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Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: David Weir
Rating: 1.5 of 5 Stars
From the Publisher
The history of decadent culture runs from ancient Rome to nineteenth-century Paris, Victorian London, fin de siècle 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 nineteenth century imitated, emulated, parodied, and otherwise manipulated for aesthetic gain. What begins as the moral condemnation of modernity in mid-nineteenth 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, Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings, Gustav Klimt’s paintings, and numerous other works. In this Very Short Introduction, 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, especially as decadence enters the realm of popular culture today.
I was talking with a friend of mine about higher education and we ended up discussing how it seems that those who are the most informed on a subject are often the worst at actually conveying information about said subject. Which led me to talk about this series and that lead to some interesting info for me.
Zac, my friend (and no, he’s not just in my head), was saying that a lot of higher education is about finding the right books on a subject tangential to the one you’re actually studying. So an Introductory book like this is meant for someone who is already experienced in some aspect of the subject and wants a bibliography to expand their knowledge. It went a LONG way towards explaining my issues with this series. It’s not an Introduction for the Layperson, but an Introduction for People Already into the Subject. While it doesn’t solve my problems with the series, it radically adjusts my perspective and that will help alleviate some of the frustration caused by idiots who aren’t idiots but are idiots. With that out of the way, let’s proceed.
I was hoping the author would take a factual look at Decadence and keep his opinions to himself. In fact, I wasn’t just hoping that, I was expecting that. Instead, I am treated to an author glorifying and almost wallowing in the perverse and disgusting. The author doesn’t appear to just be interested in the subject of Decadence itself but to have dived into the very essence of Decadence and come out praising it. Metaphorically, he doesn’t just talk about pig poop but he dives in and then proceeds to throw it at the reader while shouting how wonderful, how liberating, how brave anyone is who can swim in pig poop.
I’m adding a couple of quotes now.
“ But above all perverse, almost everything perverse interests, fascinates me.”
“those decadents and degenerates of the 1920s now appear almost heroic in their hedonism”
“but such attraction to degradation is by no means a criticism”
Now, none of those are in context and many are not the authors words but quotes he is using to support his own ideas. However, the context IS clear that he supports each and every statement. It made me sick.
To end, this book made me sick and I’m sorry that I read it. Talking about a subject is far different from praising a subject 😦