Observance and Indulgence

As I entered this class, I knew I had little knowledge of Wilde’s works, but I did carry a smidge of an idea of who he was as a person, or at least the knowledge that he certainly stood out and left his mark in life and death. Now, as I have started to explore his work within the class, I still find myself drawn to getting to know and understand Wilde the man alongside Wilde the artist. He might’ve argued that there is no difference between man (at least some of them) and artist, but I find it interesting to think about Wilde’s personality as he portrayed it, and as it might’ve truly been, if we can properly deduce such things.

One thing that has stood out to me is the conversation we have had about curiosity and wickedness. In the first “Phrase and Philosophy,” Wilde says that “Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others” We discussed in class on the 26th about the ways this phrase contains a bit of a twist and turn despite its brevity. At first, the reader sees that the myth of wickedness was created by “good people,” which has positive connotations for those people. But, the second part of the phrase makes it a sort of jest towards these “good people,” basically saying that they cannot explain their blusteriness when confronted with attractiveness, so they must label it as wicked. We also talked about the use of the word “curious,” which in this phrase we took to mean unknown, mysterious, or strange. The word “others” conveys the feeling of being non-standard, or different. This can all be related to sexuality and queerness with Wilde. Though these “good people” label non-conformity, or queerness, as otherness and wickedness, there is still a sort of attraction to it. Like they can’t help but look even if they don’t condone it. This reminded me of something I read for my American Studies class about conspiracy theories, “Anti-Catholicism has always been the pornography of the Puritan,” meaning that conspiratorial theories by Puritans against Catholics (aka the confessional as a place of seduction, or “libertine priests”) has served as a way to indulge in seductive or wicked thought or observance even though the Puritans are denouncing it. (Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”). And we discussed how Wilde had in part indulged in that observance, in the attention. He shined in his “curiousness.” But, at the same time, we have discussed how Wilde may have been using this presentation as a way to mask himself so he wouldn’t have to answer for non-conformative style, under “L’art pour l’art.” I find this duality fascinating and I look forward to learning more about it as we continue to read Wilde.