Friday, August 2, 2013

Fin-de-Siècle


The great majority of the middle and lower classes is naturally not fin-de-siecle.    It is true that the spirit of the times is stirring the nations down to their lowest depths, and awaking even in the most inchoate and rudimentary human being a wondrous feeling of stir and upheaval.    But this more or less slight touch of moral sea-sickness does not excite in him the cravings of travailing women, nor express itself in new aesthetic needs. The Philistine or the Proletarian still finds undiluted satisfac­tion in the old and oldest forms of art and poetry, if he knows himself unwatched by the scornful eye of the votary of fashion, and is free to yield to his own inclinations.   He prefers Ohnet's novels   to   all    the    symbolists,    and   Mascagni's   Cavalleria Rusticana to  all  Wagnerians   and   to  Wagner himself;   he enjoys himself royally over slap-dash  farces  and music-hall melodies, and yawns or is angered at Ibsen ; he contemplates gladly chromos of paintings depicting Munich beer-houses and rustic taverns,   and  passes the open-air painters  without  a glance.    It is only a very small minority who honestly find pleasure  in  the  new tendencies,  and  announce  them  with genuine conviction as that which alone is sound, a sure guide for the future, a pledge of pleasure and of moral benefit.    But this minority has the gift of covering the whole visible surface of society, as a little oil extends over a large area of the surface of the sea.    It consists chiefly of rich educated people, or of fanatics.    The former give the ton to all the snobs, the fools, and the blockheads; the latter make an impression upon the weak and dependent, and intimidate the nervous.    All snobs affect to  have  the  same taste  as  the  select  and exclusive minority, who pass by everything that once was considered beautiful with an air of the greatest contempt.    And thus it appears as if the whole of civilized humanity were converted to the aesthetics of the Dusk of the Nations.

Max Nordau, Degeneration, University of Nebraska Press, 1968 (1892)



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