Author : Max Nordau (1849 - 1923)

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

Keywords: apocalypticism, degeneration, fin de siecle, benedict augustin morel, pessimism, language.

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

This extract, from Max Nordau’s Degeneration, is part of his classic enunciation of the mood of the fin de siècle – ‘In our days there have arisen in more highly-developed minds vague qualms of a Dusk of the Nations, in which all suns and all stars are gradually waning, and mankind with all its institutions and creations is perishing in the midst of a dying world’ (Nordau, Degeneration [London: Bison, 1993]: p. 2).

Nordau berates the widespread use of the term fin de siècle, little realising that his designation of ‘degeneration’ would shortly attain similarly kaleidoscopic and vague meanings.

Using the work of B. A. Morel as a launch-pad, Nordau here goes on to provide his archetypal description of the degenerate, from the physical stigmata such as the shape of the ears or the skull, to the mental characteristics such as emotionalism, ‘’moral insanity,’ and pessimism. Where Nordau’s work differs from that of Morel, and converges with Lombroso’s, is his labelling of traditionally ‘artistic’ traits - reverie, sensitivity, unwillingness to conform, elaboration of ideas, and use of imagination - as degenerate. This foreshadows his later main theme - a tirade against those artists pushing the boundaries of convention and in whom we see embryonic forms of modernism that have since become canonical.

Back to Degeneration Documents | Introduction | page 1 | page 2 | page 3 | page 4