CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


by J. Edgar Bauer
A paper presented at The 1993 CESNUR International Conference, London School of Economics, U.K.

"Il est vrai que la grande tradition s´est perdue, et que la nouvelle n´est pas faite."
Charles Baudelaire [1]

1. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), for all his wit and unconventional life-style, was inherently preoccupied by questions that normally fall within the domain of religion and theology. For Wilde, however, authentic religion is less a credal system in which eternal truths lead to salvation, and more a radical quest in which life´s immanent meaning is revealed in one´s wholehearted acceptance of self. In work parallel to that of his contemporary, Friedrich Nietzsche[2], Wilde attempts a fundamental transvaluation of dogmatic religion in favor of a religiosity that uncompromisingly celebrates the beauty of Life. In this context, the atheistic dandy, through his critical truthfulness, assumes the mantle of the traditional saint. At first, the personal charm and literary brilliance that brought Wilde praise distracted from the profoundly subversive and deranging character of his insights. However, after his conviction on moral charges and subsequent incarceration, the actual dimensions of what was at stake were more clearly perceived. The disgraced man seemed to warn about the lurking perils of his thought. Against this background, it is not surprising that the spiritual and religious import of his worldview has been persistently ignored or disregarded by mainstream theological discourse and even by major Wildean scholarship. However, some of the most creative minds of the 20th century perceived Wilde´s depth in dealing with the ultimate questions of the age. James Joyce[3], Thomas Mann[4] or Jorge Luis Borges[5] have recognized in the Wildean epigrams and witticisms not merely highly sophisticated weapons against the bastions of ideological morality and religion, but also a sympathetic attempt to approach religiosity despite the difficult conditions imposed by critical Modernity. In this light, Wilde´s "Cult of Beauty" belies mere escapism and affected sensibility. Anchored in a world replete with suffering, Wilde as aesthete lucidly pleads for the transformation of Life by means of Art, and in so doing, he seeks to open up Modernity to its vocation by rejecting the closures vested in the long agony of historical Christianity.

2. It is one of the fundamental traits of Wildean aestheticism that it searches for depth not in the hidden world of essences, but in the very midst of appearances. Wilde´s condemnation of shallowness as the "supreme vice"[6] in De Profundis (1897), is not merely a grief-stricken reaction to the prison experience, but a continuation of basic insights expressed in works written long before. In the famous Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young (1894) Wilde had already written with contempt that "[o]nly the shallow know themselves"[7], a dictum that could have been pronounced in Dorian Gray (1890) by the dandiacal Lord Henry, since according to him "[i]t is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances."[8] Wilde hints at the critical kernel of these witticisms, typical for their recurrence to a strategy of paradox, for example, when Lord Illingworth, Wilde´s spokesman in A Woman of No Importance (1893), proclaims that "[p]eople nowadays are so absolutely superficial that they don´t understand the philosophy of the superficial"[9] and then advises the young man who will turn out to be his own illegitimate son, to learn how to tie his tie better, since "[a] well-tied tie is the first serious step in life"[10]. In general, Wilde derides the shallowness and superficiality of those who pretend to have an immediate apprehension of the hidden nature of themselves or of things. From a Wildean perspective, the Delphic "Know thyself!", usually interpreted as commanding Socratic introspection, denotes an absence of self-critical reflection, since the passion in the heart of man will never become transparent to the distanced eye of rationality. In view of Wilde´s conviction that "nothing is serious except passion", one cannot be surprised by his relativising of the intellect as only "an instrument on which one plays."[11] Having read Schopenhauer and anticipating some Freudian tenets, Wilde is well aware of the self-delusions of consciousness and that "style, not sincerity is the vital thing"[12] in matters of great importance. Against presumptuous claims to self-knowledge commonly forwarded by mainstream doctrines of philosophy or religion, Wilde asserts truth as "entirely and absolutely a matter of style"[13] and concentrates on the roundabout way depth reveals itself in the surface of sensible appearances. Not surprisingly, the narrator in the Portrait of Mr. W.H. (1889) recapitulates the aesthete´s standpoint when he stresses: "Consciousness, indeed, is quite inadequate to explain the contents of personality. It is Art, and Art only, that reveals us to ourselves."[14] In the last resort, Wilde addresses the shallowness of his age through a "philosophy of the superficial" in which man´s depth is most adequately revealed in the appearances created by art. Inasmuch as Dorian Gray proclaims the truth of appearances, it is a book written strictly de profundis.

3. Although paradoxes for Wilde - the wit and conversationalist - were indispensable tools for captivating audiences, they were not merely conventional rhetorical devices. In assessing his past work in De Profundis Wilde, with characterictic immodesty, declares that paradoxes are key to his own "very brilliant philosophy."[15] The intrinsic relevance of paradox is stressed by Mr. Erskine in Dorian Gray when he asserts that "the way of paradoxes is the way of truth". Paradoxes have a cognitive value on their own, since "[t]o test Reality we must see it on the tight rope. When the Verities become acrobats we can judge them."[16] How concerned Wilde was by this issue is shown in the concluding paragraph of his early but important essay on The Truth of Masks (1885), where he dwells on the subject of truth in art. In a tone undoubtedly intended to create perplexity in his readers, Wilde points out that there is much that he has sustained in the essay with which he entirely disagrees. Having denied that in art there is any such thing as a universal truth, Wilde forwards the decisive thesis: "A Truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true."[17] In this conception, the truth of Beauty is essentially paradoxical, since it can only be granted in the tentativeness of a moment that dialectics tries to describe. Consequently, Wilde considers art-criticism as a privileged activity through which the Platonic theory of ideas and "Hegel´s system of contraries"[18] can be apprehended and realized. In spite of references to Greek philosophy and German idealism, Wilde understands his own claims as uniquely modern. It is not by chance that he concludes the essay by stating: "The truths of metaphysics are the truths of masks"[19], since by so doing Wilde is actually manifesting his intent to redefine metaphysics according to his own critical "philosophy of the superficial" which leaves no room for an unworldly beyond of sensible appearances. Even more ambitious, but subservient to the same basic intentions, is Wilde´s attempt to disrupt the traditional correspondence of beauty and truth by affirming the supremacy of the fomer. In line with this radicalised aesthetic stance, Wilde caricatures the famous dictum concerning Aristotle´s love of truth over love of his teacher. In The Decay of Lying (1889) he writes: "Just as those who do not love Plato more than Truth cannot pass beyond the threshold of the Academe, so those who do not love Beauty more than Truth never know the inmost shrine of Art."[20] This subordination of truth to beauty is perhaps Wilde´s most outspoken indication of his endeavour to banish Platonic transcendence. Having grasped the limits of thought itself , Wilde recurs to paradox as the ultimate means by which thought expresses its own recession and thus cancellation before the overwhelming immediacy of Beauty. It is in this subtle sense that Wilde wished to succeed in making "art a philosophy, and philosophy an art."[21] By proclaiming the truth of masks as the paradoxical depth of appearances, Wilde realizes in his own characteristic way the Nietzschean Dis-angelion of God´s death.

