What is a decadent?

The Decadent: a philosopher of pleasure


 

 

"Every thing around bore some testimony of low debauchery; and the man himself, with his flushed and sensual countenance, his unwashed hands, and the the slovenly rakishness of his whole appearance , made no unfitting representation of the Genius loci [Pelham]

Charles Baudelaire:  Author of Les Fleurs du Mal and Spleen du Paris

 J. K. Huysmans: Author of A Rebours, La-Bas, and En Route

Jean Lorrain: famous French dandy, decadent,  and author of M. de Phocas 

The Count Robert de Montesquiou: Inspired many Decadents and Dandies with his style and exploits

 

Raymond André: Our resident Decadent, see his page for a taste of his work- Raymond 

    

The Decadent movement began in France, and some say it remained there. The Decadents were philosophers of pleasure. They sought elegance, but not for itself as the Dandies did, but for the pleasure it brought.  They sought society for the same reason. Decadence was a French movement and it carried the flavor of the French about it. It was primarily a literary movement, and saw its heyday after the reconstruction of Paris by Napoleon II. The French loved their capital city and when Napoleon razed it to create a modern one, they mourned the old city as a lost lover; but were equally quick to explore the new one with the same erotic energy. 

The  decadents dressed well, but were known for extravagances, for example the Count de Montesquiou wore perfumed lavender gloves. Their clothes and sense of style brought pleasure and reinforced their love of the exotic, and sensual. The Decadents sought pleasure in every form, but especially traditionally forbidden ones.  Baudelaire wrote poetry [his preferred medium]about prostitutes, drugs, and crime and finished by writing perhaps the most disturbing phrase in Western literature "Qu'importe le duration de la damnation à qui goute l'instant infini de la jouissance "*.  J.K. Huysmans would do almost exactly the same thing, only under the guise of a fictional hero des Esseintes, as opposed to poetry like Baudelaire. In the first two books of his trilogy Huysmans narrates the life of a man in pursuit of pleasure;  more importantly of forbidden pleasure. He takes drugs, contemplates crime,  and frequents prostitutes all in pursuit of an Earthly paradise. But this paradise seems perpetually beyond his grasp; so in the end [the third book of the trilogy] he converts and becomes a pious man: he always seems to seek his perfection outside of himself, and never finds it.  Jean Lorrain writes an account of "the Duc de Freneuse" who, under the pseudonym [and book title] M. de Phocas passes his day obsessed with gems, antique statuary and young prostitutes.  It was  of course the Count de Montesquieu who was the inspiration for not only des Esseintes, but Mr. de Phocas, as well. He was such a renown figure in the elegant, decadent mid-to-late Victorian world that he almost changed the face of dandyism in his image.