Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Wilde’
“Rat-eyed” Virginia Woolf described Somerset Maugham as.
“No man ever put more of his heart and soul into the written word,” said Eudora Welty of William Faulkner.
“Curiously dull, furiously commonplace, and often meaningless,” Alfred Kazin said of William Faulkner.
“Hemingway never climbed out on a limb and never used a word where the reader might check his usage by a dictionary,” William Faulkner said of Ernest Hemingway.
In response to which Hemingway: “Does Faulkner really think big emotions come from big words?”“Dostoievsky’s profound, criminal, saintly face,” observed Thomas Mann, nicely.
“He wore a gray suit, black shoes, white shirt, tie and vest. His appearance never changed. He came down in the morning in his suit, and he would still be wearing it the last thing at night,” said John Huston of John Paul Sartre.
“Reedy and kind,” Truman Capote once described Albert Camus as.
“As a writer, he chews more than he bites off,” said Whistler of Henry James.
“An illiterate, underbred book,” Virginia Woolf called James Joyce’s Ulysses — which, however, she and her husband Leonard published nonetheless.
“One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing,” said Oscar Wilde.
“An enormous dungheap,” Voltaire described the entire body of Shakespeare’s work as. And went on to call Shakespeare “An amiable barbarian.”
“You have written a good book,” Victor Hugo told Gustav Flaubert in a letter, regarding Madame Bovary.
“House of the Dead is Dostoievsky’s best book,” said Tolstoy.
“That’s not writing — it’s typing,” Truman Capote said of Kerouac’s On the Road.
“I find it impossible to take him seriously as a major writer and have never ceased to be amazed at the number of people who can,” said Edmund Wilson of Franz Kafka.
“A cursed, conceited, wily heathen,” said Martin Luther of Aristotle.
“He was a bum poet, of course, being a bum person,” Robert Graves said of D.H. Lawrence.
“I don’t understand them. To me, that’s not literature,” Cormac McCarthy said of Henry James and Marcel Proust.
“Like many of us he was rather disgusting, with his deliberate dirtiness, his myopia, his smell, his undying enmity for unfavorable reviewers, his stinginess, his coy greed for titles, money, and gowns,
his contempt for Cockneys and Americans, sallow, greasy, handsome …” said the poet Karl Shapiro of the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson.
“A damned good poet and a fair critic; but he can kiss my ass as a man,” Ernest Hemingway said of T.S. Eliot.
In a lecture he delivered at Cornell University, Vladimir Nabokov said this:
“A work of art shouldn’t make you think, it should make you shiver.”
And yet in reply, one must obviously ask: what about those of us who actually like for a book to make us think? What about those of us who genuinely enjoy, for example, Gilbert and Ernest and Oscar Wilde’s aesthetic dialogues? Are we in error for getting satisfaction from this? And is Oscar Wilde in error for writing it?
The answer is of course no, and here’s why:
While it is unquestionably true that a work of art, no matter its genre, must appeal to something real in the body of human experience, there is nonetheless within that body of human experience an enormous range of diversity, and complexity — and one person’s nightmare is another person’s dream.
And, as a matter of fact, some of my very favorite characters — Nikolai Stavrogin, Natasha Fillipovna, Ivan Karamazov, Jean Valjean, Rachel from Bladerunner, Tom Regan, Gilliat, Dominque Francon — they leave a great many of my friends and acquaintances completely cold.
Characters, it is also true, are the soul of every story, and I don’t know of anyone even passingly acquainted with the subject who would seriously argue that readers must on some level connect with the characters. But the issue isn’t quite so cut-and dry. Why? Because people (like characters) are diverse and complicated — which is to say, we have different values, and our brains operate on different levels, in different ways.
Under threat of arrest during the Reign of Terror, the French writer Nicolas Chamfort (1741 — 1794) shot himself in the head and slit his own throat. Then died of pneumonia while recovering in his bed.
Whereas Lavoisier was guillotined in the Reign of Terror.
“A good book is twice as good if it’s short.” Said Baltasar Gracian.
On August 24, 1847, Charlotte Bronte, writing under a pseudonym Currer Bell, mailed off her unsolicited manuscript Jane Eyre to a London publisher — and saw it in print seven weeks later.
Franz Kafka was a vegetarian.
Balzac, who was five-foot-one, wrote over 2000 characters into his Comedie Humaine.
Saul of Tarsus — AKA Saint Paul — probably participated in the stoning of Saint Stephen.
Tarsus is where Cleopatra arrives on her barge to meet Mark Antony, on the river Cydnus, in Turkey.
Thackery convinced himself that Desdemona did actually have an affair with Cassio.
T.S. Eliot’s first wife Vivian insisted upon washing her own bedsheets, even when staying at a hotel.
There is no description of Helen’s beauty anywhere in the Iliad.
“The Little Marcel” — Proust was called, all his life.
“Do you think up that material when you’re drunk?” asked William Faulkner’s cousin.
“No great talent has ever existed without a tinge of madness,” Seneca said Aristotle said.
One of Robert Frost’s daughters went insane. One of his son’s committed suicide.
“Life consists of what a [wo]man is thinking of all day,” said Emerson.
Salvardo Dali once gave a lecture in London while wearing a diving helmut. And nearly suffocated as a result.
“He alters and retouches the same phrases incessantly, and paces up and down like a madman,” reported a pupil of Chopin’s.
“Through the dim purple air of Dante fly those who have stained the world with the beauty of their sin,” wrote Oscar Wilde.