4. In his passionate commitment to Modernity, Wilde viewed the 19th century as a "turning point in history" and as "one of the most important eras in the progress of the world"[22] – a period in which Ernest Renan and Charles Darwin played, respectively, decisive rôles as critics of the Book of God and of the Book of Nature. The new relevance of time and historicity for the critical analysis of Religion and Nature made it clear to Wilde that "[t]o realise the nineteenth century, one must realise every century that has preceded it and that has contributed to its making."[23] For his understanding of history, Wilde was indebted to Walter Pater, whose classic The Renaissance - according to Kenneth Clarke - freed a whole generation "from the solemn cant of late Victorian argument."[24] Since the Paterian blend of aestheticism and modernity pleaded, eloquently, for a return to the Greeks, Wilde comes to believe that "[w]hatever [...] is modern in our lives we owe to the Greeks", although he then draws the un-Paterian conclusion that "[w]hatever is an anachronism is due to mediaevalism."[25] In this context, the enthusiastically Philhellenic Wilde uses not only the metaphor of the Greek and modern spirit joining hands "across the drear waste of a thousand years", but even asserts that " [...] the Greek spirit is essentially modern."[26] In complete obliteration of the specific contribution of Biblical prophetism to the Western mind, Wilde sees history[27] and the critical spirit[28] as exclusive to the Greek heritage. Furthermore, since Wilde ignores New Testament soteriology and Christian elaborations of the concept of persona, he is prepared to depict his own new individualism as a "new Hellenism"[29]. Wilde´s misapprehension of biblical and New Testament heritage is connected with his perception of them as roots of the mediaevalism he rejected en bloc. At this point, Wilde was not willing to follow Pater´s diagnosis that "there is a sense in which it may be said that the Renaissance was an uninterrupted effort of the middle age, that it was ever taking place."[30] Free from the Paterian preoccupation of reconciling Paganism and Christianity, Wilde could afford less subtlety in his treatment of historical continuities. Thus Wilde´s negative assessment of the Christian worldview is almost exclusively based on his conviction that the aestheticism he pursued and the erotics it implied could not be adequately realized within the cultural context of historical Christianity. Not surprisingly, in his essay on Shakespeare´s homoeroticism he remarks: " 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,' said the stern Hebrew prophet: 'The beginning of Wisdom is Love,' was the gracious message of the Greek."[31] Although Wilde silences in this context the Christian Agape in order to acclaim more effectively and exclusively Love as Platonic Eros, he is obviously hinting at the religious sources of ethically pervaded mediaevalism, in contradistinction from Greek love, as the fundamental inspiration of Modernity. In the last resort, the Wildean decision "to make ourselves absolutely modern"[32] purports the banishment of ethicism in the name of the "Cult of Beauty".

5. In spite of his intense admiration for Greek classical culture, Wilde was far from idealising it uncritically. His direct acquaintance with textual sources enabled him to take a nuanced stance, as his essay on The Rise of Historical Criticism[33] generously shows. In his search for a philosophy of life within a Hellenic horizon, Wilde perceived with acumen the consequences for his aesthetic thought of the confrontation between Plato and Aristotle concerning the ontological status of ideas. Having plainly stated in another essay that "we desire the concrete, and nothing but the concrete can satisfy us"[34], Wilde took sides with Aristotle on this issue. Plato´s philosophy of Eros regarded aisthesis [sensibility] only as a provisional step on the way to contemplation of ideal, immaterial beauty. This abstract climax was unacceptable to Wilde, whose aestheticism posed aisthesis as the permanent and irrevocable condition for beauty. For the aesthete, the Aristotelian assumption that ideas are real only within concrete essences provided the needed philosophical foundation. Thus it is not by chance that Wilde will enthusiastically declare that "in all [...] points, to arrive to Aristotle is to reach the pure atmosphere of scientific and modern thought."[35] Aristotle proves to be a decisive influence on Wilde not only in connection with his conception of the real, but also in his understanding of contemplation, whose dandiacal equivalent would be the difficult art of doing nothing. In The Critic as Artist Wilde writes: "To us, at any rate, the BIOS THEORETIKOS is the true ideal. From the high tower of Thought we can look out at the world. Calm, and self-centered and complete, the aesthetic critic contemplates life, and no arrow drawn at a venture can pierce between the joints of his harness. He at least is safe. He has discovered how to live."[36] The passage has an undeniable Aristotelean flavour. The attributes of "[c]alm, and self-centered, and complete" assigned to the aesthetic critic clearly echo Aristotle´s description of the ouranos [cosmic heaven] as being "one, solitary and complete".[37] Wilde´s Aristoteleanism however could not include the properly theological side of the Stagirite as expressed, for example, in Metaphysics XII, since the godly Thought of Thought in its perfection is unable to contemplate the ontologically inferior realm of the sensible. This being the actual domain of Wildean aesthetics, the "Critic as Artist" discards the idea of a self-contemplating, unworldly God and concentrates, instead, on his own contemplation of Life from "the high tower of Thought". Seen in this light, the quoted passage can be understood as a modern rendering of the life of the philosopher contemplating nature as presented in a fragment of Aristoteles´ Protrepticus.[38] Not surprisingly, this philosophic contemplation, conceived as "the noblest form of energy"[39], prooves to be an essential part of Wilde´s quest to be "safe". In this modern "soteriological" context Wilde confronts the pragmatic objection to contemplative bliss as a flight from the exigencies of action, and unambiguously postulates that "man reaches his perfection, not through what he has, not even through what he does, but entirely through what he is."[40] The human perfection Wilde envisages is far from imitating any theological immobility, since according to him contemplative life "has for its aim not doing but being, and not being merely, but becoming."[41] The safety that contemplative life offers is not that of a promised eternity, but of an essential connectedness with the heart of change. Rejecting theologically fixed forms from a post-Darwinian perspective, the Wildean aesthetic critic contemplates a world in the making and regards his own nature in the context of this process. Since "[t]he only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes"[42] Wilde attempts to adapt the Aristotelean contemplation of nature to the needs of his aestheticism by focusing on universal Becoming and the historicity it purports.

