The Decay of Lying

I have fallen behind in my reporting (diary).  I wanted to to post on this a week ago. It may help certain people get through what’s coming next. I am going to blog on what I think I saw at the Grammys, and stick my neck……………………………..way out!  WTF?

McGrath’s study of Irish Writing, sounds like White Rap. Black Musicians (and their Muses) must transcend the need to obtain Victim Status in order to achieve Genius. Genius may have nothing to do with Music – and politics! What is Neo-Funk? I didn’t hear anything that sounded like Black Romanticism. No Nina Simone, Ray Charles, or Son House. They wheeled out Tony Bennett to give us a hint of a Love Ballad. Compare Son House to Wilde’s ‘Ballad of the Redding Gaol’…………….and wonder! What is the truth?

Try playing both videos at same time.

Jon Presco

The Decay Of Lying – An Observation” is an essay by Oscar Wilde included in his collection of essays titled Intentions, published in 1891. This is a significantly revised version of the article that first appeared in the January 1889 issue of The Nineteenth Century.

Wilde presents the essay in a Socratic dialogue, with the characters of Vivian and Cyril having a conversation throughout. The conversation, although playful and whimsical, promotes Wilde’s view of Romanticism over Realism.[1] Vivian tells Cyril of an article he has been writing called “The Decay Of Lying: A Protest”. According to Vivian, the decay of Lying “as an art, a science, and a social pleasure” is responsible for the decline of modern literature, which is overly concerned with the representation of facts and social reality. He writes, “if something cannot be done to check, or at least to modify, our monstrous worship of facts, Art will become sterile and beauty will pass away from the land.” Moreover, Vivian defends the idea that Life imitates Art far more than vice versa. Nature, he argues, is no less an imitation of Art than Life. Vivian also contends that Art is never representative of a time or place: rather, “the highest art rejects the burden of the human spirit […] She develops purely on her own lines. She is not symbolic of any age.” Vivian thus defends Aestheticism and the concept of “art for art’s sake“. At Cyril’s behest, Vivian briefly summarizes the doctrines of the “new aesthetics” in the following terms:

  • Art never expresses anything but itself.
  • All bad art comes from returning to Life and Nature, and elevating them into ideals.
  • Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life. It follows as a corollary that external Nature also imitates Art.
  • Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art.

The essay ends with the two characters going outside, as Cyril asked Vivian to do at the beginning of the essay. Vivian finally complies, saying that twilight nature’s “chief use” may be to “illustrate quotations from the poets.”

Life imitating art

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Anti-mimesis is a philosophical position that holds the direct opposite of Aristotelian mimesis. Its most notable proponent is Oscar Wilde, who opined in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. In the essay, written as a Platonic dialogue, Wilde holds that anti-mimesis “results not merely from Life’s imitative instinct, but from the fact that the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realise that energy.”.[1][2]

What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art. As in an example posited by Wilde, although there has been fog in London for centuries, one notices the beauty and wonder of the fog because “poets and painters have taught the loveliness of such effects…They did not exist till Art had invented them.”.[1]

McGrath places the antimimetic philosophy in a tradition of Irish writing, including Wilde and writers such as Synge and Joyce in a group that “elevate blarney (in the form of linguistic idealism) to aesthetic and philosophical distinction”, noting that Terry Eagleton observes an even longer tradition that stretches “as far back in Irish thought as the ninth-century theology of John Scottus Eriugena” and “the fantastic hyperbole of the ancient sagas”. Wilde’s antimimetic idealism, specifically, McGrath describes to be part of the late nineteenth century debate between Romanticism and Realism.[1] Wilde’s antimimetic philosophy has also had influence on later Irish writers, including Brian Friel.

Halliwell asserts that the idea that life imitates art derives from classical notions that can be traced as far back as the writings of Aristophanes of Byzantium, and does not negate mimesis but rather “displace[s] its purpose onto the artlike fashioning of life itself”. Halliwell draws a parallel between Wilde’s philosophy and Aristophanes’ famous question about the comedies written by Menander: “O Menander and Life! Which of you took the other as your model?”, noting, however, that Aristophanes was a precursor to Wilde, and not necessarily espousing the positions that Wilde was later to propound.[3]

In George Bernard Shaw‘s preface to Three Plays he wrote, “I have noticed that when a certain type of feature appears in painting and is admired as beautiful, it presently becomes common in nature; so that the Beatrices and Francescas in the picture galleries of one generation come to life as the parlor-maids and waitresses of the next.” He stated that he created the aristocratic characters in Cashel Byron’s Profession as unrealistically priggish even without his later understanding that “the real world does not exist…men and women are made by their own fancies in the image of the imaginary creatures in my youthful fictions, only much stupider.” Shaw, however, disagreed with Wilde on some points. He considered most attempts by life to imitate art to be reprehensible, in part because the art that people generally chose to imitate was idealistic and romanticized.[4]

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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