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The Devastating Wave

Decadentism between technology and knowledge

The cultural movement that took the name of "Decadentism" developed in France with the first literary manifestation by a group of young intellectuals and can be considered as the extreme phase of the romantic movement.

The manifestation of the literary movement began in Paris, in the second half of the nineteenth century and was in great controversy with naturalistic literature.

The term "decadentism" was coined by cultural criticism of realistic and naturalistic address to identify with contempt that group of young French intellectuals, whose attitude was considered as an expression of cultural degradation.

This term, however, was a source of pride for the young poets who, in fact, adopted it as a sign of distinction towards society. This new generation did not recognize itself in the positivistic and materialistic tendencies of bourgeois society, opposing it with unconventional and unconventional attitudes. They were even conscious of being rejected by society and drew from the events a source of great pride and distinction, which led them to claim their superiority.
Decadence was considered the extreme form of romanticism, especially in the themes treated, such as dream, imagination and fantasy. With the Romantics they also shared the rational dimension. In fact, both cultural movements lived the contrast between the real and the unreal or abstract. A tension that was translated into the melancholy of the soul tending to victimism, then to self-destruction.

The characteristics that distinguish this complex cultural movement are found, above all, in the development and crisis of idealism and romantic subjectivism. So that also the decadent spiritual civilization manifested itself in the field of thought and moral life, leading to an uneasy distrust in the forces of reason and assuming the forms of the greatest existential crisis.

The most important and essential general characteristics of the movement are:


    The exasperation of individualism and egocentrism;
    The pessimistic vision of the world and life;
    The great controversy against positivism;
    The discovery of the unconscious and the subconscious;
    The tormenting sense of loneliness and mystery.


It is of great importance to recall that the art of decadence represents the crisis of European society and civilization between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a historical period marked by the great industrial revolution. But the same also represents conscience and the denunciation of the profound existential crisis of society.

Among the decadent heroes there is the figure of the inept, that is, of that man devoid of inner will and afflicted by the victimhood disease that makes him unable to live and to whom the paths of suicide or dream open.

But it is also good to recall that the victimistic tendency of life as corruption and death, which are considered by the cultural movement conditions of privilege and distinction, is opposed to an unbridled vitalism that brought out the figure of the superman; that is, the individual who was devoted to exceptional feats, who was committed to self-realization.

Another very important figure among the decadents is represented by the dandy, that individual dressed in an extravagant way, since the dandies were the main exponents of appearance.

In that period matured, therefore, a new poetic sensitivity, in the midst of a total crisis of ethical and cognitive values, in which poetry was presented as the only means to understand and reveal reality, thus becoming the most relevant expressive tool in the characters of decadent art, refined in technique and expression; through the use of the word poetry is removed from any constraint of a logical and conceptual nature to rise to the lyrical enchantment of sound and musical suggestion.

According to Baudelaire, the major exponent of the movement, reality is what hides behind appearances.

Hence the intuition of the unconscious, which represents the instrument through which you can access reality or even through the various states of ego alteration; ie the neurosis, madness, hallucination and nightmare caused by alcohol and drugs.

Decadence is also represented by the symbolism, of which the greatest exponent is Mallarmè, according to which poetry represents the mystery within which the reader is called to look for the key. In this part of the movement silence, suspensions and white spaces acquire expressive value.

For symbolist poets, poetry is the only instrument capable of grasping the profound mystery of reality.

The basic principles of decadent poetry were:


    The artist is aseer, that is the individual capable of grasping everything that is beyond thesensations and appearances.


Elements that society cannot perceive:


    The artist is anaesthete;

    The expressivetechnique used is that of pure poetry and the language is rich in metaphors,analogies and symbols;

    The word becomespure and abstract, sometimes understandable only to the poet who uses it andhas value only for phonicity and musicality;

    The syntax becomesinaccurate;

    The traditionalmetric gives way to the free verse.


The historical period, in which the complex culturalmovement called "decadentism" was manifested, is between the secondhalf of the nineteenth century and the First World War. This historical phaseis marked by important political and social events. A phase characterized bygreat international tensions, which did not result in direct conflicts, as wasthe case in the past, but brooded inside and then led to the greatest tragedyof the First World War.


From the purely economic point of view, the last decades ofthe nineteenth century were the backdrop to the great crisis. It is theso-called "Great Depression", which happens in the period of greatexpansion and growth, namely the Industrial Revolution.


This difficult situation is characterized by the collapse ofindustrial and agricultural prices, a general stalemate in production and asharp increase in unemployment.


Faced with this situation, European governments respond withmeasures that on the one hand make the effects of the crisis more tolerable; onthe other hand, they trigger tensions and increasingly serious contrasts interms of the international socio-political climate.


The first measure that was adopted was that ofprotectionism, that is, the closing of borders to foreign products,contributing to the preservation of national industry and agriculture,operating, in their own state, in a monopoly climate at the expense ofcompetition. Measures that cause disruptions in those sectors that work forexport, bringing them into a serious crisis, due to the closures of traditionalforeign markets.

Thus, the major European states embark on an imperialist policy in an attempt to find outlets for their economies. This situation is sustained by the culture of the time, which spreads in the wider strata of society the love of war, taste and spirit of conquest and power, introducing into the collective imagination the irrational racist myths and violence that represent the cultural background of the First World War.

A situation that, in some ways, seems to be repeated even in our historical period. In fact, even today we live in a great phase of industrial and technological revolution, a serious economic crisis with a consequent increase in unemployment and especially the crisis of identity of society, in which anarchy reigns and the enhancement of one’s being through material wealth at the expense of culture.

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