6. Wilde was capable of acknowledging human greatness with generosity. Despite his contempt for Christian mediaevalism and his rejection of biblical ethicism, Wilde was deeply attracted to the character of Jesus. His admiration was not determined by the tragic events following his own trial, because more telling than all he writes on Jesus in De Profundis, are the sentences in The Soul of Man under Socialism (1890) that introduce his critique of Christianity. Wilde explains: " 'Know thyself!' was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, 'Be thyself!' shall be written. And the message of Christ to man was simply 'Be thyself.' That is the secret of Christ."[43] Here, Wilde is opposing the Delphic and Socratic dictum with a pregnant formulation of Christ´s Gospel. While the Greek philosophical tradition that culminates in Aristotelean contemplation stresses the primacy of knowledge in the process of self-realisation, Christ´s message sovereignly acknowledges the primacy of uncompromising truthfulness to one´s self. Significantly, Wilde uses his progressive scheme of Having, Doing and Being not only to show the excellence of Aristotelean contemplation, but also to stress the modernity of Christ. Wilde sustains that, according to Jesus, man attains perfection not by what he has or does, "but entirely by what he is."[44] For the Wildean Jesus, however, being is not determined by the cognitive attitude culminating in contemplation, but stands in contraposition to it. Wilde´s admiration for Greek cultural achievement and for science as its modern consequence shows its limits when seen in the light of his enthusiasm for the modernity of Jesuanic individualism. This modern apologetics of Christ has, however, nothing in common with the Church´s traditional understanding of Christ as God incarnate and of Christian life as imitatio Christi. According to Wilde, imitation in morals and in life is the exact opposite of what Christ tried to teach. Wilde remarks: "Through the streets of Jerusalem at the present day crawls one who is mad and carries a wooden cross on his shoulders. He is a symbol of the lives that are marred by imitation."[45] Leading a Christlike life means for Wilde being "perfectly and absolutely " oneself. Imitation is not required, since "[t]here are as many perfections as there are imperfect men."[46] With this in mind, it is not surprising that in De Profundis Wilde perceives an "intimate and immediate connection between the true life of Christ and the true life of the artist."[47] As if the historical Jesus would have needed Christological titles more apposite to Modernity, Wilde showers his hero with the predicates of the consummate aesthete. In Wilde´s eyes Christ appears as "the most supreme of Individualists"[48], for whom "there are no laws: there were exceptions merely."[49] Further, Wilde salutes in him "the precursor of the Romantic movement"[50] and acknowledges that his "place indeed is with the poets"[51]. Finally, in anticipation of the Sixties, Wilde thought Christ had "preached the enormous importance of living completely for the moment"[52] and had been "the first person who ever said to people that they should live 'flower-like' lives."[53]

7. As in his admiration for Greek thought, Wilde´s admiration of Christ did not hinder him from taking a critical stance. Despite his sympathetic recasting of Christ´s message in the individualistic "Be thyself!", Wilde does not fail to underline that this message could not actually satisfy the legitimate worldly aspirations of Modernity. In his essay on Socialism, Wilde elaborates: "Christ made no attempt to reconstruct society, and consequently the Individualism that he preached to man could be realised only through pain and solitude."[54] A promising dandy at the time he wrote these lines, Wilde regards the attitude of abandoning society (in the way he thought Christ demanded and cenobitic Christianity preached) as being against human nature, since "[e]ven the Thebaid became peopled at last."[55] While acknowledging the modernity of Christ´s romantic individualism, Wilde criticizes Christian renouncement as implying the attainment of perfection through pain. In spite of his acquaintance with 19th century biblical scholarship, Wilde insists uncritically on the view that "the mediaeval Christ is the real Christ"[56] and that mediaeval art justly represents him as "one maimed and marred [...] a beggar who has a marvelous soul".[57] From this perspective, Christ´s supposed disdain of joy appears closely related to his attitude of neither revolting against imperial Roman authority nor against the "ecclesiastical authority of the Jewish Church"[58]. In spite of the essential shortcomings of Christianity, Wilde concedes that its message might be necessary "[e]ven now, in some places of the world"[59] considering as he did that any revolutionary nihilist who realises himself through pain is a Christian.[60] This concession made, Wilde does not see any future for a religion of pain, given that the joy in the beauty of life was awakened once and for all with the Renaissance and that the modern world works on the eradication of poverty and suffering. More important than the refutation of Christian renunciation by Socialism and Science is the fact that Christianity can no longer be regarded as an indispensable ingredient in the historical development of personality,[61] although Christ - the Individualist - will be loved as one of those "who sought to intensify it [i.e. "the true personality of man"]."[62] In assessing Wilde´s critical stance concerning Christian matters it is necessary to bear in mind that his amendment of suffering-oriented Christian individualism presupposed an almost Rousseauist type of optimism concerning human nature that proved to be of short duration. Although the incarcerated Wilde was far from accepting the Christ of Christian faith, he did not judge it necessary to criticize in De Profundis the unworldliness of Christ´s religion. Significantly, at this point of his life Wilde concentrates on the meaning of Christ´s message for Romantic individualism. Having deepened his understanding of "the beauty of sorrow", Wilde does not insist anymore on the need for changing society in order to attain self-realisation. Rather, pain and solitude regain their meaning in the aesthete´s quest and the Galilean appears as a precursor of Modernity by revealing the soul of suffering man.

8. The actual source of Wilde´s rejection of the Greek philosophic God and the Judaic Jehova is his conviction of the pervasiveness of Life whose depth dispenses with ontological foundations and whose transcending does not imply an objectifiable transcendance. In Wilde´s conception, Life itself is indistinguishable from the Heracletean Becoming that brings forth and eventually reabsorbs the contoured forms, whose contemplation constitutes the delight of the aesthete´s eye. Although the concept of life plays a decisive rôle throughout his work, Wilde offers no theoretically explicit elaboration of its meaning. The reason for this is suggested by Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere´s Fan (1892) when he warns against futile conceptualisation and points out that "life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it."[63] In this connection, the Wildean dictum reported by André Gide in 1902 is highly significative. It runs: "J´ai mis tout mon génie dans ma vie; je n´ai mis que mon talent dans mes œuvres."[64] By asserting the preeminence of his own life in comparison to the works of art he produced, Wilde is hinting at the modern conception of the artist´s life, modelled according to aesthetic principles, as being itself the supreme art work. In correspondence to what dandyism since Charles Baudelaire had been envisioning, Wilde maintains that the art of living is "[t]he only really Fine Art we have produced in modern times."[65] In The Decay of Lying, Vivian´s elaborations on this point presuppose the instrumentality of art operating on the basis of life and for its sake. Using an Aristotelean formulation, he points out that the "energy" of life is "the desire for expression, and Art is always presenting various forms through which the expression can be attained."[66] Since the energy of life mediated by art accomplishes its own aims, Vivian´s assertion that "Life is Art´s best, Art´s only pupil"[67] can be considered a reiteration of the apotheosis of the Life Wilde generally insists upon. To be sure, the dynamic "desire for expression" just mentioned does not merely look for forms that will give their imprint to the creations of the artist, but searches for the most adequate form of the individual´s self-realization. This last issue constitutes without doubt one of the most central preoccupations in Wilde´s dandiacal thought. Significantly, when Lord Henry makes Dorian Gray acquainted with the idea that "[t]he aim of life is self-development"[68], or when De Profundis attributes this aim more specifically to "artistic life"[69], there is no silencing of the risky and trying nature of the quest for one´s own "beautiful life". As a matter of fact, Dorian Gray can be read as a parable of the chthonian threats accompanying the aesthete´s search for Apollonian self-transparency, since the book ultimately announces the irrevocable triumph of form-dissolving nature. Life in search of an individual´s form that is attainable through Art is freedom at its highest, not so much because it transgresses the arbitrary limits imposed by theonomous religion, but because it renounces the comforts of its theology. Free from illusions and palliatives, Life is intensified by facing the definitiveness of death. Wilde´s atheistic vitalism, the ontological frame of his aesthetics, provides the radical option of the immanent worthiness of an authentic life. From this perspective, the transgressions that ideological morality condemns can be an expression of a rigorous ethical sense. It is highly relevant in this connection that the Wilde of De Profundis showed no sign of repentance for the alleged crime that British justice imputed him. Instead of contrition there is a deepening of his self-acceptance, in consideration that "[t]o deny one´s own experience is to put a lie into the lips of one´s own life."[70] In prison, the suffering dandy realizes that what he has actually sought for is neither pain nor pleasure, "but simply Life"[71] and that sorrow can be a welcome means of intensifying it.

