The Decadent Movement (Taken from Wikipedia)


The Decadent movement, from the French décadence, "decay" was a late-19th-century artistic and literary movement, centered in Western Europe, that followed an aesthetic ideology of excess and artificiality.

The Decadent movement first flourished in France and then spread throughout Europe and to the United States.

The movement was characterized by a belief in the superiority of human fantasy and aesthetic hedonism[over logic and the natural world

The concept of decadence dates to the 18th century, especially from the writings of Montesquieu, the Enlightenment philosopher who suggested that the decline (décadence) of the Roman Empire was in large part due to its moral decay and loss of cultural standards.

 When Latin scholar Désiré Nisard turned toward French literature, he compared Victor Hugo and Romanticism in general to the Roman decadence, men sacrificing their craft and their cultural values for the sake of pleasure. The trends that he identified, such as an interest in description, a lack of adherence to the conventional rules of literature and art, and a love for extravagant language were the seeds of the Decadent movement.

The first major development in French decadence appeared when writers Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire used the word proudly to represent a rejection of what they considered banal "progress".

Baudelaire referred to himself as decadent in his 1857 edition of Les Fleurs du mal and exalted the Roman decline as a model for modern poets to express their passion. He later used the term decadence to include the subversion of traditional categories in pursuit of full, sensual expression.

In his lengthy introduction to Baudelaire in the front of the 1868 Les Fleurs du mal, Gautier at first rejects the application of the term decadent, as meant by the critic, but then works his way to an admission of decadence on Baudelaire's own terms: a preference for what is beautiful and what is exotic, an ease with surrendering to fantasy, and a maturity of skill with manipulating language.

The Belgian Félicien Rops was instrumental in the development of this early stage of the Decadent movement.

A friend of Baudelaire, he was a frequent illustrator of Baudelaire's writing, at the request of the author himself. Rops delighted in breaking artistic convention and shocking the public with gruesome, fantastical horror. He was explicitly interested in the Satanic, and he frequently sought to portray the double-threat of Satan and Woman.

At times, his only goal was the portrayal of a woman he'd observed debasing herself in the pursuit of her own pleasure.

 It has been suggested that, no matter how horrific and perverse his images could be, Rops' invocation of supernatural elements was sufficient to keep Baudelaire situated in a spiritually aware universe that maintained a cynical kind of hope, even if the poetry "requires a strong stomach".

 Their work was the worship of beauty disguised as the worship of evil. For both of them, mortality and all manner of corruptions were always on their mind.

 The ability of Rops to see and portray the same world as they did made him a popular illustrator for other decadent authors.

The concept of decadence lingered after that, but it was not until 1884 that Maurice Barrès referred to a particular group of writers as Decadents. He defined this group as those who had been influenced heavily by Baudelaire, though they were also influenced by Gothic novels and the poetry and fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. Many were associated with Symbolism, others with Aestheticism.

 The pursuit of these authors, according to Arthur Symons, was "a desperate endeavor to give sensation, to flash the impression of the moment, to preserve the very heat and motion of life", and their achievement, as he saw it, was "to be a disembodied voice, and yet the voice of a human soul".

 Apostle Bartolomew flayed alive, by Jan Luyken, 1685

In his 1884 decadent novel À rebours (English: Against Nature or Against the Grain), Joris-Karl Huysmans identified likely candidates for the core of the Decadent movement, which he seemed to view Baudelaire as sitting above: Paul Verlaine, Tristan Corbière, Theodore Hannon and Stéphane Mallarmé. His character Des Esseintes hailed these writers for their creativity and their craftsmanship, suggesting that they filled him with "insidious delight" as they used a "secret language" to explore "twisted and precious ideas".

Not only did À rebours define an ideology and a literature, but it also created an influential perspective on visual art. The character of Des Esseintes explicitly heralded the paintings of Gustave Moreau, the 17th-century Dutch engraver Jan Luyken's illustrations to the Martyrs Mirror and the lithographs of Rodolphe Bresdin and Odilon Redon.

The choice of these works established a decadent perspective on art which favored madness and irrationality, graphic violence, frank pessimism about cultural institutions, and a disregard for visual logic of the natural world. It has been suggested that a dream vision that Des Esseintes describes is based on the series of satanic encounters painted by Félicien Rops.

