By Marja Härmänmaa, Christopher Nissen, Jeffrey Walsh
Paintings and literature in the course of the ecu fin-de-siècle interval usually manifested subject matters of degeneration and rot, either one of our bodies and civilizations, in addition to sickness, strange sexuality, and basic morbidity. This assortment explores those themes with regards to artists and writers as various as Oscar Wilde, August Strindberg, and Aubrey Beardsley.
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Extra info for Decadence, Degeneration, and the End: Studies in the European Fin de Siècle
From the edge of the sea came a ripple and a whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of the birds, the hum of the insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives—all that was over. (Wells 1957, 85) Thus, the earth and life pass, with a whisper rather than a scream, into stillness and ice, predicted by the iron inevitability of cold science. Wells’s story speaks to the inevitability of endings.
All the energy of the universe will still be there, but it will be useless. All large-scale motion will have ceased,—transformed into vibrations of the particles of matter,—and all life will have died. The cosmos will be left a cold, dead expanse of matter. Reactions to this picture varied. 3 Some saw it as proof of God’s design; others saw it as detrimental to religious ideas. 4 This was proof that the universe was created (it had a definite beginning) and that it was moving toward an inevitable end.
In Michael Aronna’s words, some authors “did not wish to confirm the racial condemnation inherent in the discourse of degeneration, but rather sought to extract its promise of evolutionary regeneration” (Aronna 1991, 21). In the recipe for “regeneration,” the ideas of thinkers as diverse as Friedrich Nietzsche and Hippolyte Taine are thrown into a mixture that will sustain the country as it crosses the threshold of the century. Regeneration and Agency: Reconfiguring “the Fittest” as the National Leader Darwin’s theory of the “survival of the fittest” was read by many as a natural law that could explain the political success of countries, or the lack thereof.