9. Wilde´s basic intentions undermine the Kierkegaardian hierarchical disposition of aesthetics, ethics and religion, since the atheistic stance of Wilde´s vitalistic religiosity subverts the order of the first two. Life having replaced the God of tradition, Wilde must not only assert art´s independence from ethics,[72] but establish that "Aesthetics are higher than Ethics"[73] in terms of "true culture". Since this systematic rearrangement is motivated by a keen and intense perception of human frailness, it is far from giving carte blanche to immoralism. It is characteristic of Wilde´s outlook that he despises ordinary cruelty as "simply stupidity" and an "entire want of imagination"[74] without taking a traditional moralising stance and condemning it as evil. Thus, even in fundamental issues, Wilde was not unquestioningly prepared to accept the prevalence of the ethical, because he was convinced that only the conscious and creative quest for Beauty is transformational. Attempting to overcome contemporary Christian-inspired ethicism, Wilde critiques the theological concept of sin, which is central to the whole Christian conception of ethical heteronomy. In Dorian Gray he remarks: "[…] all sins, as theologians weary not of reminding us, are sins of disobedience. When that high spirit, that morning-star of evil, fell from heaven, it was as a rebel that he fell."[75] If sin is disobedience, overcoming sin calls for a new appreciation of disobedience as "man´s original virtue"[76] since it is through disobedience and rebellion that historical progress has been achieved. This view is reasserted in an important passage of The Critic as Artist, where Gilbert ponders on the possibility of subverting the traditional meaning of sin and virtue in light of their counterproductive results within the process of history. Having stressed that curiosity in sin increases the experience of the race, and that the individualism implied by sin counters the monotony of type, Gilbert gives a decisive clue to Wilde´s amoralism when he points out: "In its [i.e. sin´s ] rejection of the current notions about morality, it is one with the higher ethics."[77] This identification of transgresive sin with "higher ethics" touches the core of Wilde´s argument concerning the rejection of plain morals and its underlying theonomy, as well as the redefinition of ethics according to aesthetic standards. For Wilde, the apologist of Modernity, God´s vacant place is now occupied by Life, whose "beautiful" realisation constitutes a new paradigm for judging reality and demanding change. Far from fleeing from conflictual reality, the Wildean aestheticism pleads for rebellious sin as transgression against the empoverishing principles originating in the biblical ethics of obedience. It is once again the dandiacal Gilbert who describes the Wildean option vis-à-vis the alternatives of the age when he tells his dialogue partner: "We cannot go back to the saint. There is far more to be learned from the sinner. We cannot go back to the philosopher, and the mystic leads us astray."[78] Gilbert´s perplexity is decisive because of the typology it displays. His preference for the sinner suggests choice in an age that has learned to be incredulous about its heroes. The idea that the audacity of the sinner opens up history to progress, is indirectly corroborated by Wilde´s renown dictum: "The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future."[79] In this context, it seems appropriate to recall how fascinated Wilde was by the psychological intricacies of temptation and sin, even in its sacrilegious form, as is attested by his phrase that "[i]t is only sacred things that are worth touching."[80] Considering the prevalence of the sin problematic in Wilde´s oeuvre, it is not surprising that James Joyce stressed Wilde´s affinity to Catholicism, assuming that he regarded sin as a means to reach the divine heart.[81] Joyce´s exposition unfortunately obliterates the fact that Wilde was not interested in abandoning himself to the inner logic of sin in order to attain reconciliation, but in radically questioning the legitimacy of the traditional condemnation of sin in order to subvert its meaning. When Wilde suggests that the utopian future is to be realised by sinful transgression, he is using Christian patterns to evoke the sort of experience needed to acquire world-transforming knowledge. Consequently, for Wilde the aim of "true culture" implies attaining " [...] that perfection the saints have dreamed, the perfection of those to whom sin is impossible, not because they make the renunciations of the ascetic, but because they can do everything they wish without hurt of the soul [...] ."[82] In the last resort, Wilde´s "heaven" proves to be the future "true culture", and the new "saint" is conceived of as the aesthete who constantly enriches his life by assuming the truth of his senses.