Capitalizing on the momentum of Huysmans' work, Anatole Baju founded the magazine Le Décadent in 1886, an effort to define and organize the Decadent movement in a formal way. This group of writers did not only look to escape the boredom of the banal, but they sought to shock, scandalize, and subvert the expectations and values of society, believing that such freedom and creative experimentation would improve humanity.

Not everyone was comfortable with Baju and Le Décadent, even including some who had been published in its pages. Rival writer Jean Moréas published his Symbolist Manifesto, largely to escape association with the Decadent movement, despite their shared heritage. Moréas and Gustave Kahn, among others, formed rival publications to reinforce the distinction.

 Paul Verlaine embraced the label at first, applauding it as a brilliant marketing choice by Baju. After seeing his own words exploited and tiring of Le Décadent publishing works falsely attributed to Arthur Rimbaud, however, Verlaine came to sour on Baju personally, and he eventually rejected the label, as well.

Decadence continued on in France, but it was limited largely to Anatole Baju and his followers, who refined their focus even further on perverse sexuality, material extravagance, and up-ending social expectations. Far-fetched plots were acceptable if they helped generate the desired moments of salacious experience or glorification of the morbid and grotesque. Writers who embraced the sort of decadence featured in Le Décadent include Albert Aurier, Rachilde, Pierre Vareilles, Miguel Hernández, Jean Lorrain and Laurent Tailhade. Many of these authors did also publish symbolist works, however, and it unclear how strongly they would have identified with Baju as decadents.

In France, the Decadent movement is often said to have begun with either Joris-Karl Huysmans' Against Nature (1884) or Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal.

 This movement essentially gave way to Symbolism when Le Décadent closed down in 1889 and Anatole Baju turned toward politics and became associated with anarchy.

 A few writers continued the decadent tradition, such as Octave Mirbeau, but Decadence was no longer a recognized movement, let alone a force in literature or art.

Beginning with the association of decadence with cultural decline, it is not uncommon to associate decadence in general with transitional times and their associated moods of pessimism and uncertainty. In France, the heart of the Decadent movement was during the 1880s and 1890s, the time of fin de siècle, or end-of-the-century gloom.

As part of that overall transition, many scholars of Decadence, such as David Weir, regard Decadence as a dynamic transition between Romanticism and Modernism, especially considering the decadent tendency to dehumanize and distort in the name of pleasure and fantasy.

Symbolism has often been confused with the Decadent movement. Arthur Symons, a British poet and literary critic contemporary with the movement, at one time considered Decadence in literature to be a parent category that included both Symbolism and Impressionism, as rebellions against realism. He defined this common, decadent thread as "an intense self-consciousness, a restless curiosity in research, an over-subtilizing refinement upon refinement, a spiritual and moral perversity". He referred to all such literature as "a new and beautiful and interesting disease".

Later, however, he described the Decadent movement as an "interlude, half a mock interlude" that distracted critics from seeing and appreciating the larger and more important trend, which was the development of Symbolism.

It is true that the two groups share an ideological descent from Baudelaire and for a time they both considered themselves as part of one sphere of new, anti-establishment literature. They worked together and met together for quite a while, as if they were part of the same movement.

 Maurice Barrès referred to this group as decadents, but he also referred to one of them (Stéphane Mallarmé) as a symbolist. Even Jean Moréas used both terms for his own group of writers as late as 1885.

Only a year later, however, Jean Moréas wrote his Symbolist Manifesto to assert a difference between the symbolists with whom he allied himself and this the new group of decadents associated with Anatole Baju and Le Décadent.

 Even after this, there was sufficient common ground of interest, method, and language to blur the lines more than the manifesto might have suggested.

In the world of visual arts, it can be even more difficult to distinguish decadence from symbolism. In fact, Stephen Romer has referred to Félicien Rops, Gustave Moreau, and Fernand Khnopff as "Symbolist-Decadent painters and engravers".

Nevertheless, there are clear ideological differences between those who continued on as symbolists and those who have been called "dissidents" for remaining in the Decadent movement. Often, there was little doubt that Baju and his group were producing work that was decadent, but there is frequently more question about the work of the symbolists.

Decadence actually belittles nature in the name of artistry. In Huysmans’ Against Nature, for instance, the main character Des Esseintes says of nature: "There is not one of her inventions, no matter how subtle or imposing it may be, which human genius cannot create ... There can be no doubt about it: this eternal, driveling, old woman is no longer admired by true artists, and the moment has come to replace her by artifice."

