PRINT Summer 2006


Slavoj Žižek

“I LIVE IN TERROR of not being misunderstood,” complains one of Oscar Wilde’s characters. Shafts of wit like this reflect a peculiarly colonial kind of perversity. As a devout Irish republican, Wilde takes some piece of conventional English wisdom and rips it inside out, turns it on its head, tampers mischievously with a word here and there so as to flip a cliché into its opposite. Like Shakespeare’s enslaved Caliban, he learns to speak the tongue of his imperial masters but returns it to them in the form of a curse or a hardboiled epigram. The colonial is dependent on metropolitan culture, but perversity—in Wilde’s case, sexual as well as intellectual—is his or her secret revenge upon it. By parodying or inverting the stale wisdom of the metropolis the colonial artist manages to outdo it. Are Wilde’s impeccably well-made English drawing-room comedies obedient imitations or wicked mockeries?

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