I really should read more than I do. Reading is often too far down the list of things I want to get done in day. But when I do read I try to read interesting and challenging things. Recently I read Oscar Wilde’s 1891 essay ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’. Now before we go any further I’m aware that words such as Socialism, Communism, Marxism etc. can send some people running for the hills immediately. However, what I’m going to talk about very briefly here is more to do with art than it is any particular political and social concepts so let’s save that discussion for another day!
‘The Soul of Man’ isn’t something I would normally decide to read and I can’t quite remember why I decided to read it in this instance but I found to be thoroughly enjoyable. I found a lot of Wilde’s opinions and thoughts about art and life in general aligned with my own which was very refreshing. One of my favourite lines from the essay is:
It is mentally and morally injurious to a man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure…
But the main thing I took from this work was Wilde’s contagious, inspiring and often humorous optimism for how things will improve. His words allow for no doubt of the fact that one day soon everyone will be able to engage in meaningful and fulfilling work and not settle for anything less. But when is soon? 10 Years? 100 Years? 1000 Years? Because after reading the essay and reflecting upon how it is relevant now it becomes abruptly apparent that not all that much has changed in the 127 years since this essay was written. In terms of art and society at least. Some might even argue that things have regressed sightly what with Capitalism such a dominant force and funding for the arts plummeting continuously.
But as I mentioned, no one really knows when soon is. I think that if Oscar Wilde can be so optimistic about everyone’s future in a time when most people wouldn’t reasonably expect to live past 50 and women didn’t yet have any rights then we can, and should, be optimistic about the future right now. And it’s that optimism that will help bring about change sooner.