Eudaimonia in “The Remarkable Rocket”

(Written by a Stanford student–Alcibiades.)

Eudaimonia translates to happiness from the Greek. The Aristotelian concept of euidaimonia is fundamentally concerned with seeking the “good life” or the highest pleasure. In his Ethics, Aristotle suggests happiness is achieved through the habituation of the soul; one must practice virtues—courage, temperance, wisdom—in order to reach the highest state of being.

In “The Remarkable Rocket,” Wilde subverts the traditional definitions of common virtues for their exact opposites. After the Rocket’s genealogical speech is interrupted, he criticizes the Cracker for laughing. The Rocket suggests instead that the Cracker should be less concerned with his own happiness, and more so with the others happiness of others—specifically that of the Rocket. The Rocket states, “I am always thinking about myself, and I expect everybody else to do the same” (296).This is “sympathy,” and he possesses this “beautiful virtue” in a “high degree” (296). A true definition of sympathy is far from this one. Next, the Rocket dismisses the value of common sense, arguing that those who possess it lack imagination. The Rocket says, “I never think of things as they really are; I always think of them as being quite different” (297). This definition is more akin to delusion than imagination.

Wilde establishes this inversion for the sake of irony. Wilde purposely presents something as what it is not, and by doing so, creates an aesthetic alternative removed from reality.  Aristotle argues that the highest function of humanity is rational thought, and the furthest logical extension of this is a life of contemplation. This concept is often criticized because it lacks action. This is strikingly similar to the Rocket’s self-conceived purpose; he states, “A person of my position is never useful. We have certain accomplishments, and that is more than sufficient” (300). Thus, the Rocket occupies the role of the dandy, in contrast to Aristotle’s thinker. The Rocket constructs his life as a work of art, however twisted it may seem, and lives for that art; he does not relinquish his views even at his dying breath. The Rocket actually believes that he has served his ultimate purpose; upon explosion, he remarks, “I knew I should create a great sensation” (301). In the Rocket’s terms, he has achieved happiness. Yet, we see the folly in the Rocket’s point of view; even if he believed that he could go “higher than the stars,” he eventually “went out” (301). Wilde ultimately critiques the Rocket, because the Rocket’s conception of reality is not sustainable.

Alcibiades

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3 Comments

Filed under Week 2 Reviews: Wilde's Poetry and Short Fiction

3 responses to “Eudaimonia in “The Remarkable Rocket”

  1. I like the idea of finding similarities between the Rocket, a character we dislike from the beginning of the story, and a renowned philosopher. There is more to be said about the Rocket than that he is unlikeable or that he represents the self-obsessed notions of the upper class. Especially in the idea that his performance is an art, it is clear that, though and perhaps because the Rocket is critiqued, the reader can learn much and have much to think about from the Rocket–doing just what Aristotle would have wanted. –M.P.

  2. It’s some interesting insights you have there, Alcibiades. The parallel you drawn with Aristotle seems to be relevant here, and I like also the way you mentioned how and to which extent one could see the Rocket as being a dandy towards the end of your blog entry. To pick up a little on the Nicomachean Ethics, I guess you could also say that the Rocket is definitely not a “phronimos” (from Greek: φρόνησις). The Rocket does not possess the practical wisdom Aristotle praised so much, but rather the Rocket lets himself go into a pitiful and self-centered love, and most of all he never listen to those who can advice him correctly. -R.C.

  3. This is an interesting and unusual reading of “The Remarkable Rocket.” I appreciated the considerations on eudaimonia and would be curious to hear more about what motivated it in the first place. With regard to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, my limited understanding of some of the literature is that there is disagreement as to the purpose of the book – if the purpose is, say, telling us what it will mean to act virtuously in this or that situation, or if the purpose is, say, to tell people who are already happy and/or virtuous how to make sense of their happiness/virtue and perhaps to even more efficiently or successfully experience and prolong their happiness/virtue. I wonder, then, if Wilde’s is truly a critique of his own character, Rocket, on broadly Aristotelian grounds, what sort of “purpose” the story has and to whom it is addressed. Another way of asking this is, “who is this story for and who could be expected to understand it?” DJM

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