The Picture of Dorian Gray & Sensuality

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

Why is it that things like pleasure, beauty and art end up leaving us empty and guilty? I found a fascinating book/play on the topic. It is a short play, a fictional conversation between Oscar Wilde, known for his if it feels good, do it philosophy; Blaise Pascal, the brilliant mathematician, and Jesus. The words are taken from their actual writings or real accounts of them or words implied by their writings or words spoken. The conversation takes place in Paris, as a syphilis-suffering Wilde contemplates his death. Below are some of my favorite excerpts and quotes from their conversation.

[From: Sense and Sensuality: Jesus talks with Oscar Wilde on the pursuit of pleasure, by Ravi Zacharias, Multnomah books, 2002.]

Let us begin with Jesus, who speaks of King Solomon, who at the end of his life had pretty much tried it all:

Jesus quoting Solomon: “I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under the sun… I undertook great projects: I built many houses, planted numerous vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted fruit trees. I owned more flocks than anyone before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired a harem… the delight of the heart of man. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (62)

Jesus then explains to a processing Wilde that pleasure is always temporary if it is apart from God or if it profanes what God intended. “All pleasure, however good, is locked into the sensation of the moment.” (63)

Following this, Wilde asks Jesus some interesting questions: “Why did you make us thus? Why does this body crave pleasure to such a painful limit? We seduce ourselves by what You made us desire. We play with things You wanted us to treat as sacred. We run from things You wanted us to cling to. We make companions of those You never told us to embrace. We clutch in our hands what You wanted us to throw away. We throw away what You wanted us to hold fast to. We dream of things that make life a nightmare. Why this disorder in the way we are made?” (65)

Jesus then responds that every power man has, comes as a double edge sword. It can be used properly or it can be abused. It is the abused distorted desire that appeals to our souls. Wilde describes the book he wrote, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

It is about a very attractive young man, Dorian, who asks an artist to make a portrait of him. The young man knew he was incredibly good looking, and he wanted something that would last as a reminder of his amazing looks. He also wanted his “riotous and sensual living” to only affect the picture. So he could sleep with whomever he wanted, drink whatever he wanted, do whatever he wanted, and it would only affect the portrait. Dorian’s wish came true. His life or promiscuity and “pleasure” left him untouched, but UNKNOWN to him, because the portrait was in his attic, every act tarnished the portrait.

Later on, the artist pays a visit to Dorian, and the artist is in shock when the he sees the portrait. The artist says to him, “Doesn’t it say somewhere, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as wool’?” Suddenly, Dorian grabs a knife and stabs the artist to death (Gruesome, I know, but Wilde wrote it not me). Then he noticed that blood was dripping down the portrait. Dorian then grabs the knife and stabs the picture, and he falls lifeless to the ground. Then the story says that the portrait returns to its perfect state, but Dorian died with every scar of every deed, deformed, bearing witness to the life he led. (43-47)

When Wilde finishes the summary of his book, Jesus tells him, “When art and beauty are not governed by rules, they, in turn, break down.” (47)

Jesus continues saying that we are a generation that flirts with the idea of a dream. Something seems attractive or good, and we go for it. The young man or woman looks attractive and so we pursue him or her only to use him or her, and dispose of him or her. We use others; we hurt others; we manipulate others.

We suppose drug usage is enchanting and the idea of losing reality even if but for a moment is exciting, yet we come crashing back into life. “They’ll awaken one day to find that their dream has left them still empty. You see, this is the danger. First art imitates life. Then life imitates art. Finally, art becomes the very reason for life, and that’s when life breaks down, because life is not fiction… it is plain, hard fact.” (48)

It is interesting how much we sacrifice for that which is not real or lasting. We go for the feeling of the moment, and then sit guilty, hurt and empty. Strangely, we often go back for more, knowing we return to that which hurt us in the first place.

This leaves us in a “crux,” or cross… Jesus: “The cross is the ultimate expression of sorrow and pain combined. It’s because the price was paid at the cross that the law is affirmed…It was at that place that your ultimate worth was upheld. It’s because My heart was broken that I am able to heal yours. Blaise was right—all truths are governed by laws. This one is the way of life and death. I reach out to you through the price I paid for you. I am the artist that humanity sacrificed because I pointed out the defacement of sin.” (79)

Wilde ends his “vision” of the conversation saying: “And there, till Christ call forth the dead, In silence let me lie: No need to waste the foolish tear, For I have killed the thing I loved And so I have to die. Only the Blood of Christ can cleanse A sinner such as I.” (89)

I found the piece to be interesting, and it is impacting. Whether you believe everything that is said by Wilde, Pascal or Jesus, one thing is true: The pleasures we seek, the vice we often succumb to, leave us all with a certain feeling and bad aftertaste; dissatisfaction. This is as true for all of humanity as death is—it knows no color or discrimination.

It is a battle in each one of our souls. Pride; pleasure; sensuality; indulgence; emptiness; purpose; reality; hope.

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