Captain Ahab is a Quaker.
A reader writes:
Dear Sir: What is beauty? Is it anything?
– Lily Alderman
Dear Lily: It is everything. Beauty is the esthetically pleasing, it is the lovely. Aristotle wrote: “Beauty depends on size as well as symmetry” (ahem, ahem). But beauty is symmetry. Beauty is congruence. It is the bah-bah in black sheep. Beauty is not, finally, inexplicable or ineffable, but it is elusive.
Darwin noted that a streak of stew in a man’s beard is not beautiful, but he pointed out also — and sagely so — that neither the soup nor the beard is inherently non-beautiful.
Beauty requires, among other things, that sensory data bring with it a very specific kind of emotional pleasure — one which awakens “the contemplative in man,” as Kant said — such as you might feel, for instance, when you see the Northern Lights, or hear a profound song. Beauty even encompasses melancholy.
Beauty is the symbol of symbols. Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it shows us itself, it shows us the whole fiery-colored world. No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions, it will not look beautiful; no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.
Said Oscar Wilde.
Beauty, properly defined, is part of the science of axiology, which is the study of values. Axiology, in turn, is a sub-division of aesthetics. The science of beauty is called aesthetics.
But that’s all purely academic.
Here, Lily, is the only thing you really need to know about beauty:
Sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds:
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
Stories are important because human beings are conceptual.
This among other things means that humans survive by use of their reasoning brains.
Humans evolved neither the balls of bulls, nor the trunks of elephants, nor the claws of bears, nor the necks of giraffes, but the brains of Homo sapiens, with a capacity to think.
And we think by means of abstractions.
Thus, stories (as with all other proper forms of art) concretize our abstractions.
“The function of art is to recreate, from the rough material of actual existence, a new world that will be more marvelous, more enduring, and more true than the world that common eyes look upon.”
Said Oscar Wilde.
Art starts with an abstraction, such as jealousy, and, in an artistic work like Othello, shows us how in human life jealousy manifests.
Jealousy is the abstraction. How Shakespeare dramatized it is his play is the concrete.
The degree to which a story (or any other artistic creation) persuades or seems plausible is the degree to which it is good or bad.
Painting and drawing perform the same function as Othello but in a purely visual manner.
Sculpture does so by visual-tactile means.
Music — which is unique among the arts — captures emotional abstractions, via sound, so that when you hear music, you feel yourself perhaps excited, or melancholic, or thoughtful, or sexy.
To qualify as a legitimate art form, the medium must have the power to convey ideas (i.e. abstractions) in a perceptual form — which is to say immediately.
This is why culinary art is not, in the true sense, an actual art but a skill: the best foie gras in the world cannot convey even the simplest human abstraction, let alone something as complex as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And the same thing is true of sewing, gem-cutting, carpentry, and many, many other difficult skills and trades as well. They don’t qualify as actual art, valuable and important as they may be, simply because they don’t have the power to capture or convey a wide range of abstract meaning. They cannot, in other words, objectify reality through their medium.
That is what art does. It objectifies the human experience. That is why art is a necessity.
To truly qualify as art, the medium must be able to reproduce nature and then infuse that data with conceptual content.
Abstractions, as previously stated, are thoughts — or, to put that more precisely, abstractions are the human way of grasping reality. We do this by means of thought. And we think by means of words.
Art assists in this. Which is why, philosophically speaking, esthetics is a sub-branch of epistemology: the science of thought.
Stories recast reality and show us our abstractions made solid. In this way, stories enhance reality, as all art does.
It is, paradoxically, artists themselves who are among the most inarticulate when it comes to explaining the nature and function of their art, and so to get beyond their artsy mumbo-jumbo so that we can see at last what gives rise to art, we needn’t listen to the artists and the critics but instead observe how the artistic drive develops in children.
Observe the stories that children write. Observe what the child with that big stick of sidewalk-chalk draws upon the concrete:
A large yellow crescent with blue stars around it.
A white house in a green field.
A blazing sun over black mountains.
Ask yourself: what drives the child to make those drawings. What drives the child to tell those stories? What is that child thinking about that makes her want to set it down in concrete form? What dictates her subject-matter? Why did she choose this and not that?
What, in short, is the child doing? And what is that process doing for her?
Why did prehistoric humans paint animals and hunting scenes upon cave walls? What drove that urge? Why did they tell stories? Why did these men and women choose the subjects they chose? And what did those stories and paintings fulfill within them?
Why have humans always invented stories?
Why have humans always enjoyed listening to those stories, or seeing them played out?
Why the human invention of musical instruments?
Why did David “dance with all his might before the lord”?
What need is being fulfilled in all this?
The answer to these questions is the same:
Each one of those things, through whichever medium, captures the abstract and makes it real and immediate.
Humans — the rational animal — need this because our rational mind operates in the opposite manner: it is thoughtful, it is inductive, it is long-range. Art brings the entirety of the universe into our immediate perceptual ken.
Art makes the conceptual perceptual.
That is why stories are important.
There is no mood or passion that art cannot give us…. Art is mind expressing itself under the conditions of matter, and thus, even in the lowliest of her manifestations, she speaks to both sense and soul alike…. It is through art, and only through art, that we can realize our perfection; through art, and through art only, that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence…. Like Aristotle, like Goethe after he had read Kant, we desire the concrete, and nothing but the concrete can satisfy us.
– Oscar Wilde