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Touchy Dilettantes

Touchy Dilettantes

Oscar Wilde touchy dilettante

Professional amateurs and dilettantes who enter the public visible sphere may encounter a lot of refusal. Gatekeepers of the certified professional castles disapprove of dilettante endeavours and shower them with ridicule and shame. Some parts of this ongoing fight between experts and presumed amateurs might be part of the show, though.

Oscar Wilde, self-proclaimed dilettante, who published his books with his home print and celebrated crossover arts between literature, theatre, aesthetics and fashion, did use his anti-establishment image as successful self-presentation – and the public reaction to it as source for constant whining. In a letter he wrote to the Editor of the St. James’s Gazette, which had previously pulverized his gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray it reads: “The critic makes vague and fearful insinuations about my grammar and erudition. Now, as regards grammar, I hold that, in prose at any rate, correctness should always be subordinate to artistic effect and musical cadence; and any peculiarities of syntax that may occur in ‘Dorian Gray’ are deliberately intended, and are introduced to show the value of the artistic theory in question.”

Another example of a neglected professional writer, who has transformed bad critics into a downward spiral of self-pitying and misleading rhetorics is German post-war novelist Martin Walser. He never quite recovered from the roasting of popular reviewer Marcel Reich-Ranicki back in 1976 and has been spending his existence as undoubtedly professional writer like an injured dilettante seeking establishment appreciation.  His sales ratings are nonetheless doing well. The donwside of a dilettante attitude, the feeling of shame and incompleteness, can be turned into a selling point, it seems.

The question there is whether it is worth it or whether one would be happier bypassing the establishment and its approval from the beginning.


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