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Notes to Dartblog: Oscar Wilde Edition
A “stressed student” who has “final exams coming up” writes:
On Dartblog I came across this quote: “Surely one might pay for extraordinary joy in ordinary morals. Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.”Miss Garcia, I can certainly explain my appreciation of Chesterton’s remark, although I am sure I cannot explain its peculiar significance other than to say that it is a wise and probably true thing for Chesterton to have said. (Although this fails to distinguish the quotation in question from Chesterton’s others.)
I am just wondering if you can do me the favor of explaining to me what Chesterton means in that passage as well as why that meaning is significant. I am particularly interested in the first sentence though because that is really the only one I think I am confused about. Thank you for your time, and I’ll greatly appreciate it if you can get back to me with an answer as soon as possible.
G.K. Chesterton wrote without much sarcasm, which lubricates so much of what we read today; this has the effect of blurring much of his meaning to students. In this passage, from Orthodoxy, Chesterton cannot make out why the moral demands of Christianity are so popularly maligned as oppressive and unworkable when in point of fact they are, compared to any more fantastic moral code one might dream up, just the opposite: sensible and readily applied. When he writes that one surely “might pay for extraordinary joy in ordinary morals,” he is saying that it is quite sensible to offer obeisance to the moral code in exchange for the joy that is life. He is saying it is a small price to pay. And this trade is still more sensible because the morality one needs to adhere to is ordinary and common, whereas the joy received in return is entirely extraordinary; it is provisioned by one vendor only.
Oscar Wilde, the wild and ridiculous aesthete seen above, thought that there was no worth in a sunset, pretty though it may be, because one could not capture, buy, sell, or auction it. The sunset will exist any way, so what is the point of doing an encomium to it? “Nobody of any real culture…ever talks nowadays about the beauty of a sunset,” since sunsets have no authors to glorify. Ah, but they have; and instead of elaborate paeans, all the author really wants is good behavior—which was, of course, a sum exceeding Oscar Wilde’s considerable wealth.
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…