Welcome to Artsweek’s literature crossing! This week, Jasmine Benafghoul discusses the dangerous enthrall of preserving aesthetic beauty in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, while Lauren Bennett reviews the struggles over language in Colson Whitehead’s Apex Hides the Hurt. It’s Lit!
Submissions compiled and edited by Phi Do
Jasmine Benafghoul on The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for. This gothic novel follows the story of a charming young socialite by the name of Dorian Gray and his demise as he learns of the beauty he possesses and the power he bestows with it. The novel begins with the famous artist Basil Hallward showing Lord Henry his recent portrait of a man he chooses not to disclose, in fear of the impact Henry will exert on the innocent man. Evidently, the gorgeous man himself, Dorian, stumbles upon the studio and crosses paths with Henry. From there, Henry influences Dorian into the scandalous life that soon follows, to Basil’s dismay. Dorian leads a life of pretentious, glamorous luxury, with his fate unraveling before he knows it as he remains forever young — literally. Not even the death of his lover halts this hedonistic lifestyle. However, while Dorian has chosen to sell his soul to the aesthetics, his portrait seems to show us what lies beneath the handsome facade, and it isn’t very pretty. Lavish perfumes, grand fabrics and exquisite gems mean nothing with all the sin and evil behind it. Wilde illustrates the power of beauty, told with beauty, unraveling a dark and enchanting tale about of the power of art. He reflects his philosophy toward the Aesthetic Movement that was taking rise in Victorian England, telling the readers that art is nothing but beauty. To look beyond its appearance would do you no good. Wilde is taking this well-known concept and conveying how the adoption of uncontrolled aestheticism will eventually bring about selfless actions and lack of empathy. With wit, eloquent prose, dry humor and quotable dialogue, this classic tells the typical “innocence to corrupt” moral, and it’s all very, very tragic.
Lauren Bennett on Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead
How do you create a name that reflects an entire community’s values? Given our country’s state of political polarization, how do we unite ourselves and advance? Colson Whitehead explores these topics of morals, media and political polarization in this deeply nuanced novel. Apex Hides the Hurt follows the life of a nameless narrator, a nomenclature consultant, with an uncanny ability to perfectly name products. The narrator’s namelessness, personhood and his career force the reader to confront ideals of black postmodernism and the notions of what constructs the “self,” prompting the reader to critique truth and authenticity in print capital. He is tasked with renaming Winthrop, a Midwestern suburb, with a name that satisfies the divided citizens. The three members of the city council all have different names in mind for the city. Albie Winthrop, the sole heir of the town’s colonizer, wants to keep the town’s history intact, insisting that Winthrop remain the name. Regina Goode, a descendant of the slaves who settled the town, seeks to honor the hardships of these founders with the name “Freedom.” And Lucky Aberdeen, a software virtuoso, aspires to launch the town into economic and technological prosperity with the name “New Prospera.” This linguistic conflict reflects divides that still remain in today’s political climate: the more conservative preference of honoring tradition, the liberal desire of receiving reparations or the progressive ideal of blazing new trails of innovation and technology. During the denouement of the novel, the narrator chooses a name for the town of Winthrop that is unsettling for the denizens and the reader but quintessentially encapsulates the points Whitehead constructs about the politics of race, space, academia and the power of language in this bright and piquant read.