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A Very Short Introduction
Written by: David Weir
Narrated by: Graham Halstead
Length: 4 hrs and 37 mins

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Publisher's Summary

The history of decadent culture runs from ancient Rome to 19th-century Paris, Victorian London, fin de siecle Vienna, Weimar Berlin, and beyond. The decline of Rome provides the pattern for both aesthetic and social decadence, a pattern that artists and writers in the 19th century imitated, emulated, parodied, and otherwise manipulated for aesthetic gain. What begins as the moral condemnation of modernity in mid-19th century France on the part of decadent authors such as Charles Baudelaire ends up as the perverse celebration of the pessimism that accompanies imperial decline. This delight in decline informs the rich canon of decadence that runs from Joris-Karl Huysmans's À Rebours to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.

In Decadence, David Weir explores the conflicting attitudes towards modernity present in decadent culture by examining the difference between aesthetic decadence - the excess of artifice - and social decadence, which involves excess in a variety of forms, whether perversely pleasurable or gratuitously cruel. Such contrariness between aesthetic and social decadence led some of its practitioners to substitute art for life and to stress the importance of taste over morality, a maneuver with far-reaching consequences.

©2018 Oxford University Press (P)2018 Tantor

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  • 29-08-18

The Dandy at Dusk

Excellent introduction to an obscure topic although the theory and practice of decadence as an aesthetic and social attitude had a major role to play in the moral condemnation of modernity in the mid nineteenth century.
90 years ago Edmund Wilson with great panache in Axels Castle, underscored the role of Symbolism as an underpinning for literary modernism. When I read Wilson's book 20 years back, Symbolism and Decadence were used interchangeably in the context of literary modernism. But are they interchangeably?

David Weir discusses Decadence in aesthetic, social and cultural contexts as well as how it played out in Paris, London, Vienna in the 19th century, was democratized in the Weimar Republic in the 1920's and briefly in the the non-European context. He begins by tracing the etiology of the term in the study of Classical Rome in the 18th century and the central role of Paris in the development of decadence as the aesthetic expression of a conflicted attitude towards modernity [Just about every manifestation of decadence owes its origins, either directly or indirectly, to a loosely affiliated group of artists and writers who lived and worked in Paris around 1850's, especially the critic Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) who was the first to retrospectively describe the poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) as decadent]

The narrator has done an excellent job.

Highly recommended. At least for me this book pushed me to dust off my Baudelaire!

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