Symbolism treats language and imagery as devices that can only approximate meaning and merely evoke complex emotions and call the mind toward ideas it might not be able to comprehend. In the words of symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé:

Languages are imperfect because multiple; the supreme language is one can utter words which would bear the miraculous stamp of Truth Herself impossible it is for language to express the Poet's the consistent virtue and necessity of an art which lives on fiction, it achieves its full efficacy.

Moréas asserted in his manifesto on symbolism that words and images serve to dress the incomprehensible in such a way that it can be approached, if not understood.

Decadence, on the other hand, sees no path to higher truth in words and images. Instead, books, poetry, and art itself as the creators of valid new worlds, thus the allegory of decadent Wilde's Dorian Gray being poisoned by a book like a drug. Words and artifice are the vehicles for human creativity, and Huysmans suggests that the illusions of fantasy have their own reality: "The secret lies in knowing how to proceed, how to concentrate deeply enough to produce the hallucination and succeed in substituting the dream reality for the reality itself."

Both groups are disillusioned with the meaning and truth offered by the natural world, rational thought, and ordinary society. Symbolism turns its eyes toward Greater Purpose or on the Ideal, using dreams and symbols to approach these esoteric primal truths. In Mallarme's poem "Apparition", for instance, the word "dreaming" appears twice, followed by "Dream" itself with a capital D. In "The Windows", he speaks of this decadent disgust of contentment with comfort and an endless desire for the exotic. He writes: "So filled with disgust for the man whose soul is callous, sprawled in comforts where his hungering is fed." In this continuing search for the spiritual, therefore, Symbolism has been predisposed to concern itself with purity and beauty and such mysterious imagery as those of fairies.

In contrast, Decadence states there is no oblique approach to ultimate truth because there is no secret, mystical truth. They despise the very idea of searching for such a thing. If there is truth of value, it is purely in the sensual experience of the moment. The heroes of Decadent novels, for instance, have the unquenchable accumulation of luxuries and pleasure, often exotic, as their goal, even the gory and the shocking.

 In The Temptation of Saint Anthony, decadent Gustave Flaubert describes Saint Anthony's pleasure from watching disturbing scenes of horror. Later Czech decadent Arthur Breisky has been quoted by scholars as speaking to both the importance of illusion and of beauty: "But isn't it necessary to believe a beautiful mask more than reality?"

Ultimately, the distinction may best be seen in their approach to art. Symbolism is an accumulation of "symbols" that are there not to present their content but to evoke greater ideas that their symbolism cannot expressly utter. According to Moréas, it is an attempt to connect the objects and phenomena of the world to "esoteric primordial truths" that cannot ever be directly approached.

Decadence, on the other hand, is an accumulation of signs or descriptions acting as detailed catalogs of human material riches as well as artifice.[30] It was Oscar Wilde who perhaps laid this out most clearly in The Decay of Lying with the suggestion of three doctrines on art, here excerpted into a list:

1. "Art never expresses anything but itself."

2. "All bad art comes from returning to Life and Nature, and elevating them into ideals."

3. "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life"

After which, he suggested a conclusion quite in contrast to Moréas' search for shadow truth: "Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art."

In France, the Decadent movement could not withstand the loss of its leading figures. Many of those associated with the Decadent movement became symbolists after initially associating freely with decadents. Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé were among those, though both had been associated with Baju's Le Décadent for a time. Others kept a foot in each camp. Albert Aurier wrote decadent pieces for Le Décadent and also wrote symbolist poetry and art criticism.

Decadent writer Rachilde was staunchly opposed to a symbolist take over of Le Décadent even though her own one-act drama The Crystal Spider is almost certainly a symbolist work. Others, once strong voices for decadence, abandoned the movement altogether. Joris-Karl Huysmans grew to consider Against Nature as the starting point on his journey into Roman Catholic symbolist work and the acceptance of hope. Anatole Baju, once the self-appointed school-master of French decadence, came to think of the movement as naive and half-hearted, willing to tinker and play with social realities, but not to utterly destroy them. He left decadence for anarchy.

