Adorno and Wilde

“For that reason, however, reflection on the work of art is justified in inquiring, and obligated to inquire concretely into its social content and not content itself with a vague feeling of something universal and inclusive”… “In order to be susceptible of aesthetic contemplation, works of art must always be thought through as well, and once thought has been called into play by the poem it does not let itself be stopped at the poem’s behest,” (Adorno 38).

This “vague feeling of something universal and inclusive” is what interests me in Adorno’s passage. Instead of simply reflecting on the content with the notion that it has social prerequisites, we should take into consideration what it means to be human by “hear[ing ] the voice of humankind”. So we are obligated to inquire, as Adorno says, and think deeply since social content is more than just being universal and inclusive at the same time. In addition, he says thinking about literature’s concepts cannot be extinguished. That if the work is doing its job correctly, then it calls on you to think in other moments when you’re not looking at the work.

This point, that literature is an art form with a powerful social construct which begs not to be thought about during one’s reading or even after, but into daily life reminded me of the jabs Wilde had Vivian take about Nature in his essay.

“Nothing is more evident than that Nature hates Mind. Thinking is the most unhealthy thing in the world, and people die of it just as they die of any other disease. Fortunately, in England at any rate, thought is not catching. Our splendid physique as people is entirely due to our national stupidity” (Wilde 479)

But what makes me connect these two passages is, what if the Nature Wilde is writing about is human nature and not just the physical world? That the human mind (Mind) is constantly debating human nature (Nature) and it is this that makes up every work of literature, and makes one think thoroughly and daily about works of art. I feel as if both authors argue this point, and both feel that it is highly overlooked when reading an important text.

Adorno, Theadore W. “On Lyric Poetry and Society.” Notes to Literature. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. 38. Print.

Wilde, Oscar. “The Decay of Lying: An Observation.” The Critical Tradition. Ed. David Richter. New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 2007. 479. Print.