Introduction: Decadence, Culture, and Society

Desmarais, Jane H. and Weir, David. 2020. Introduction: Decadence, Culture, and Society. In: Jane Desmarais and David Weir, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Decadence. New York and London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190066956 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

This introduction argues that even though decadence and culture are incompatible concepts, the former based on the idea of decay and the latter on the concept of growth, decadence is a type of culture in its own right, however much it may go against the grain of culture at large. This basic paradox is evident in the literature produced by such figures as Charles Baudelaire, J.-K. Huysmans, Rachilde, Arthur Symons, Oscar Wilde, and many others, all of whom drew creative energy from a sense of historical decline, philosophical pessimism, and sexual perversity. Moreover, the culture of decadence concerns not only forms of aesthetic expression such as literature and art, but also sensuous, lived experience, however self-destructive such experience might be. This “lived decadence,” moreover, was—and is—available not only to artists and writers on the margins of society but also to the economically secure and socially ascendant bourgeoisie, the beneficiaries of that very modernity so many decadents set themselves against.

Item Type:

Book Section

Identification Number (DOI):


art for art’s sake, bourgeoisie, Johann Gottfried von Herder, instrumentality, Kultur, learned culture, lived culture, Friedrich Nietzsche, politics, Volk

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


August 2020Published

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Date Deposited:

07 Jan 2022 12:15

Last Modified:

07 Jan 2022 12:16


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