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Decadent

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Decadent

For other uses, see Decadence (disambiguation).

Decadence is a luxurious self-indulgence. It is often used to describe a decline due to an erosion of moral, ethical, or sexual traditions.[1]

In literature, the Decadent movement—late nineteenth century fin de siècle writers who were associated with Symbolism or the Aesthetic movement—was first given its name by hostile critics, and then the name was triumphantly adopted by some writers themselves. These "decadents" relished artifice over the earlier Romantics' naïve view of nature (see Jean-Jacques Rousseau). Some of these writers were influenced by the tradition of the Gothic novel and by the poetry and fiction of Edgar Allan Poe.

History

Dandies

Main article: Dandy


A dandy[2] (also known as a beau, or gallant[3]) is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies, pursued with the appearance of nonchalance in a cult of Self.[4]

The model dandy in British society was George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (1778–1840), an undergraduate student at Oriel College, Oxford, and an associate of the Prince Regent, who was not from an aristocratic background and whose greatness was "based on nothing at all," as J.A. Barbey d'Aurevilly observed in 1845.[5] He was ever unpowdered, unperfumed, immaculately bathed and shaved, and dressed in a plain, dark blue coat,[6] perfectly brushed, perfectly fitted, showing much perfectly starched linen, all freshly laundered, and composed with an elaborately knotted cravat. From the mid-1790s, Beau Brummell was an early incarnation of the celebrity.

During his heyday, Brummell's dictat on both fashion and etiquette reigned supreme. His habits of dress and fashion were much imitated, especially in France, where, in a curious development, they became the rage, especially in bohemian quarters. There, dandies sometimes were celebrated in revolutionary terms: self-created men of consciously designed personality, radically breaking with past traditions. With elaborate dress and idle, decadent styles of life, French bohemian dandies sought to convey contempt for and superiority to bourgeois society. In the latter 19th century, this fancy-dress bohemianism was a major influence on the Symbolist movement in French literature.

Charles Baudelaire was deeply interested in dandyism, and memorably wrote that a dandy aspirant must have "no profession other than elegance ... no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons ... The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror." Other French intellectuals also were interested in the dandies strolling the streets and boulevards of Paris. Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly wrote The Anatomy of Dandyism, an essay devoted, in great measure, to examining the career of Beau Brummell.[7]

George Walden, in the essay Who's a Dandy?, identifies Noël Coward, Andy Warhol, and Quentin Crisp as modern dandies.[7]

Decadent movement

Main article: Decadent movement

Decadence was the name given, originally by Ron Wiggins, to a number of late nineteenth-century writers who valued artifice over the earlier Romantics' naïve view of nature. Some of them triumphantly adopted the name, referring to themselves as Decadents. For the most part, they were influenced by the tradition of the Gothic novel and by the poetry and fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, and were associated with Symbolism and/or Aestheticism.

This concept of decadence dates from the eighteenth century, especially from Montesquieu, and was taken up by critics as a term of abuse after Désiré Nisard used it against Victor Hugo and Romanticism in general. A later generation of Romantics, such as Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire took the word as a badge of pride, as a sign of their rejection of what they saw as banal "progress." In the 1880s a group of French writers referred to themselves as Decadents. The classic novel from this group is Joris-Karl Huysmans' Against Nature, often seen as the first great decadent work, though others attribute this honor to Baudelaire's works.

In Britain and Ireland the leading figure associated with the Decadent movement was Irish writer, Oscar Wilde.

The Symbolist movement has frequently been confused with the Decadent movement. Several young writers were derisively referred to in the press as "decadent" in the mid-1880s. Jean Moréas' manifesto was largely a response to this polemic. A few of these writers embraced the term while most avoided it. Although the aesthetics of Symbolism and Decadence can be seen as overlapping in some areas, the two remain distinct.

1920s Berlin

Main article: 1920s Berlin

This fertile culture of Berlin extended onwards until Adolf Hitler rose to power in early 1933 and stamped out any and all resistance to the Nazi Party. Likewise, the Nazis decried Berlin as a haven of vice. A new culture developed in and around Berlin, including architecture and design (Bauhaus, 1919–33), a variety of literature (Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929), film (Lang, Metropolis, 1927, Dietrich, Der blaue Engel, 1930), painting (Grosz), and music (Brecht and Weill, The Threepenny Opera, 1928), criticism (Benjamin), philosophy/psychology (Jung), and fashion. This culture was often considered to be decadent, and socially, morally, destructive.[8]

Film was making huge technical and artistic strides during this period of time in Berlin, and gave rise to the influential movement called German Expressionism. "Talkies", the Sound films, were also becoming more popular with the general public across Europe, and Berlin was producing very many of them.

The so-called mystical arts also experienced a revival during this time-period in Berlin, with astrology, the occult, and esoteric religions and off-beat religious practices becoming more mainstream and acceptable to the masses as they entered popular culture.

Berlin in the 20s also proved to be a haven for English writers such as W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood, who wrote a series of 'Berlin novels', inspiring the play I Am a Camera, which was later adapted into a musical, Cabaret, and an Academy Award winning film of the same name. Spender's semi-autobiographical novel The Temple evokes the attitude and atmosphere of the place at the time.

Use in Marxism

Leninism

Vladimir Lenin continued and extended the use of the word "decadence" in his theory of imperialism to refer to economic matters underlying political manifestations. According to Lenin, capitalism had reached its highest stage and could no longer provide for the general development of society. He expected reduced vigor in economic activity and a growth in unhealthy economic phenomena, reflecting capitalism's gradually decreasing capacity to provide for social needs and preparing the ground for socialist revolution in the West. Politically, World War I proved the decadent nature of the advanced capitalist countries to Lenin, that capitalism had reached the stage where it would destroy its own prior achievements more than it would advance.[9]

One who directly opposed the idea of decadence as expressed by Lenin was José Ortega y Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses (1930). He argued that the "mass man" had the notion of material progress and scientific advance deeply inculcated to the extent that it was an expectation. He also argued that contemporary progress was opposite the true decadence of the Roman Empire.[10]

Left communism

Decadence is an important aspect of contemporary left communist theory. Today more or less all left communists hold that a theory of decadence is necessary in order to be a Marxist. Similar to Lenin's use of it, left communists, coming from the Communist International themselves started in fact with a theory of decadence in the first place, yet the communist left sees the theory of decadence at the heart of Marx's method as well, expressed in famous works such as The Communist Manifesto, Grundrisse, Das Kapital but most significantly in Preface to the Critique of Political Economy.[11]

Contemporary left communist theory defends that Lenin was mistaken on his definition of imperialism (although how grave his mistake was and how much of his work on imperialism is valid varies from groups to groups) and Rosa Luxemburg to be basically correct on this question, thus accepting capitalism as a world epoch similarly to Lenin, but a world epoch from which no capitalist state can oppose or avoid being a part of. On the other hand, the theoretical framework of capitalism's decadence varies between different groups while left communist organizations like the International Communist Current hold a basically Luxemburgist analysis that makes an emphasis on the world market and its expansion, others hold views more in line with those of Vladimir Lenin, Nikolai Bukharin and most importantly Henryk Grossman and Paul Mattick with an emphasis on monopolies and the falling rate of profit.

References

See also

Further reading

External links

  • Collection of the articles of the International Communist Current on the Theory of Decadence
  • Chronology of Decadence
  • Decadence, symbolist, and the fin de siècle: a notebook

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