A Deep Pool

From the Preface to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde’s criticism of Victorian art:

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

Caliban, an anagram of the original Spanish canibal, aka the drunken, wildman of Shakespeare’s The Tempest; all this richness alluded to in a few lines of Joyce’s Ulysses:

Laughing again, be brought the mirror away from Stephen’s peering eyes.

-The rage of Caliban at not seeing his face in a mirror, he said. If Wilde were only alive to see you.

Drawing back and pointing, Stephen said with bitterness:

-It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookinglass of a servant.

The length of Ulysses notwithstanding, Joyce is economical with words, creating depth that opens up slowly, with attention.

That last line, alluding to Oscar Wilde’s Intentions:

I can quite understand your objection to art being treated as a mirror. You think it would reduce genius to the position of a cracked looking-glass of a servant.

If you are reading, or better rereading Ulysses, doing so accompanied by Frank Delaney’s weekly podcast (linked below) is highly recommended.


2 thoughts on “A Deep Pool

  1. >Dear Anthony,It is provocative that the opening invocation of the book (_Ulysses_) has Mr. Mulligan bearing a shaving bowl on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. Seems to me that about sums up the action of nearly the entire book–mirror and razor.shalom,Steven

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