Oscar Wilde Was a Strange and Brilliant Man.
Whenever someone mentions Oscar Wilde, people usually think of one thing. He was gay. He was actually arrested for homosexual acts back in 1895 (yeah, they could arrest you for that back then). He was imprisoned for two years, and after his release, he only ever produced one significant piece of work: his poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
It’s hard to say whether the abrupt ruination of his career was what made him stop writing. Maybe it was depression, or maybe it was just the fact that he had no more public to create masterpieces for. He was always adamant about the fact that he didn’t write to “please” the public. It’s my opinion that he wrote in an attempt to show them what his idea of a masterpiece was, and to try and get them to agree. He believed that the modern critics of the time should be “educated” – that they didn’t do their work properly, and that they missed the whole point of literary criticism.
“The moment criticism exercises any influence,” Wilde said in an interview with Gilbert Burgess (a contributor to The Sketch, a British illustrated newspaper), “it ceases to be criticism.”
Modern critics could take a few pointers from Wilde. Criticism nowadays is usually just a scathing crap-slinging fest, with no real intuitive observation involved.
It was Wilde’s belief that the aim of criticism shouldn’t be the attempt to get someone to change their work. It should simply be an evaluation of the work that already exists – the feelings it inspired, the smells it made you smell, the colors it made you see.
What do you think? Do you think criticism (i.e., book, film and music reviews) should be made with the objective of making a work more perfect? Any time you point out a work’s shortcomings, you’re giving people the idea that you think something about the work should be changed. Is this constructive criticism – or is it subjective influence? Was Wilde’s idea of criticism too mild? Do you think he just didn’t like to be criticized?
It’s a topic with the potential for heated debate. Sort of like politics.