The importance of being clever
Someone asked me once: “If you, Fahrenheit 451-style, got to pick a novel to memorize and ‘be’ (excluding your own), which would you choose and why?”
Well, it would have to be something by Oscar Wilde. But not THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. It would drive me crazy if I had to live with Dorian Gray in my head all my life. It would have to be THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. It’s not a novel, but I don’t think there’s a novel I would like to memorize. There are many novels I like to read, but to memorize that’s different. It would have to be something that doesn’t throw me off my psychological axis, and that’s Oscar Wilde’s plays. Since they’re short, I could memorize all of them. And after that, I’d also like to memorize some of Plato’s dialogues or the Socratic dialogues, like Symposium, Phaedrus, Gorgias, The Republic. I love Socrates method of showing people that they’re not as wise as they think. All done through dialogue. I just never tire of clever dialogue, and I think dialogue, overall, is underrated in literature. Shakespeare and Dickens are some other great masters of dialogue that I can never get enough of, but I’ll go with Oscar Wilde.
And now I’ll show you how Oscar Wilde’s dialogue can help diffuse a tense situation, should ‘the books’ people are memorizing start talking among themselves. I’m sure it can happen.
Let’s say you have a Fahrenheit 451 situation where ‘the books’ people have memorized start talking among themselves, then Oscar Wilde’s dialogue from THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST can help take the edge off a situation. Like so:
OSCAR WILDE: “Jack: I believe it is customary in good society to take some refreshment at five o’clock.”
PLATO’S SYMPOSIUM: “Our customs are much better but not easy to understand. …Open love is regarded better than secret love, and so is love of the noblest and best people, even if they are not the best-looking.”
OSCAR WILDE: “I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.”
JAMES JOYCE’S ULYSSES: “Eh, Harry, give him a kick in the knackers.”
OSCAR WILDE: “Jack: Is that clever?”
Algernon: It is perfectly phrased.”
SOCRATES in PHAEDRUS: “Try, then, to answer my question about Eros. Is Eros love of nothing, or of something?”
OSCAR WILDE: “Cecily: What an impetuous boy he is! I like his hair so much.”
Just an example.