10. In one of the most relevant recent interpretations of Oscar Wilde, Camille Paglia argues that "[c]rushed by conviction and imprisonment, Wilde undergoes a revolution of principles." And further: "De Profundis contains one of the most extraordinary recantations in the history of art. The pitiless sophisticate now embraces suffering as the highest human experience."[83] In her interpretation, Paglia contrasts De Profundis with a close reading of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, without discussing the essays or considering the poetry and prose-poems, which she ranks as "weak and inconsequential"[84]. Although a thorough refutation of her main thesis, the "revolution of principles", is not possible in this context, at least some of its basic presuppositions should be examined. First of all, in consideration of the evidence displayed above and of other biographical material,[85] there is no justification for attributing to Wilde "cruelty and immoralism"[86], as Paglia does. That Wilde disdains cruelty and at the same time views sin as liberating has already been shown. Moreover, it can be easily demonstrated that the problem of sorrow and suffering is central not merely to De Profundis, but constitutes an essential element of Wilde´s awareness of the human throughout his work. The Wilde of The Happy Prince (1888) already knows that "[t]here is no Mystery so great as Misery"[87] and in A Woman of No Importance (1893) he writes: "Hearts live by being wounded. Pleasure may turn a heart to stone, riches may make it callous, but sorrow - oh sorrow, cannot break it."[88] Correspondingly, the idea and sometimes the explicit concept of the "broken heart" play an important rôle not only in The Nightingale and the Rose (1888)[89], The Happy Prince (1888)[90], The Remarkable Rocket (1888)[91], The Birthday of the Infanta (1889)[92], The Fisherman and his Soul (1891)[93], but even in the earlier Vera or the Nihilists (1880)[94]. Actually, only against the background of the overriding importance of suffering in Wilde´s thought can the decisive function he assigns to art be adequately assessed. In The Critic as Artist Gilbert advises Ernest: "Steep yourself in the language of grief [...] and you will find that mere expression is a mode of consolation, and that Form, which is the birth of passion, is also the death of pain."[95] Prison meant for Wilde not the discovery of an essentially new spiritual dimension, but the existential deepening of his understanding of sorrow. Against Paglia, De Profundis should be read with an eye to previous works and de-dramatised so that one may appreciate the human depth that underlies his personal development and writing. In the light of what has been said, there is no reason to assume a "revolution of principles" when Wilde writes in De Profundis that "[s]uffering [...] is the means by which we exist, because it is the only means by which we become conscious of existing [...]."[96] No essential shift of perspective needs to be postulated when the emprisoned Wilde views his past life as though it had been "a real Symphony of Sorrow"[97] and describes himself and those like him in prison as "the zanies of sorrow [...] clowns whose hearts are broken."[98] That Wilde regards prison - a place of deepest sorrow - as "holy ground"[99], or that he exalts sorrow as "the supreme emotion of which man is capable, [...] at once the type and test of all great Art"[100], in no way contradicts the profound unity of Wilde´s work. By raising sorrow to "the ultimate type both in Life and Art"[101] and recognizing in suffering the "secret of life"[102], Wilde is just reformulating his previous view that hearts live by being wounded. Since Wilde´s conception of suffering and sorrow always coexisted with his fundamental anti-ethicism, he did not need to modify his fundamental standpoint that "[w]hile to propose to be a better man is a piece of unscientific cant, to have become a deeper man is the privilege of those who have suffered."[103] It is not by chance that Wilde deepens his early view of misery as mystery, and regards suffering not only as a mystery, but as a revelation.[104] Prison certainly taught him the hidden meaning of humility,[105] and there is obviously much room in De profundis for regret and repentance,[106] but not for the reasons society thought necessary to convict him. All the distress and humiliation Wilde went through did not curtail the dandy´s aesthetic stance. On the contrary, they just deepened its existential confirmation.

11. Since his Oxonian days, when Wilde first provoked social and intellectual reactions by his dandiacal non-conformism, his letters and writings give testimony of his constant meditation on the rôle of negativity and critique in life and art. Although Wilde would certainly not suscribe to all the nihilistic theses propounded in Vera, the conspirator Michael Stroganoff does echo Wilde´s own views when he asseveres that "whatever is, must be destroyed: whatever is, is wrong."[107] This ontological creed of a political radical actually coincides with Wilde´s aesthetic stance, for he once epigrammatically declared: "The present is what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are."[108] Not far from the Nitzschean philosophizing with the hammer, Wilde sees the essence of thought in destruction, since "[n]othing survives being thought of."[109] Wilde, as a matter of course, acknowledged that the artistic individualism he developed was "a disturbing and disintegrating force" [110]. Wilde´s intended critical destruction of the present constituted, however, only the preliminaries of his actual deployment of criticism. After having equated self-consciousness with the critical spirit[111] in The Critic as Artist, Wilde assigns the invention of fresh forms in art[112] to the critical faculty. Far from being a mere parasitic appendix to artistic creation, criticism is not only raised to the rank of art, but is considered "creative in the highest sense of the word."[113] Wilde is even prepared to sustain that "[t]he highest Criticism [...] is more creative than creation, and [that] the primary aim of the critic is to see the object as in itself it really is not."[114] The critic becomes a creator by taking works of art as suggestive occasions for a new work of his own, since the main characteristic of the beautiful form "is that one can put into it whatever one wishes, and see in it whatever one chooses to see."[115] It was Wilde´s conviction that beauty encourages the creative transcending of an actual art work by the artistic critic, free as he is from the conscious intentions of the artist whose work he is considering. But at the same time he believes that self-diffusing Beauty, revealing itself throughout history, depends on the negativity of criticism that creates new forms upon the ruins of its own destructions. Although Wilde surely had a deep affinity with Hegel´s conception of the Kraft der Negativität, he did not share his idealistic illusions concerning the consummation of historical time. Toward the end of The Critic as Artist Wilde writes: "It is Criticism that, recognising no position as final, and refusing to bind itself by the shallow shibboleths of any sect or school, creates that serene philosophic temper which loves truth for its own sake, and loves it not the less because it knows it to be unattainable."[116] Wilde´s thought opposes the Hegelian idea that philosophy constitues the final closure of History in the systematic completeness of the Spirit. Since it is the main task of the Critic as Artist to maintain history as forever open to new epiphanies of Beauty, there can be for Wilde no final manifestation of the Absolute in History. Against the claims of religious or philosophic eschatologies, Wilde asserts the self-transcending movement of negativity as it searches to create new forms of Beauty in the relativity of historical time.

12. Beyond biographical or idiosyncratic reasons, Wilde´s aestheticism opposed Christianity´s doctrinal references to a God incarnate, manifest in the past, but present forever in standards that govern human nature. The existential risks of the critical aesthete, constantly in search of new forms of Beauty, does not allow for a divine kairos proleptically closing up history. It is not by chance that his character Dorian Gray "sought to elaborate some new scheme of life that would have its reasoned philosophy and its ordered principles, and find in the spiritualising of the senses its highest realisation."[117] Since the senses have always been misunderstood and, through repression, have remained "savage and animal", Dorian Gray aims "at making them elements of a new spirituality, of which a fine instinct for beauty was to be the dominant characteristic."[118] In this context, the new Hellenism generally advocated by Wilde is described as a "new Hedonism" that would never sacrifice any mode of passionate experience.[119] Wilde´s enmity against the ascetism essential to Christianity is just the negative side of the "new spirituality" urged by Modernity. Having left behind the biblical God and the Christian heaven as incompatible with a modern aesthetic stance, Wilde persisted nevertheless in using a religious categoriality to grasp the Life he envisioned as the aim of true culture. Since for Wilde "[r]eligions [...] may be absorbed, but they never are disproved"[120], the furthering of this coming Life does not presuppose refuting the religion of the past. Far from contesting the tenets of one religion by recourse to the standpoint of another, Wilde´s aim is the transformation of the Western religious heritage into a non-creedal religiosity capable of satisfying the demands of aesthetically radicalised individuality. In its radical search after Life, the dandiacal spirituality of the senses rests on the critical rejection of the comforts of organised religion.

