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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Random Wilde ("The Queen Is Not a Subject" -- Redux Edition)

A couple of days ago I posted another Random Wildeism, which I noted parenthetically was a personal favorite of mine, “The Queen is not a subject.” A friend wrote to express his perplexity at this choice, and so I thought I’d add a bit of back-story to explain my appreciation.

Wilde had once famously bragged at a dinner party that his wit was so ready and so capacious that he could say a supremely witty thing on literally any subject at any time, and so people loved throwing random topics at him out of the blue to try to catch him out. Inevitably, he managed something relatively clever to say (as this recurring MundiMotif amply attests, after all).

But one evening some meanspirited dumbass witwoud (I imagine him a Bush-Voter precursor type) called out the topic “The Queen!” knowing that on this of all topics most successful witticisms would be impolitic, and so Wilde would be stymied into silence and embarrassed however he responded.

Wilde’s comeback was instantaneous and withering: “The Queen is not a subject.”

The aphorism was positively perfect in every way. Not only did it evade the dilemma Wilde’s antagonist had set for him altogether, it included an inoffensive pun that demonstrated Wilde’s wit in any case, thereby satisfying the rules of the game in spite of everything.

Considering the circumstances of Wilde’s later life, martyred by appalling hypocrites for a rare lapse into earnestness, it seems to me this phrase manages to be one of the few witticisms that includes being prophetic along with being pithy among its virtues. Wilde, possibly the world’s very first queen in an important sense, oracularily delineated his own dilemma to come.

Given the extended meditation on the status of the “subject” in queer theory, this phrase also makes Oscar Wilde the fledgling discipline’s perfectly perverse and queerly legitimate founding father (just in case the essays in Intentions hadn’t already garnered him that status).

Anyway, that’s why this otherwise apparently only modestly witty Wildeism remains one of my favorites.

1 comment:

Doctor Logic said...

"His Majesty is like a dose of clap."

That was one of Shaw's.