The Decadent movement, located in France and in England during the late 19th century, can most basically be described as a stylistic transition in literature between the pervasive Romanticism of the 1800s, the Naturalism that followed it, and Modernism. As art moved away from the romantic and naturalistic traditions in both literature and painting, towards the more classically modernist values of the early to mid 20th century, decadence became a key element of that transformation. With decadence we see the beginning of a rather developed form of the revolutionary spirit as model for art production, which became the basis for much of modernism and art since modernism. In its opposition to the widespread cultural situation that artists found themselves in, decadence spawned a more radical tradition that continues to the present. Because of its themes of alienation, non-normative sexuality, discomfort with civilization, and with society and its general culture, decadence necessarily forced artists to create a space for it, and for them in which these things could legitimately exist. In this way, a type of subculture emerged through the decadent model.
[...] In any case, Des Esseintes, who does not have to work, chooses that he would like to rise at sundown and go to sleep at sunrise. He accepts the growing artificiality of life for humans upon the earth, and explores this as a creative option. He is not only against nature, but against the common expectation for what and how people are supposed to be and live. When we move aside the artifice surrounding this person, we are still left with an almost revolutionary artist, committed in his way to resistance. [...]
[...] In this way, decadence and anarchism are reconciled. Without the control of the state, the individual is free to realize what Wilde refers to as the soul, individuality. The amazing thing that dandies, decadents, and artists of this time period realized was that they had the power to construct their own worlds. Initially, there was the need to simulate and affect an aristocratic lifestyle. This opened up the possibility of a freely lived life. This type of simulation was a liberating force for people in poverty (theoretically . [...]
[...] If Decadence spawned Modernism or at least linked Modernism to the past, naturally the trajectory of the modernist radical gesture sprouts out of the suggestion made by Decadence to reject the familiar and the oppressive. With Modernism, art either became obligated to refute or disprove the art that came before it, re-perform it to an outrageous extent, or totally re- define what the practice itself was. There is always a sense of fighting against the established, of denying the past. [...]
[...] Decadence as a response is symptomatic of a very specific cultural situation, and presents an escape from that situation. Moving away from the Baudelairian decay and degeneracy type of decadence towards the Wildean, Walter Pater inspired version of decadence, there is a proposal made for radical social change through an individual striving towards a personal aesthetic that is ideally liberating to disenfranchised members of society. The precedent established is one of anarchic upheaval in art. Although Decadence and even Anarchism seemingly fail to be politically significant in any major way, the establishment of the model of a relationship between subculture and politics actually did accomplish some important things. [...]
[...] The individual persona is crafted based upon a set of choices, and both dandyism and certain types of decadence propose this. On one hand, the Dandy could be politically reactionary or with aspirations towards the upper classes. Although the gesture of self-cultivation and denial of proscribed notions of identity may signify a kind of radicality, there is a paradox here. The relationship between subculture and politics, is even questionable and somewhat hypocritical. Perhaps it could be said that a certain kind of escapism or idealism that seeks to deny the existence of the state and the realm of the political is symptomatic of a problem and even a response to a problem, but there is not a great deal of evidence that this type of behavior is radical in the sense that it could be active. [...]
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