Monday, June 04, 2018

Monday Forum - fin de siècle, the decadents and other such matters

fin de siècle relating to or characteristic of the end of a century, especially the 19th century.
zeitgeist - the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.
the decadent movement -a late 19th-century artistic and literary movement, centered in Western Europe, that followed an aesthetic ideology of excess and artificiality  The movement was characterized by self-disgust, sickness at the world, general skepticism, delight in perversion and employment of crude humor and a belief in the superiority of human creativity over logic and the natural world


As part of my train reading, I have been reading Holbrook Jackson's The Eighteen Nineties. First printed in 1913 and then reprinted multiple times, my copy is a 1950 Pelican reprint, the book explores art and literature at the climax of the Victorian period in England.
Aubrey Beardsley, The climax, 1893. Beardsley's art became a symbol of the decadence movement. 
Holbrook's book reminded me of how little I know or, worse perhaps, how much I had forgotten!  I had to look fin de siècle up to remind myself. I knew the English decadents such as Oscar Wilde or Aubrey Beardsley by their work, but not by their attributed school.

In some ways, both the decadents and fin de siècle reminded me of today. There is the same weariness with change, the rejection of established values without necessarily having an alternative. There is also, and this may well be different, a view that life itself becomes art. To Holbrook's mind, Wilde's distinction lies not in his writing but in his life as an art form. As Holbrook draws out, society was already striking, back re-asserting conventional norms.

Perhaps more importantly, we know and they did not ,that huge war is coming. That blew away so much.

Holbrook's own writing is of its time. Today, used as I am to short sentences, I had to stop and learn how to flow with paragraphs that themselves flow, requiring a different form of reading,. He is also opinionated, something that I like but am self-conscious about.
A Decadent Girl, by Ramón Casas, 1899. She looks just so tired or out in a drunken stupor!
I have much to absorb from Holbrook's book.Among other things, I want to extend that piece I wrote Reflections on the art of flânerie.

This is the entry point for the Monday Forum. I leave it in your hands where you go from here!

It's all a matter of zeitgeist!



8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Had to look up a new word today - flaneuse - becoz it was niggling me.

And I found it was the feminine form of all that flimflannery you were on about a while back.

Get out of my head!

kvd

Evan said...

I don't see much aestheticism around (life as art). I do think there has been a bit of a move to more Victorian attitudes from the 60's - privacy about sex (in the sense of 'it's none of your business'; though there isn't the Victorian reticence to discuss sex - voluntarily).

That journalists seem to be regarded as the moral arbiters, seems ridiculous to me.

The nihilism I think is most common in the elites (which was probably due of the end of the 19th century too I guess).

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. I'm not sure what medical advice to provide since you clearly have acquired a potentially dangerous condition. Perhaps early on-set decadence?

Jim Belshaw said...

I wonder, Evan. I think that the more "Victorian" attitude may date to the eighties and nineties. Perhaps an example of fin de siècle in its own right? Certain some things have become more permissible, while many other have become suddenly less so. We live in an authoritarian and censorious age.

One thing that I hadn't picked up about the decadents and some related schools is their urban focus. That includes, at the risk of worsening kvd's incipient medical condition, the flaneurs or even the flaneuse?! They rejected but could not totally escape from the idea of an idyllic country. Worse, by 1900 they had become caught in that most modern conditions, suburbia!

Jim Belshaw said...

Oh, the idea of journalists as moral arbiters is an example of decadence in its own right!

Anonymous said...

The infection is deeper than that Jim. I just realised my current reading - Paul Theroux "The Kingdom By The Sea" - an account of his walking/training around the coast of Great Britain, is probably your wandering so taken to the max :)

Which is not to suggest it is an unpleasant affliction.

kvd

Jim Belshaw said...

I haven't read that book, kvd. As often happens with your comments, I rushed to look it up! I must read it. To my mind, you may have selected a treatment that transforms early on-set decadence into a benign even helpful condition. The worst that can happen is that you may be persuaded to follow T into strenuous curiosity (you suffer from this already)

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with your interpretation of that last painting Jim:

"A Decadent Girl, by Ramón Casas, 1899. She looks just so tired or out in a drunken stupor!"

For starters, larger renditions of that painting quite clearly show her eye is open - which I'd imagine/translate as gazing into the distance - perhaps pondering upon something she'd just read in her book?

Second, what drunken stupor is suggested by actually having a book in one's hand?

Third and last - the artist titled the work using the word 'decadent' - which could as easily be interpreted (in Spanish) as 'slumped' or 'exhausted' (or even lying down, as opposed to upright) as our now more common meaning of somewhat debauched.

She looks perfectly prim and proper to me, with an eye fixed upon some distant point, and not in any way suggesting torpor - drunken or otherwise :)

kvd