Producer’s note: This post was initially published by the website producer, Andrew Sampson.
Words and Music
I hadn’t expected to find myself blogging at the end of my little period of purdah, behind the writing screen, closed off from twitter and the world.
I finished last Tuesday my filming for DOORS OPEN, the Ian Rankin art-theft thriller whose adaptation we’re making for ITV and since then I’ve been sitting at a desk, trying not to look too hard out of the window.
You may have heard the view-halloos and cries and squeals of pleasure and delight on Sunday evening as I stabbed my finger down onto the send button and pushed my little libretto far away into the inbox of my collaborator, the real talent in our little opera team, who has been patiently awaiting my words for a long time.
I sometimes think that when I die there should be two graves dug: the first would be the usual kind of size, say 2 feet by 7, but the other would be much, much larger. The gravestone should read: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH.
I suspect most of you will have heard of the shitstorm that howled about the head of Jan Moir, a journalist who wrote a beastly article in the Daily Mail about the death of Stephen Gately the day before his funeral. I don’t propose to stop and pick over the carcass of that epically ill-judged piece of gutter journalism. Its malice, stupidity, incoherent illogicality and crass insensitivity have been superbly anatomised by many others and besides, too much time has passed, a whole 24 hours at the time of writing and for the online world, which is still a child, a year is a decade and a day a whole month.
Well my goodness me what an extraordinary response there was to #oscarwildeday
For those who didn’t participate or might have been away or not yet following me, December 1st was designated #oscarwildeday. I promised prizes for those who tweeted the best original or made up Wildean remarks or posted pictures of themselves or others in Wildean poses.
Collage by @taluta © Tatula 2008
It has been an unbelievably time-consuming but pleasurable task to find winners. I’m sorry it’s taken so long, but I landed in New York on the day itself and have been busy ever since.
The three categories then are
1. Original Wildeisms,
2. Creative Manglings
There are two winners in each category. The prizes, of a value exceeding rubies, are vouchers for a free download of my readings of Oscar Wilde short stories: download details on iTunes or http://stephenfry.com, follow links. Winners should email Andrew Sampson to claim their prize or send him a Tweet @sampsonian
Everything we know about people is wrong.
Well, perhaps that’s going a little far. But, really. Take Oscar. Oscar Wilde. He stands for one thing and one thing only. Wit. Sharp wit. Glittering wit. Keen, wicked, penetrating wit. Camp. Clever. Crushing. Proud, peacocky and impertinent.
Wrong. Wrong, wronger, wrongest.
Certainly Wilde was witty, certainly he is remembered for firing off epigrams like a belt-fed mortar. But look properly at the man and his works and you will see that the spirits that most animated him were in fact those of sympathy and imagination., which are really one spirit. Wilde was an artist; he was of course prince among artists in his time. He championed art above everything. But that is because he understood that art is the product, not of intellect, wit or superior faculties of understanding, but of imagination. As it happens he had intellect, wit and superior faculties of understanding and he had them in spades. Such qualities can make a critic, a businessman, a lawyer, a politician, a scholar or a general. They can fit a person to be almost anything; anything, that is, but an artist. To be sure they are fine qualities for an artist to have, but they are not necessary or sufficient for the making of an artist. For that what is needed is imagination.
We know that imagination is about making things up. About pretending. About creating worlds, pictures, situations and characters all out of our head.
Language. Language, language, language. In the end it all comes down to language. I write to you today on this subject as a way of welcoming you to www.stephenfry.com 2.0 and because, well, it’s a subject worth thinking about at any time and because fewer things interest me quite so much.
Image: Nicole Stewart for SamFry
There are so many questions and issues jostling, tumbling and colliding in my mind that I can barely list them. Is language the father of thought? There’s one. Somebody once said, “How can I tell you what I think until I’ve heard what I’m going to say?” Is language being degraded, is it not what it was? Is there a right way to express yourself and a wrong? Grammar, does that exist, or is it a pedantic imposition, a kind of unnatural mixture of strangulation and straightening, like pleaching, pollarding and training pear-trees against a wall? Can we translate from one tongue into another without irreparable loss? And many, many more.
“Language is the universal whore that I must make into a virgin,” wrote Karl Kraus or somebody so like him that it makes no odds. One of my favourite remarks. T. S. Eliot said much the same thing in a different way: “to purify the dialect of the tribe”. But is there a “higher language”, a purer language, a proper language, a right language? Is language a whore, used, bruised and abused by every john in the street … is the idea of purifying the dialect of the tribe a poetic ideal or nonsensical snobbery?