While the Decadent movement, per se, was mostly a French phenomenon, the impact was felt more broadly. Typically, the influence was felt as an interest in pleasure, an interest in experimental sexuality, and a fascination with the bizarre, all packaged with a somewhat trangressive spirit and an aesthetic that values material excess. Many were also influenced by the Decadent movement's aesthetic emphasis on art for its own sake.

Czech writers who were exposed to the work of the Decadent movement saw in it the promise of a life they could never know. These Bohemian decadent writers included Karel Hlaváček, Arnošt Procházka, Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic, and Louisa Zikova. One Czech writer, Arthur Breisky, embraced the full spirit of Le Décadent with its exultation in material excess and a life of refinement and pleasure. From the Decadent movement he learned the basic idea of a dandy, and his work is almost entirely focused on developing a philosophy in which the Dandy is the consummate human, surrounded by riches and elegance, theoretically above society, just as doomed to death and despair as they.

Rhapsody: A Dream Novel, also known as Dream Story (German: Traumnovelle), is a 1926 novella by the Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler. The book deals with the thoughts and psychological transformations of Doctor Fridolin over a two-day period after his wife confesses having had sexual fantasies involving another man. In this short time, he meets many people who give clues to the world Schnitzler creates. This culminates in the masquerade ball, an event of masked individualism, sex, and danger for Doctor Fridolin, the outsider.

It was first published in installments in the magazine Die Dame between December 1925 and March 1926. The first book edition appeared in 1926 in S. Fischer Verlag. The best known of the film adaptations is the 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut by director-screenwriter Stanley Kubrick and co-screenwriter Frederic Raphael, although it makes significant alterations to the setting. Prior to this film, it had been adapted for Austrian television in 1969, and a low-budget Italian film entitled Nightmare in Venice in 1989.

The book belongs to the period of the Decadent movement in Vienna after the turn of the 20th century.

Dream Story is set in early-20th-century Vienna. The protagonist of the story is Fridolin, a successful 35-year-old doctor who lives with his wife, Albertina (also translated as Albertine), and their young daughter.

One night, Albertina confesses that the previous summer, while they were on vacation in Denmark, she had a sexual fantasy about a young Danish military officer. Fridolin then admits that during that same vacation he had been attracted to a young girl on the beach. Later that night, Fridolin is called to the deathbed of an important patient. Finding the man dead, he is shocked when the man's daughter, Marianne, professes her love to him. Restless, Fridolin leaves and begins to walk the streets. Although tempted, he refuses the offer of a young prostitute named Mizzi.

He encounters his old friend, Nachtigall, who tells Fridolin that he will be playing piano at a secret high-society orgy that night. Intrigued, Fridolin procures a mask and costume and follows Nachtigall to the party at a private residence. Fridolin is shocked to find several men in masks and costumes and naked women with only masks engaged in various sexual activities. When a young woman warns him to leave, Fridolin ignores her plea and is soon exposed as an interloper. The woman then announces to the gathering that she will sacrifice herself for Fridolin, and he is allowed to leave.

Upon his return home, Albertina awakens and describes a dream she has had: While making love to the Danish officer from her sexual fantasies, she had watched without sympathy as Fridolin was tortured and crucified before her eyes. Fridolin is outraged because he believes that this proves his wife wants to betray him. He resolves to pursue his own sexual temptations.

The next day, Fridolin learns that Nachtigall has been taken away by two mysterious men. He then goes to the costume shop to return his costume and discovers that the shop-owner is prostituting his teenage daughter to various men. He finds his way back to where the orgy had taken place the previous night; before he can enter, he is handed a note addressed to him by name that warns him not to pursue the matter. Later, he visits Marianne, but she no longer expresses any interest in him. Fridolin searches for Mizzi, the prostitute, but is unable to find her. He reads that a young woman has been poisoned. Suspecting that she is the woman who sacrificed herself for him, he views the woman's corpse in the morgue but cannot identify her.

Fridolin returns home that night to find Albertina asleep, with his mask from the previous night set on the pillow on his side of the bed. When she wakes up, Fridolin confesses all of his activities. After listening quietly, Albertina comforts him. Fridolin says that it never will happen again, but Albertina tells him not to look too far into the future, and that the important thing is that they survived through their adventures.

The story ends with them greeting the new day with their daughter.

Stanley Kubrick's 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Sydney Pollack, is the best-known adaptation. It is modernized and Americanized, set in New York City in 1999 during the Christmas season, rather than in Vienna 1900 during Mardi Gras.