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basswood

basswood

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De Profundis - Oscar Wilde Beautiful, fascinating, poetic, and heartbreaking, Wilde becomes the “spectator of his own tragedy” in De Profundis and attempts a sort of mystical Confiteor to make sense of the suffering of his soul.

When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would be always haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant as much for me as for anyone else -- the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver -- would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power and their power of communicating joy. To reject one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the Soul."

There are so many great reviews of this here on GR that I'll just add an aspect that I think hasn't been touched upon. Wilde’s meditations on his pre-prison life were colored by the reading he undertook while in prison: the Bible, Dante, Saint Augustine, and Cardinal Newman among others. However, it was still his situational antinomianism upon which he filtered his philosophy even as he found in himself parallels with the prodigal son:

Of course the sinner must repent. But why? Simply because otherwise he would be unable to realize what he had done. The moment of repentance is the moment of initiation. More than that. It is the means by which one alters one's past. The Greeks thought that impossible. They often say in their gnomic aphorisms "Even the Gods cannot alter the past." Christ showed that the commonest sinner could do it. That it was the one thing he could do. Christ, had he been asked, would have said — I feel quite certain about it — that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept he really made his having wasted his substance with harlots, and then kept swine and hungered for the husks they ate, beautiful and holy incidents in his life. It is difficult for most people to grasp the idea. I dare say one has to go to prison to understand it. If so, it may be worthwhile going to prison.

Wilde puts the past transgressions (despite what you/I/we see today as transgressions) of the prodigal son into the category of “beautiful and holy things” rather than the effect that later resulted from them, thus making the evil things good rather than accepting that God may bring good from evil. He’s justified his own actions as necessary for the remaking of the man he thought he was become.

It is tempting to see him as a new man born from his catastrophe but the short, mostly depressed and alcohol-soaked life of poverty he lived afterward was not exemplary of someone on the road to wisdom or salvation. Instead, it seems he'd become even more mired in "the depths" from which he thought he was rising. However, that detracts nothing from him being one of the masters of the English language.