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Decadence, Nietzsche to Freud

ENGL 598.401
W 12-3

In the context of the European fin de siecle, we will explore the paradoxical idea of decadence from a variety of perspectives in an effort to develop some useful theoretical models. Our primary literary texts will be Flaubert's *Salammbo*, which exemplifies a decadent view of history; Zola's *The Sin of Father Mouret*, in which nature displays the vegetative excesses against which Huysmans reacts in *Against Nature*, the breviary of decadent taste; Wilde's *The Picture of Dorian Gray* and *Salome*, parables of decadent (anti)morality; Hardy's *Tess of the D'Urbervilles*, where English naturalism shows its decadent underside; Jean Lorrain's *Monsieur de Phocas*, a sensationalist indulgence in decadent perversities; and Thomas Mann's *Death in Venice*, in which the death wish of decadence is ambivalently realized. I will present Nietzsche (*The Gay Science* and *The Case of Wagner*) and Freud *Three Essays*, *Beyond the Pleasure Principle*, and the papers on masochism and female sexuality) as both participating in decadence and struggling to move outside it. We will also look briefly at decadent painting (Moreau, Beardsley, Klimt) and decadent diagnosticians (the criminologist Lombroso, the social critic Nordau). Selected critical and theoretical essays will be assigned, and students will report in class on longer critical works and on related subjects, depending on student interest (decadence and . . . fascism, antisemitism, Wagner, early film, the avant-garde, surrealism). Works will be read in translation, though students in French will be expected to read the French texts in the original.