Aesthetes, master of wit, artist of wordplay, Mr. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born. That was 159 years ago. And in much less time than that, Wilde would experience the tragic rise and fall of an infamous career.

What shall we do, Mr. Wilde, to celebrate this day for you? Here, would you reply with something witty and cynical? Something that would make the room titter and chuckle? Tuckle and chitter? Of course. I will make no attempt at an Wildean aphorism. Rest in peace, my flamboyant idol-of-sorts. No need to roll in the grave.

Oscar Wilde! What shall we do then? No need to write a biography about you. Many have already done so. People already know you were a playwright, with “The Importance of Being Earnest” being perhaps your most popular. And no need to mention your only novel, censored for over 150 years, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Only in the past couple of years has the full original edition – the draft publishers rejected as gross and dangerously “immoral” – become available to the public.

But perhaps that really is what needs mentioning…

The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray has been my favorite book since I first read it at the easily chewable age of 13. While the themes were classic and resonant, they were not the hook that drew me under. It was the words. The language in this book moved me in both shallow and deep ways. It is true that I was very easily won over by the purpley prose, those empty words that did nothing but- no, they did everything. Wilde’s words opened up for me a world of richness and flavor such that I had never read before. Even now, when I read through my favorite passages, I remain amazed at the almost purely aesthetic nature of the language. “Art for art’s sake.” Plot? TPoDG has only a semblance of a plot. It is more a vehicle for Wilde’s witticisms and poetic waxing than a captivating story.

The premise is fascinating and has endured this long, as it will continue to endure. In despair over the thought of losing his youth, Dorian Gray makes a Faustian wish: eternal youth in exchange for his soul. But it is not as if his soul has disappeared – it has manifested in his portrait, painted by a true artist in love with Gray. Basil Hallward outdid himself with his painting. He Pygmalion and Dorian his Galatea– a wondrously beautiful statue come to life. The painting shows every line and liver spot of Dorian’s age and sin. He is able to watch it year after year as it ages and he remains young and beautiful. Without the moral culpability, his soul, he is able to get away with almost anything. He ruins men and women alike, marring their reputability and making them unfit to step out into respectable society. He drives people to suicide. He murders. He takes all he can get from others and lavishes himself in the finest material wealth. All without remorse.

Throughout the years, the themes have become more poignant, becoming more important to me than the language. Wilde, King of the Aesthetes, still acknowledged moral depth. Beauty is not enough on its own. Dorian drove himself to a sort of madness in his final moments, tormented by the ugly sight of his own soul. In the end, he is dead, and for what? He was not a happier man for living the Epicurean lifestyle, indulging in all the carnal and material desires in his path.

What does this mean for us? What does it mean for me? To be honest, I do not yet know. After all these years, I am still mulling Wilde’s sole novel over in my head. He has taught me that it is all right – and perhaps he encourages this – to love art for the sheer beauty of it, regardless of the semantics or any other beyond-surface level meaning.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

– The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

He taught me about the subjectivity of morality, but at the same time pointed out that morality must exist, even if it’s something that we pull out of our derrieres. In what form remains to be illuminated. He showed me the facade of high society with its trivial worries and preoccupations. He gave me the appreciation for lovely language. He gave me the appreciation for intelligent language. He allowed me to feel without having to think too hard about it.

Thank you, Oscar Wilde, and happy birthday, old chap.

Read on about Mr. Wilde:

Hi, I’m Stressed Out Student, and I’m a Bibliomaniac

This kind of post isn’t new. I ain’t special. The interwebs is brimming with people who love to – le gasp read. However, a sizable chunk of those people simply like books. “Why, whatever is the difference?” You ask me from across the table, pinching the handle of a tea cup between your index and thumb – pinky erect. “Well, good chap, in honor of Banned Books Week, let me enlighten you…”

(Why the hell this just turned into a Downton Abbey outtake, I have no clue).

Those who love reading may be categorized under the general term of “bibliophile.” According to Merriam-Webster Online, a bibliophile is “a lover of books, especially for qualities of format.” It doesn’t get much simpler than “book lover” in the etymological breakdown. Bibliophiles are people who love to read, collect, admire books, etc.

And then there is the “bibliomaniac“: someone with “an exaggerated preoccupation with the acquisition and ownership of books” (Free Online Dictionary). This is someone who love books not so much for their content, but for the value of the physical books themselves. If you’re familiar with a certain page on my site, you may have already realized that I have slight bibliomaniacal tendencies. Basically, a bibliomaniac is a book hoarder. How glamorous.

Exhibit A) I brought four books with me on my travels this summer:

Bibliomania Exhibit A

And I came back with nine. No joke.

