Decadence, Aestheticism, and The Rise of Modernism

RATIONALE

Most descriptions of Modernist writers involve the idea of a severance - usually self-conscious, self-righteous, and with almost apocalyptic consequences - from previous aesthetic and ideological forms. Experimentation with inherited traditions and subversion of social mores are the gestures most frequently associated with the authors on my orals list. These sorts of descriptions follow quite naturally, it seems, from familiar characterizations of Modernity itself as a definitive break from the past. Disenchantment (Weber), degeneration (Nordau), and dehumanization (Ortega y Gasett) are some of the familiar words used to describe this historical process.

Evidently the end of the nineteenth century was experienced by many as a point of rupture, as a crisis, and various artists accepted the burden of carving out a channel of escape. I propose to consider the implications of this rhetoric of crisis in turn-ofthe-century works of fiction, poetry, and texts of historical documentation. My period spans roughly the period from Nietzsche's pronouncement that God had died to Joyce's announcement that "Finnegan wakes." I am interested above all in the relationship between an aesthetics of release ("pure poetry," the cult of silence, symbolism, the decadent's cult of death and withering) and the enduring forces of restraint (historical consciousness, bourgeois ideology). My general questions will be: What is at stake for those who employ a rhetoric of crisis? What is the difference between conceiving of one's time as a "decadent" or a "modern" one? What kinds of "liberation" can be effected by works of art? What forces mitigate against liberation?


PRIMARY READINGS

ENGLISH & AMERICAN TEXTS

Max Beerbohm
— The Seven Men
— "A Defense of Cosmetics"
Joseph Conrad
— Heart of Darkness
— Lord Jim
— The Secret Agent,
— Nostromo
T.S. Eliot
— "Tradition and the Individual Talent"
— "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
— "Preludes"
— "Rhapsody on a Windy Night"
— "Gerontian"
— "The Waste Land"
H. D.
— Trilogy
Thomas Hardy
— Jude the Obscure
Henry James
— Portrait of a Lady
— The Ambassadors
— "The Beast in the Jungle"
James Joyce
— A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
— Ulysses
— Finnegans Wake
D. H. Lawrence
— The Rainbow
— Women in Love
— "The State of Funk"
Walter Pater
— The Renaissance
Ezra Pound
— ABC of Reading
— "The Seafarer"
— "The Lake Isle"
— "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley"
Gertrude Stein
— "Melanctha"
Wallace Stevens
— "The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words"
— "The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet"
— "Sunday Morning"
— "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon"
— "The Snow Man"
— "The Emperor of Ice Cream"
— "The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad"
— "Of Modern Poetry"
— "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction"
Arthur Symons
— "The Decadent Movement in Literature"
Oscar Wilde
— Picture of Dorian Gray
— Salome
— "The Decay of Lying"
— "The Critic as Artist"
Virginia Woolf
— The Waves
— To The Lighthouse
W.B Yeats
— "The Symbolism of Poetry"
— The Rose (entire)
— The Wind Among the Reeds (entire)
— "The Mask"
— "September 1913"
— "Ego Dominus Tuus"
— "Easter 1916"
— "The Second Coming"
— "Sailing to Byzantium"
— "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen"
— "Vacillation"
— "A Dialogue of Self and Soul"
— "Meru"
— "Long-Legged Fly"
— "Man and Echo"
— "The Circus Animals' Desertion"

FRENCH TEXTS

J.K. Huysmans
— Against Nature
Stéphane Mallarmé
— "Crisis in Poetry"
— "Igitur"
— "Salute"
— "The Azure"
— "Le Vierge, Le Vivace et Le Bel Aujourd'hui"
— "The Tomb of Edgar Poe"
— "Action Restricted"
— "The Book: A Spiritual Instrument"
Paul Valery
— "Pure Poetry"
— "Remarks on Poetry"

GERMAN TEXTS

Franz Kafka
— The Trial
— "The Hunger Artist"
Thomas Mann
— Death in Venice
— Tonio Krueger
Robert Musil
— Young Torless
Friedrich Nietzsche
— "On the Uses and Abuses of History"
— "The Birth of Tragedy"
Rainer Marie Rilke
— Duino Elegies


SECONDARY READINGS

Theodor Adorno
— "Kafka"
— "On Commitment"
Walter Benjamin
— "The Storyteller"
— "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire"
— "Franz Kafka"
Georg Lukacs
— "The Meaning of Contemporary Realism"
Max Nordau
— Degeneration
José Ortega y Gassett
— "The Dehumanization of Art"