Like many I’m thinking of the Irish writer Oscar Wilde on this St. Patrick’s Day. Not the Wilde of drawing rooms, the famous man of wit, but the writer who was jailed for being queer and loud–or so received opinion has it–but the true reason he was persecuted lies in this easy to overlook passage from his essay “The Critic as Artist”:
“Ethics, like natural selection, make existence possible. Aesthetics, like sexual selection, make life lovely and wonderful, fill it with new forms, and give it progress, and variety and change.”
This was too scary for British society and it’s too dangerous for the governing classes even now. Notice it’s not the nouns that frighten, it’s the analogies. If ethics are like natural selection they must necessarily evolve; if aesthetics are like sexual selection, they must also be a matter of primal desires, a thing that scares the pants off the Chinese government or American conservatives who even now hate Robert Mapplethorpe. Analogies make poetry powerful and destabilizing.
Today from Myanmar to Moscow writers and scholars are being persecuted and I’m thinking of them today, as I so often do.