Author : Max Nordau (1849 - 1923)

Title : Degeneration 1895 (English Translation; Originally In German In 1892)

Keywords: aesthetes, decadence, decadent poetry, degeneration, art, literature, modernism, morality

Pages : Introduction | page 1 | page 2 | page 3 | page 4


This extract is from Nordau’s chapter on ‘Decadents and Aesthetes,’ and is important to his argument that all art should be beautiful and should therefore have a basis in morality. In France, ‘decadence’ was a term used to describe writing, especially poetry, which was artificial, symbolic, and subjective. To Nordau, the way the language was used was perverse and dangerously evocative, even if the subject matter was obscure. The ‘Bible of Decadence’, Huysmans’ A Rebours, Baudelaire’s poetry, and the dialogues of Wilde were all degenerate. To Nordau, the authors were no less guilty than criminals who actually committed acts of vice. In contrast to the intellectuals and artists who lionized the French decadents and symbolists as the champions of the new moral order, Nordau feared that their unbridled excesses would drown the world in chaos.

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