Discipline décadente et stylistique de l'existence dans la littérature française, 1884-1922

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2023-04-24

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Abstract

Decadence, a loosely defined literary movement in France and England at the fin de siècle, has proved popular for its paradoxes and transvaluations that, according to some critics, destabilize modern binarisms. In this thesis, I survey four works of French Decadent literature and its 20th-century afterlives: J.K. Huysmans’s A Rebours (1884), Jean Lorrain’s Monsieur de Phocas (1901), André Gide’s L’Immoraliste (1902), and Marcel Proust’s Sodome et Gomorrhe (1922). As a guiding analytic, “decadent discipline” points to several governing paradoxes in Decadent literature: the stylistic discipline involved in producing Decadent literature; the ascetic discipline of decadent styles of existence; and the recursivity of decadence-attribution, whereby rejections of decadence, in favor of discipline, are themselves deemed decadent. The writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick guide my analysis, which narrows its scope to the intersection of male homosexuality and religious devotion, while highlighting the centrality of racialized, gendered, and colonial violence to the subject formations depicted in this body of literature. In my conclusion, I engage with recent trends in queer theory and culture. I propose that the recursive attribution typified by decadence applies not only to all the foundational binarisms of modernity, but also to queer identity politics: linguistic rejections of binarisms tend to reify and reproduce the binarisms they purport to oppose. Alternatively, an attention to styles—in our own existences and in art—reveals the singularity of individual experience that eludes binarizing language.

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Atkinson, Stephen (2023). Discipline décadente et stylistique de l'existence dans la littérature française, 1884-1922. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27355.


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