Profound Blindness in De Profundis

I appreciated hearing everyone else’s opinions of De Profundis this week in class. I tend to get bogged down in the sadness and the tragedy, particularly in this part of Wilde’s story, and ignore the other parts of the piece — those that are confusing or contradictory.  Though tragic and self-reflective, yes, it’s still important to interrogate how much Wilde really owns his faults and takes upon himself the moral revolution he seems to be outlining in this piece, rather than falling into the trap of martyrdom that even he seems to be outlining for himself. What does he recognize as his own faults or wrongs and what does he lay instead at the feet of Bosie or even the aesthetic lifestyle more broadly? It’s kind of amazing that a text can be both so self-reflective and blind at the same time. Revisiting some of the lines about prophecy from my last post, Wilde writes that he doesn’t regret the life he lived for pleasure, but that a change from that lifestyle was necessary: “I don’t regret for a single moment having lived a life for pleasure. … But to have continued the same life would have been wrong because it would have been limiting, I had to pass on. The other half of the garden had its secrets for me also” (1026).  In this depiction of his aesthetic life, there is no explicit remorse — in fact there is an explicit lack of remorse and rather a desire for novelty, new experience. He is detailing an almost natural passing from one extreme of life to another, as if he is suggesting: what better way to really appreciate aestheticism than to experience its opposite, and then know its highs all the more? This attitude, the desire for a novelty of experience (that still feels strongly informed by aestheticism) instead of a remorse for the destruction created by his aesthetic life, feels particularly poignant when considered within the context of the fall-out of Wilde’s immediate family and the way he maintained his relationship to Bosie even after denouncing him in the text. Did he really learn from these experiences or make any lasting change? Further, in a text that seems to release the mask of Wilde the contradictory, performative author, there still is that note of contradiction that suggests instead a Wilde that didn’t know himself very well. What is revelation, what is denial? He writes at one point that “most people live for love and admiration. But it is by love and admiration that we should live” (1034).  It’s a classic Wilde one-liner in a sense, and contains what feels like a real, valuable, easily palatable  insight into how we should live life. But in the tone that De Profundis is written and, as it is a criticism leveled at Bosie, this revelation seems to beg an extra line about Wilde, something recognizing how he too lived, almost grossly at times, for love and admiration as much as anyone else — the lack of such a line feels, frankly, ridiculous given the project of this letter. The text is littered with these aphorisms about life, nature, and Christ, but they are without the bite of satire, without the cut of self-awareness. What then do his “one-liners” from De Profundis even say? Or, to return to my usual focus on tragedy, does this all just serve to highlight once more, and sort of finally, another aspect of the tragedy of Wilde’s life. That perhaps he was unmoored from self-hood when faced with the realities of prison, that even in this stripped down moment, he maintained a pervasive, and tragic, lack of self-knowledge.