13. According to Charles Baudelaire, one of the foremost theoreticians of Modernity in the 19th century, dandyism borders on spiritualism and stoicism and should be considered as "une espèce de religion."[121] Wilde, who admired Baudelaire profusely,[122] could easily convince himself of the difficulties of realizing the dandy´s ideal by considering the life of the poète maudit. It is therefore not surprising that for Wilde "Life " is "the first, the greatest, of the arts, and for it all the other arts seem to be but a preparation"[123]. As an embodiment of artistic life, the dandy appears in the Wildean context as the critical and creative man par excellence, whose occasional frivolity is motivated not by shallowness, but by a deep insight into the mechanisms of social and ideological constraints. Being essentially a phenomenon critical of historical Christianity, dandyism entails a spirituality at odds with the manifestations of a transcendent God. Since "Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing"[124], dandiacal aestheticism is different from and more than a mere "artistic" repetition of the theological structures that underlie the revelation of supernatural truths. Thus, Wilde offers no Gospel affirming an eschatological triumph over the tragedy of humanity´s destiny, but, instead, a lucid meditation on the presence of aesthetic forms capable of overcoming, if only temporarily, the threads of nature. Since dandyism is eminently "an attempt to assert the absolute modernity of beauty"[125], it aims at substituting the supernatural revelation of the past with never-ceasing epiphanies of beauty issuing from unimpaired critical creativity. From this perspective, the dandy´s search after new forms of beauty implies a dynamic of freedom that radically opposes the Christian idealisation of saintly obedience. While the saint pledges to obey God´s commandments and distrusts his own aspirations to freedom, "the true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely himself."[126] The individualism he embodies, however, is not be confused with selfishness. In what can be regarded as a telling attempt at self-description Wilde writes, "[i]f you meet at dinner a man who has spent his life in educating himself - a rare type in our time, I admit, but still one occasionally to be met with - you rise from table richer, and conscious that a high ideal has for a moment touched and sanctified your days."[127] Here, it is not a a saint, but a modern dandy assuming the traditional religious function of the saint, who succeeds in hallowing the lives of men. Being an individualist, the dandy obviously does not propose a paradigm of conduct to be imitated, nor does he aim at creating "an absolute uniformity of type"[128]. Far from asking from others to be like himself, the dandy "will love them because they will be different."[129] Rejoicing in the endless varieties of existence and challenging the world just by being himself, the dandy is a unique case of a man denying God and ready to suspend ethics in order to win his soul.

14. Toward the end of De Profundis Wilde writes: "The Mystical in Art, the Mystical in Life, the Mystical in Nature - this is what I am looking for and in the great symphonies of Music, in the initiation of Sorrow, in the depths of the Sea I may find it. It is absolutely necessary for me to find it somewhere."[130] The Mystical that Wilde searched for in 1897 does not lie within the scope of mainstream Western religiosity and in itself indicates no return to a Christian bent of mind as Camille Paglia´s simplifying schemes presumes. The Mystical as perceived by Wilde, the suffering dandy, is a fundamental part of his aesthetic quest. Consequently, the Mystical does not imply the acceptance of revelational faith nor of theistic premises, but is the ultimate perception of the depth and intensity of Life´s beauty as manifested in art and through art in nature. In its post-Christian character, Wilde´s mysticism presupposes not only a fundamental critique but also a sympathetic transformation of the Greek philosophical and Christian religious heritages through his ground-breaking assessment of aisthesis. From this stance, the philosophy of Aristotle and the preaching of Jesus, Hellenism and Christianity must undergo a critical and creative reinterpretation that will adapt them to an emergent historical consciousness free from the illusions of a definite and definitive truth. In this connection, Wilde´s once remarked: "The artistic critic, like the mystic, is an antinomian always."[131] For Wilde, the mystical perception of reality preempts the closures of traditional religion for the sake of a higher religiosity, much in the same way as his own dandiacal aestheticism aimed at opening up the Western religious tradition to the spirituality of the senses. Since the dandy´s life experience deepened by sorrow is the actual source of this post-Christian spirituality, it validates Wilde´s dictum that "[e]verything to be true must become a religion."[132] It is not by chance that Wilde feels as if he would like "to found an order for those who cannot believe: The Confraternity of the Fatherless one might call it, where on a altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine."[133] These lines, central for the understanding of De Profundis, show no trace of Christian contrition. They are rather an attempt at finding symbolic expression for the religious condition of those who faute de mieux might call themselves atheists or agnostics, while bearing openly the scars of religious loss. For them, the refusal to invoke the dead heavenly Father is the condition sine qua non for hallowing the depth of Life.

15. Throughout his life, Wilde was attracted by Roman Catholicism. Although baptised and raised as a Protestant, there are good reasons to believe that as a small child and at the instigation of his mother he and his brother Willie were baptised anew by a Catholic priest.[134] In view of the biographical evidence[135] relating to Wilde´s adulthood, it is not surprising that the Catholic Robert Ross, who was to become his literary executor, called a Passionist priest to receive the dying Wilde into the Roman Catholic Church.[136] But the circumstances in which the agonized Wilde presumably assented to his conversion were ambiguous and some people familiar with his life and thought refused to believe that he could have ever been willing to take such a step. Whatever his last intentions were, it should not be overlooked that his lifelong fascination with Catholicism was shared by other French and English so-called decadent aesthetes, who were highly appreciative of Catholic art and ceremonials. Taken all in all, the adult Wilde seems to have been attracted to Catholicism for its ritualism rather than for its dogma or moral teachings. Judging by the evidence in his writings and letters, it is clear that the mature Wilde - for all his admiration for the man Jesus - never accepted the dogma of an incarnate divinity, nor was he prepared to sacrifice the practice of his sexual preferences in order to conform to Catholic ideals. At any rate, there are conscious decisions made by Wilde that promote a better understanding of his oeuvre than the intentions that might have moved him in extremis. Indeed, more telling than having desired or not desired conditional baptism at his deathbed is the name he gave himself after prison in order to live unrecognised.[137] This name was Sebastian Melmoth. In a way, it contains the whole "truth of a mask" as Wilde had once formulated, since it poignantly resumes the quest and the accepted tragedy of his life. The name Sebastian is the name of the Roman martyr whose depiction in Renaissance art Wilde intensely admired. How present the meaning of the Sebastian iconography was to his mind is shown in a relatively early letter, from 1877, in which Wilde recalls having thought of John Keats "as a Priest of Beauty slain before his time, a lovely Sebastian killed by the arrows of a lying and unjust tongue."[138] While Wilde takes his new first name from Christian history and art, he recurs ultimately to Jewish tradition for his surname. Admittedly, the name Melmoth goes back to the Ahasveric hero of Melmoth the Wanderer, a Gothic novel published in 1820 by the Irish writer Charles Robert Maturin, Wilde´s great-uncle on his mother´s side.[139] By putting on the mask of Sebastian, the martyred priest of Beauty, and of Melmoth, a hero condemned to eternal wandering, the suffering dandy was actually telling the true story of his life. His dangerous celebrations of Beauty demanded the qualities of the homo viator, whose painful quest is endless. Wilde was surely hinting at the paths of his life when he wrote: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."[140]

