“A Rather Pathetic Play”: On Public Shaming and the Cult of Censorship

May 4, 2015

By Stuart Whatley at LA Review of Books

IN DE PROFUNDIS, written from his cell in Reading Gaol in 1897, Oscar Wilde reprises an old prison cliché, and declares that he’s found Jesus. He is quick to clarify: his is “the Christ who is not in churches” but rather the mythopoetical ideal, the personification of “imaginative sympathy” that sees “no difference at all between the lives of others and one’s own life.” Wilde had been imprisoned for two years for gross indecency and subjected to hard labor. His trial had made him a character of “public infamy” and a victim of “financial ruin,” and afterward he was forced to stand “in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.” And yet he is perseverant, even hopeful. Having succored his soul through pain, a whole new artistic “mode of perfection” is apparent to him. Where once he saw only “the sungilt side of the garden,” he could now speak to the full Manichean diptych of human experience, necessarily completed by “shadow” and “gloom...