Decadence (A Very Short Introduction) ★✬☆☆☆

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Title: Decadence
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: David Weir
Rating: 1.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 142
Words: 44K


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.

My Thoughts:

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.”
~chapter 3

those decadents and degenerates of the 1920s now appear almost heroic in their hedonism”
chapter 4

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 😦

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

20 thoughts on “Decadence (A Very Short Introduction) ★✬☆☆☆

  1. I was a bit surprised to see they included this title in the series you so valiantly read through… a wide topic but one hjard to define. It seems the author tried to find some common threads between a few various epochs and parts of the world. I certainly feel more sympathy towards the decadent attitude than you, so you actually got me a bit interested in the book 😉

    Just yesterday, I was listening to a discussion on Cavafy’s “Waiting for the Barbarians” poem, one of my favourites and definitely touching the topic of decadence…

    Should “introductions” to anything be passionate and opinionated? Perhaps not, but when it comes to humanities, I definitely enjoy it more when I feel author gets personal. I had to read too many boring books that were required reading during my university days… ideally, there would be some balance between objective and subjective, and a clear demarcation line between facts and opinions…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t what the standard is for submitting a subject to Oxford Press. They seem to take anyone with credentials though.

      If the review interested you, then by all means check out the book. But for the love of heaven, don’t buy it.

      This is non-fiction. I expect the author to be objective on all levels. If he’s into the subject, I have no problems with him being excited about it. But an Intro book is NOT the place for opinions to enter in.

      I concur, that a book is generally better when the author IS really into the subject and gives their opinions on the matter. And if I was reading a 500 page book I would expect that. But in an Intro? The books barely cover what is needed already without the author wasting words and space with their opinion. These books are really short (the total page count includes the 20-25% of “additional reading”), between 70-120 pages, so the authors NEED to write lean and mean.

      But like I started my review, some authors aren’t authors, but authorities on the subject. Unfortunately, they conflate the two 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, in this format there space enough for an extended Wikipedia page…

        I quite like Cambridge Companions series, but only read parts of Fantasy and SF volumes. It’s only “major writers, artists, philosophers, topics, and periods”, not science… but the volumes are a bit longer, and have multiple authors so we get a nuanced picture…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I def agree about those being well informed not being great at conveying said information. I am terrible at explaining things, because I don’t understand what and why other people don’t understand (about) it. Something that is obvious to me should be obvious to others as well. It’s hard being a genius…


  3. Scientific vulgarization (popular science) is indeed something that many struggle with but still something that many others try to incorporate in their career, especially in this day and age, with social media just about mandatory for everyone. What your body explained to you does indeed clarify so much on the purpose of this whole series though. 😮

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Feth social media! I mean, besides wordpress, I don’t have any and I’m surviving just fine. Why can’t everyone be JUST LIKE ME?!? hehehehee 😉

      Yeah, it was eye opening and good for me to get that idea through my head. I’m hoping it really helps.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I wouldn’t mind knowing how to win the Powerball lottery here in the United States without actually buying a ticket.
          That seems kind of specific and not really general though 😀

          Liked by 1 person

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