There’s even a book that isn’t pictured here: I had left the book on a table in a hotel for someone else to take, since I was finished with it and knew I would never read it again. (It was Deception Point by Dan Brown. Entertaining for a mass market paperback, but not worth keeping – and coming from a hoarder, that’s saying something.)

So there’s the thing, I have a tendency to collect books that I think I’m going to read (and by golly, I will!) and books that I think are impressive (I mean, Classics of Moral and Political Theory? Really?) – but I do really like to read as well. I’m not voracious or all that ambitious of a reader. I just like having a book now and then. Sometimes, I don’t quite feel entitled to say that I love to read. True bibliophiles seem to have a new book brushing their noses every week, while I go through periods where I don’t read anything substantial from a book for weeks (not including textbooks and required reading).

Therefore am I a noble bibliophile or a poser, a materialistic bibliomaniac?

Well, neither, obviously. To even have this discussion- sure, books and reading are great, but they don’t need their own pedestal. Yes, encourage literacy among our children, but there’s no need to ram it down their throats and make them feel bad if they don’t like sitting around reading books day and night. It takes all kinds. And is there a need to shame bibliomaniacs for liking books just because they look nice or have some value not related to their content? Of course not. Obsessing over a first printing of a Dostoevsky novel is definitely not the worst form of materialism.

What does bibliophilia/mania mean to you? Where do you fall in the spectrum? And what have you read recently? Share some recommendations in the comments! (As if us maniacs needed more books).

Follow these links to read more about information and knowledge and stuff:

So, Uh, I Gave in to Fifty Shades of Grey (Insert Sub Joke Here… or Not)

Let us thrust into this post head first-

Wait, that came out wrong.

Sit down and tell me how naughty-

Whoa, what’s happening.

Allow me to ease myself into the supple contours of your mind whilst tracing tantalizing sentences along the creamy arch of your-

Ok, now that you’re fully aroused, let’s talk about Fifty Shades of Grey.

This treasure of English literature has been giving house moms and post-Twilight teens lady erections since 2011 and it’s been covered high and low, parodied, and read aloud by Gilbert Gottfried and George Takei (oh my-y-y-y).  Even with all the rabid hubbub surrounding the series, my personal integrity beat out my curiosity to read the overexposed series – until recently.

I gave in, goddammit. I just had to see what all the hype and commotion was about. Could it really be that bad?

Folks, I’ll say what thousands upon thousands have said before me: WHAT THE FRICK DID I JUST READ?

Now, if you’ve been living under a rock locked in a safe buried at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, let me briefly get you up to speed:

  • The story started out as Twilight fanfiction [Can already tell it’s bad]
  • Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are the two sparkling vampire lovers characters we’re supposed to give a flying fart about [What the hell is up with their names?]
  • The charismatic, Adonis-like sparkling Grey becomes attracted to One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” Steele because E.L. James said so [Look up: Mary Sue]
  • Fifty Shades of Grey has been on The New York Times Best Sellers List for 57 weeks. [Their summary: “An innocent college student falls in love with a tortured man with particular sexual tastes; the first of a trilogy.”] 
  • The Fifty Shades series has been responsible for the death of over a trillion brain cells (and counting) and should not be read before operating heavy machinery, while pregnant, or ever. Ever. [Validity of claims pending verification]

If you want to read detailed reviews of the book, look elsewhere. Google that shit because you’ll find a gazillion of articles and threads about how awful the books are. And, of course, you’ll also find the abysses of crazed fans, who swear by the holy greatness of the series. Proceed with caution.

All right, I have to be honest, I didn’t actually read the whole series. And to be totally honest, I didn’t even finish the first book. Why? Because I have better means of rotting my brain and pummeling my soul to a pulpy heap than reading the rest of that vacuous crap. While Twilight was silly, I actually enjoyed the first book when I was 11-12ish. It was entertaining, as simplistic as it was in its style. Fifty Shades, on the other hand, is not only silly, it’s downright idiotic. Like Twilight, the super hot guy falls for the absolutely ordinary girl who’s supposedly way hotter than she thinks she is. The dialogue is atrocious – what you’d expect out of a cheap porno (not that I’d know what that’s like). The characters have less depth than Flat Stanley and the story- there is no real story. It’s all an excuse to write unrealistic and demeaning sex scenes.

Here’s a guy on YouTube doing several pretty good impressions while reading actual excerpts from Fifty Shades of Grey (Warning: NSFW language):

Still a better love story than Twilight? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think we’ve found the exception.

What do you think of the Fifty Shades series? Have you actually read it? (If not – GOOD. RUN WHILE YOU STILL CAN.) 

Read more (Do you dare?):