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How does 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde use paradox to explore its aesthetic standpoint

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Introduction

How does 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde use paradox to explore its aesthetic standpoint? By Oliver Walsh In the 'Picture of Dorian Gray' Wilde uses paradox throughout the novel to express, explore, question and test the philosophy of aesthetics. The characters in the book are seen through the eyes of Wilde's moral standpoint, and the fates of individuals are all steeped in opposite dualistic meanings. Wilde is writing about aestheticism in a Victorian era where it flourished partly as a reaction against the materialism of the burgeoning middle class, assumed to be composed of philistines (individuals ignorant of art) who responded to art in a generally unrefined manner. In this climate, the artist could assert himself as a remarkable and rarefied being, one leading the search for beauty in an age marked by shameful class inequality, social hypocrisy, and bourgeois complacency. Wilde weights his argument heavily on the benefits of aestheticism and plays down its negative aspect, like the lack of morality, until the end of the novel when Dorian is confronted by the painting which dramatically illustrates and exposes his corrupt soul and the darker side of pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle. ...read more.

Middle

The picture inexplicitly changes as a response to Dorian's actions, the image reflects his conscience and his true self, and serves as the mirror of his soul. The prevalent view at that time was the soul is metaphysical, but the painting shows it physically and symbolises the inversion of art/nature, body/soul - binary oppositions. Wilde uses the picture to explore much of the paradox in the novel through the symbolic device of the picture and the role of the painting is to merge seemingly opposite ideas. After Dorian wished for eternal youth he is made up of both art and nature. His self is divided between his perfect unchanging physical form and the horrors of his degraded soul in the portrait. Only through this splitting of his self does he truly become a 'visible symbol' for the aesthetic movement. Dorian's visit to an opium den says a great deal about the paradox of morality/immorality in Dorian. Dorian, as an aesthete should live life for experiences, sensation, and of course beauty. Wilde paradoxically reintroduces conventional morality through the concept of guilt that finds Dorian escaping the effects of an aesthetic lifestyle through losing consciousness in opium induced stupor. ...read more.

Conclusion

"Wilde's method of inversion resembles Derida's strategy of deconstruction....By exposing every metaphysical truth as an ideological construction (by revealing its hidden presumption) deconstruction destroys the foundation of any transcendental truth. In Damian Finnegan's 'Investigation of Wilde's aestheticism in relation to postmodernism' he comments: "Wilde in his work used the paradoxical epigram as the strategy par excellence to avoid any settled custom of thought or stereotyped mode of looking at things". "The paradox puts prevailing truisms into perspective by turning them upside down." The novel itself is a paradox as it argues for aestheticism and then heavily criticises and denounces it. In conclusion Wilde appears to sit on the fence with this novel in some respects as although he strongly puts forward a positive argument for the Aesthetic movement he counter balances this with the price to be paid for living a life of aestheticism. Perhaps the cautionary tale told in this novel display his cynicism towards aestheticism directly from his own hedonistic life style as an aesthete. Wilde uses paradox as a method of deconstruction and exposure of the hypocrisy of Victorian values by turning them upside down. Although he may have succeeded in freeing his art from the confines of Victorian morality, he has replaced it with a doctrine that is, in its own way, just as restrictive. ...read more.

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