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A Decadent Metaphysics: Fin-de-siècle Anxiety and the Cultural Contexts of Early Modernism

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The late nineteenth-century artistic movements of Symbolism and Decadence originate from an impulse to revalue art’s place in society and redirect our encounter with literature. Yet they are not part of a single continuum of early modernism. They function as binaries that indicate divergent paths and distinct reactions to the modern condition. While Symbolism escaped the anxiety of the turn of the century by embracing a spirit of idealism and otherworldliness, Decadence sought to recast and reclaim the most pessimistic aspects of the era. Decadence is at once the representation of the age’s deep-seated anxieties and a strategy for coping with the fears induced by the upcoming end of the era and ensuing prospect of social decline. This talk recasts the story of early modernist literature and culture by drawing out the tension of its simultaneous engagement with the otherworldliness of Symbolism and the corporeality of Decadence in works of the Russian and European fin-de-siècle.

About the Speaker Jon Stone is Associate Professor of Russian and Russian Studies and Chair of Comparative Literary Studies at Franklin & Marshall College (USA). He studies early Russian modernism and the print and material culture of the fin de siècle. He is the author of The Historical Dictionary of Russian Literature and has published articles on Russian Symbolism, Decadence, the history of the book, and Mikhail Bakhtin. His book The Institutions of Russian Modernism: Conceptualizing, Publishing, and Reading Symbolism is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press.

This talk is part of the Slavonic Studies series.

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