[1] Baudelaire, [Charles]: Œuvres complètes II. Texte établi, présenté et annoté par Claude Pichois. Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Éditions Gallimard, 1976, p. 493

[2] In his essay Nietzsche´s Philosophie im Lichte unserer Erfahrung, Thomas Mann draws a parallel between Nietzsche and Wilde and speaks in this context of "Familienähnlichkeit" [family resemblance] and "nahe Verwandtschaft" [close affinity]. (Mann, Thomas: Gesammelte Werke in dreizehn Bänden. Stuttgart: Deutscher Bücherbund, 1974, Vol. IX,1: Reden und Aufsätze, p. 691)

[3] Cf. Joyce, James: Oscar Wilde: The Poet of Salomé (1909). In: The Critical Writings of James Joyce. Edited by Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann. Foreword by Guy Davenport. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1989, pp. 201-205

[4] Cf. Mann, Thomas: Nietzsche´s Philosophie im Lichte unserer Erfahrung, op. cit., pp. 691-692; 707

[5] Cf. Borges, Jorge Luis: Sobre Oscar Wilde. In: Borges, Jorge Luis: Obras Completas I (1952-1972). Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1989, pp. 69-71

[6] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. With an introduction by Vyvyan Holland. London and Glasgow: Collins, 1981, pp. 874, 916 [De Profundis]. (All quotes from the works of Wilde refer to this edition. However, in order to facilitate the consultation of other editions, the title of the work containing the quote is added after the page reference.)

[7] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1205 [Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young]

[8] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 32 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[9] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 459 [A Woman of No Importance]

[10] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 459 [A Woman of No Importance]

[11] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 438 [A Woman of No Importance]

[12] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 371 [The Importance of Being Earnest]

[13] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 981 [The Decay of Lying]

[14] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1194 [The Portrait of Mr. W.H.]

[15] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 880 [De Profundis]

[16] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 43 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[17] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1078 [The Truth of Masks]

[18] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1078 [The Truth of Masks]

[19] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1078 [The Truth of Masks]

[20] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 990 [The Decay of Lying]

[21] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 912 [De Profundis]

[22] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1058 [The Critic as Artist]

[23] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1040 [The Critic as Artist]

[24] Clark, Kenneth: Introduction. In: Pater, Walter: The Renaissance. Studies in Art and Poetry. To which is added the essay on Raphael from Miscellaneous Studies. London and Glasgow: Collins, 1961, p. 26

[25] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1019 [The Critic as Artist]

[26] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1148 [The Rise of Historical Criticism]

[27] Cf. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1105 [The Rise of Historical Criticism]: "It is among the Hellenic branch of the Indo-Germanic race that history proper is to be found, as well as the spirit of historical criticism [...]"

[28] Cf. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1016 [The Critic as Artist]: "For after all, what is our primary debt to the Greeks? Simply the critical spirit."

[29] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1103 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[30] Pater, Walter: The Renaissance. Studies in Art and Poetry. To which is added the essay on Raphael from Miscellaneous Studies. With an Introduction and Notes by Kenneth Clark. London and Glasgow: Collins, 1961, p. 214

[31] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1174 [The Portrait of Mr. W.H.]

[32] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1040 [The Critic as Artist]

[33] Published incomplete for the first time in 1905. The complete version appeared in the first edition of Wilde´s collected works in 1908.

[34] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1040 [The Critic as Artist]

[35] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1127 [The Rise of Historical Criticism]

[36] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1042 [The Critic as Artist]

[37] De Caelo I, 9 (279 a 11-12)

[38] Cf. Protrepticus 13 (Ross) (W 11)

[39] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1039 [The Critic as Artist]

[40] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1085 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[41] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1041 [The Critic as Artist]

[42] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1100 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[43] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1085 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[44] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1085 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[45] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1087 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[46] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1087 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[47] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 922 [De Profundis]

[48] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 925 [De Profundis]

[49] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 931 [De Profundis]

[50] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 931 [De Profundis]

[51] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 923 [De Profundis]

[52] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 932 [De Profundis]

[53] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 931 [De Profundis]

[54] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1102 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[55] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1102 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[56] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1102 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[57] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1103 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[58] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1103 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[59] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1103 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[60] This is illustrated by the case of the heroine of Vera, or the Nihilists (1880), who at the closing of the third act announces her self-immolation on the altar of Liberty, the "crucified mother" (Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 681 [Vera, or the Nihilists]), in order to save Russia from the supposedly treacherous czar. It seems that, for Wilde, the Christian heritage of suffering lives on in Vera´s determination "to strangle whatever nature is in me." (Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 681 [Vera, or the Nihilists])

[61] In its development, man´s personality will be assisted by Christianity, "if men desire that, but if men do not desire that, it will develop none the less surely." (Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1084-1085 [The Soul of Man under Socialism])

[62] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1085 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[63] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 390 [Lady Windermere´s Fan]. Darlington repeats almost word for word the view forwarded by Prince Paul in Vera. Cf. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 665 [Vera, or the Nihilists]

[64] Gide, André: Oscar Wilde. In Memoriam (Souvenirs). Le "De Profundis." Paris: Mercure de France, 1989, p. 12. Cf. also p. 32.

[65] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 517 [The Ideal Husband]

[66] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 985 [The Decay of Lying]

[67] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 983 [The Decay of Lying]

[68] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 29 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[69] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 922 [De Profundis]

[70] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 916 [De Profundis]

[71] Cf. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1103 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]: "For what man has sought for is, indeed, neither pain nor pleasure, but simply Life. Man has sought to live intensely, fully, perfectly."

[72] Cf., for example, Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1048 [The Critic as Artist]: "[...] the first condition of criticism is that the critic should be able to recognise that the sphere of Art and the sphere of Ethics are absolutely distinct and separate."

