Sunday, April 4, 2010

The changing portrait

I remember being mighty impressed with, and therefore pensive after having read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Had it not been for a seminar on Victorian Literature, I doubt if I would have ever cared to dissect this Gothic classic. Some of my classmates had found it quite creepy and I would not dare to disagree with them having found it somewhat disquieting myself. For my friends who haven't chanced upon this Wildean fare, here is a handy little summary of the novel. The protagonist, Dorian Gray, is an elegant and handsome young man who in time grows conscious of his charismatic influence on others. His exposure to high society makes him extremely narcissistic and hedonistic in his approach to life. The major motif, as the story unfolds, is a portrait of Dorian done by his artist friend Basil, which has a striking likeness to the real Dorian. Dorian cherishes his portrait above everything else as it portrays him in his youthful best. He looks at this painting and wishes that it, rather than he, could grow old. He challenges time and nature by giving his soul away. His wish is fulfilled which leads him to a life of debauchery and duality. Each time Dorian sins the painting undergoes disfigurement exposing the hideous side of his soul. Thus Dorian's youth and beauty are preserved from the clutches of time. This intriguing tale would push me to the boundaries of my thoughts and there would be abstract questions swarming in my head. Does my soul have a face? If it does what colour is it? A blaring red or a pristine white or may be a soothing blue... What if there actually was such a portrait which could unveil our monstrousity each time we transgressed? Come to think of it, we all have a tinge of Dorian Gray inside us. The wish for eternal youth, that elusive elixir, we all have a secret yearning for it. How else does one explain the confusing isles of age-defying and wrinkle lift creams that are flooding the cosmetics market. It is only too normal for someone who is blessed with divine beauty to be obsessed with it. Gradually this self-love or self-obsession grows into a deeper shade called narcissism. There is a very thin line between self-obsession and narcissism. But while self-obsession is often tolerated and is perceived as a folly, narcissism is not because it is considered to be deviant and therefore a psychological disorder.

Such is human nature that to understand it completely would be a rare and remarkable feat. There are so many complex layers to it, as we live in so many worlds, both imaginary and real. Juggling between reality and charade, such is the ambiguity of life that sometimes we struggle in a phony garb of self-pretense which we are absolutely unaware of. I don't mean to draw any logical conclusion of Dorian's absurdities and self-preservation, because there is hardly any. It feels cathartic to indulge in such profundity and art, in any form, is the perfect way to fuel a soul searching trip. Go meet your soul, it is one of the best encounters ever.

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