The Wilde mind
A recently discovered aphorism from Oscar Wilde is now being offered for sale in London at £6,000. The riff in question is: “One can exist without art, but one cannot live without it” — which sounds a bit of a B+, hardly up there with Wilde’s best. The clue as to why he may have been having an off day, aphoristically speaking, is that the lines were produced in response to the sudden demand that he write something funny in a fan’s book. Caught off guard, as it were, it seems that the great man could come up with something only averagely droll.
All of which suggests that Wilde was no more witty than the rest of us. Indeed, there often seems something painfully laboured about his quips, and one can only imagine that he spent an inordinate time buffing them up at home until they were ready to be let loose in polite society. Indeed, new scholarly research suggests that, far from plucking his bubbly one-liners out of his champagne brain, Wilde picked them up from other people, and then went to work until they sounded like something he had come up with all by himself.
None of which makes hanging around with Oscar Wilde sound like much fun. Compulsive wits are usually the least congenial guests at any party. So busy concentrating on delivering as amusingly as possible, they have no interest in other people. Heaven help you if you accidentally talk over the punchline while a compulsive wit is speaking. They will glare at you, raise their voice, and say the line more loudly than before; furious at the way you have rained on their parade. Nor will they listen properly to what you have to say, instead scanning your conversation for openings to jump into with a prepared joke before skittering off.
Getting an email from Wilde wannabes is just as bad, you have to wade through sentences of carefully polished observations on reality TV, chocolate digestives and hibernating wildlife until you get to the nub of what they really meant: Can you come out tonight? Do you have the number of that painter you were telling me about?
Think intimacy with a compulsive wit, it is only impossible. (Is it any coincidence that Wilde never found it but instead, out of the chasm of his own soul, went keening for people who could not love him back?) Dressed in shiny suits of witty one-liners, compulsive wits draw attention to themselves while simultaneously repelling any attempts to breach their defences. Since to be loved properly would mean being seen and heard without the bons mots, the compulsive wit prefers to hide away in the shadows, polishing up one-liners ready to use on the next public outing. Anything sadder would be hard to imagine.
A policeman’s life
Qusay Muhammad Abbas will decide when the US forces leave Iraq. That’s because the Bush administration has made it clear that it intends to keep US troops in Iraq until this police officer and thousand others like him are able to take responsibility for providing security for the country.
At the moment, Abbas said, that seems like an impossible task. Last month, Major General Joseph Peterson, the US commander in charge of police training in Iraq, informed that since September 2004, about 4,000 officers have been killed and 8,000 injured.
So why would anyone want what is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world? For Abbas, the answer is simple: there are few other jobs available that would pay him enough to support his family.
A 2003 university graduate trained in computer sciences, Abbas said he briefly worked for a government agency that paid him $60 a month before being laid off less than a year after he was hired. The pay is much better now: Abbas said he earns about $390 a month now.
But is it worth risking his life on a daily basis?
Abbas’s day begins at 7 a.m. when he leaves home and heads for the police headquarters. He is dressed in casual clothes and hopes no one will recognise him.
Once inside, he puts on his uniform and a flak jacket, covers his face with a black ski mask, arms himself with a machine gun and prepares to patrol the streets of Mosul with his colleagues.
Today, he is assigned to man a checkpoint in one of the city’s neighbourhoods. He and his colleagues are clearly on edge as they stop each vehicle and check for weapons or militants.
And they have reason be nervous. A few days earlier, several of his colleagues were gunned down while manning a similar checkpoint in the Abi Tamam.
The irony that the police are forced to wear masks to conceal their identity while militants openly roam the city is not lost on Abbas.
And it’s not just insurgents that have Abbas worried. He acknowledges that sectarian militias have so thoroughly infiltrated the ranks of the police that he can no longer trust his fellow officers.
Abbas said his family lives in constant fear for his safety because of his job. But quitting is not an option. Already financially responsible for several members of his extended family, Abbas, whose wife is six months pregnant, is about to become a father for the first time.
His one hope now is that he lives long enough to see his child’s birth.