Wilde and paradoxes

Wilde and paradoxes

In Brief

When Haines asks whether Stephen's Shakespeare theory is "some paradox," and Mulligan says that "We have grown out of Wilde and paradoxes," they are referring to something that had been all the rage in bohemian England and Ireland in the 1880s and 90s, but whose star was fading in 1904. Telemachus has already alluded to one of Oscar Wilde’s paradoxes, the sayings about Caliban from The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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Reflecting on his style of wit, Wilde also said, “The way of paradoxes is the way of truth. To test Reality we must see it on the tightrope. When the Verities become acrobats, we can judge them.” The playful witticisms quoted above are paradoxes in the truest and best sense: they work against commonly received opinion (para = beyond, contrary to + doxa = opinion), and their contradictions, which may seem merely flippant when first heard, make cogent sense when examined closely. It seems doubtful that Mulligan has much appreciation for this truth-telling function of Wildean paradoxes. But Stephen, whose Shakespeare talk is replete with verbal play, contrary views, and self-contradiction, is driving at a serious purpose.

JH 2011