[73] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1058 [The Critic as Artist]

[74] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 958 [The Case of Warder Martin: Some Cruelties of Prison Life (Letter to the "Daily Chronicle", May 28, 1897)]

[75] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 144 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[76] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1081 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[77] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1023-1024 [The Critic as Artist]

[78] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1040 [The Critic as Artist]

[79] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 462 [A Woman of No Importance]

[80] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 52 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[81] Joyce, James: Oscar Wilde: The Poet of Salomé, op. cit., p. 204-205

[82] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1058 [The Critic as Artist]

[83] Paglia, Camille: Sexual Personae. Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New York: Vintage Books, 1991, p. 568

[84] Paglia, Camille: Sexual Personae, op. cit., p. 571

[85] Significant in this context are two anecdotes depicting Wilde´s mindfulness and generosity referred by: Ellmann, Richard: Oscar Wilde. London: Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 389-390.

[86] Paglia, Camille: Sexual Personae, op. cit., p. 512

[87] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 290 [The Happy Prince]

[88] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 476 [A Woman of No Importance]

[89] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 294 [The Nightingale and the Rose]: "All night long she sang, and the thorn went deeper and deeper into her breast, and her life blood ebbed away from her."

[90] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 290 [The Happy Prince]: "And he [i.e. the Swallow] kissed the Happy Prince on the lips, and fell down dead at his feet. At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two."

[91] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 311[The Remarkable Rocket]: " 'Any place you love is the world to you,' exclaimed the pensive Catherine Wheel, who [...] prided herself on her broken heart; 'but love is not fashionable any more, the poets have killed it. They wrote so much about it that nobody believed them, and I am not surprised. True love suffers, and is silent [...]' "

[92] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 247 [The Birthday of the Infanta]

[93] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 271 [The Fisherman and his Soul]: "[...] and the heart that was within him brake. And as through the fullness of his love his heart did break, the Soul found an entrance and entered in, and was one with him even as before."

[94] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 680 [Vera, or the Nihilists]: "You left your father that night, and three weeks after he dies of a broken heart."

[95] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1052 [The Critic as Artist]

[96] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 884 [De Profundis]

[97] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 884 [De Profundis]

[98] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 937 [De Profundis]

[99] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 906 [De Profundis]

[100] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 919 [De Profundis]

[101] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 920 [De Profundis]

[102] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 920 [De Profundis]

[103] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 935 [De Profundis]

[104] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 919 [De Profundis]: "Clergymen, and people who use phrases without wisdom, sometimes talk of suffering as a mystery. It is really a revelation."

[105] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 913 [De Profundis]: Now I find hidden away in my nature something that tells me that nothing in the whole world is meaningless, and suffering least of all. That something hidden away in my nature, like a treasure in a field, is Humility."

[106] Overviewing his past life before imprisonment, Wilde writes in a letter from 1897: "I am more an individualist in morals than before, but I see clearly that my life was one quite unworthy of an artist in its deliberate and studied materialism." (In: Hart-Davis, Rupert (ed.): More Letters of Oscar Wilde. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 147) This is also the basic view taken in De Profundis.

[107] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 677 [Vera, or the Nihilists]

[108] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde , op. cit., p. 1100 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[109] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 464 [A Woman of No Importance]

[110] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1091 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[111] Cf. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1020 [The Critic as Artist]: "[...] there is no fine art without self consciousness, and self consciousness and the critical spirit are one."

[112] Cf. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1021 [The Critic as Artist]

[113] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde , op. cit., p. 1026 [The Critic as Artist]

[114] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde , op. cit., p. 1030 [The Critic as Artist]

[115] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1030 [The Critic as Artist]

[116] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1057 [The Critic as Artist]

[117] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 104 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[118] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 104 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[119] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 104 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[120] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1109 [The Rise of Historical Criticism]

[121] Baudelaire, [Charles]: Œuvres complètes. Volume II. Texte établi, présenté et annoté par Claude Pichois. Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, 1976, p. 711

[122] It is not by chance that Baudelaire´s depictions of dandiacal existence had a considerable influence on Wilde´s outlook. An instance where Baudelaire seems to prefigure Wilde´s assessment of his own life and work can be found in La Fanfarlo. There, Baudelaire describes Samuel Cramer, to a certain extent his own self-portrait, as follows: " [...] Samuel fut, plus que tout autre, l´homme des belles œuvres ratées; créature maladive et fantastique, dont la poésie brille bien blus dans sa personne que dans ses œuvres, et qui [...] m´est toujours apparu comme le dieu de l´impuissance, - dieu moderne et hermaphrodite, - impuissance si colossale et si énorme qu´elle en est épique." (Baudelaire, [Charles]: Œuvres complètes. Volume I. Texte établi, présenté et annoté par Claude Pichois. Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, 1975, p. 553). Cf. the Wildean dictum transmited by André Gide quoted above, § 8.

[123] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 103 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[124] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1030 [The Critic as Artist]

[125] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 103 [The Picture of Dorian Gray]

[126] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1092 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[127] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1043 [The Critic as Artist]

[128] Cf. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1101 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]: "Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people´s lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognises infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all. [...] If he can think, he will probably think differently. [...] Under Individualism people will be quite natural and absolutely unselfish [...] Nor will men be egoistic as they are now. For the egoist is he who makes claims upon others, and the individualist will not desire to do that."

[129] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1084 [The Soul of Man under Socialism]

[130] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 955 [De Profundis]

[131] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 1057 [The Critic as Artist]

[132] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 915 [De Profundis]

[133] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 915 [De Profundis]

[134] Cf. Ellmann, Richard: Oscar Wilde. London: Penguin Books, 1987, pp. 18-19

[135] So, for example, he managed during his first visit in Rome as a young man to be received in private audience by Pope Pius IX, whom he apostrophizes as "a second Peter" (Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 725 [Sonnet on Approaching Italy]). (Cf. Ellmann, Richard: Oscar Wilde, op. cit., pp. 70-71) Immediately after his release from prison, he asked the Jesuits at Farm Street in London for a six-month retreat, but his demand was promptly refused. (Cf. Ellmann, Richard: Oscar Wilde, op. cit., pp. 495-496) In his last years, being again in Rome, Wilde reported to have fervently knelt on several occasions before the Pope in order to receive his blessings. (Cf. Ellmann, Richard: Oscar Wilde, op. cit., pp. 541-542)

[136] Cf. Ellmann, Richard: Oscar Wilde, op. cit., pp. 548-549. Further: Pearson, Hesketh: The Life of Oscar Wilde. London: Penguin Books, 1985, pp. 370-371

[137] Wilde indicates in a letter to Ada Leverson that he is staying in his French exile "as Sebastian Melmoth - not Esquire but Monsieur Sebastien [note the second e ] Melmoth." To Mrs. Bernard Beere he writes: "Monsieur Sebastian Melmoth is my name now to the world." In: Hart-Davis, Rupert (ed.): Selected Letters of Oscar Wilde. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 267 and 268

[138] Hart-Davis, Rupert (ed.): Selected Letters of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 16

[139] Cf. Hart-Davis, Rupert (ed.): Selected Letters of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 266

[140] Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 417 [Lady Windermere´s Fan]