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By David Weir

The paradoxes of the yank decadent circulation within the Eighteen Nineties and 1920s.

Decadent tradition within the usa strains the advance of the decadent stream in the US from its beginnings within the Eighteen Nineties to its short revival within the Twenties. in the course of the fin de siècle, many americans felt the state had entered a interval of decline because the frontier had ended and the country’s “manifest destiny” looked to be fulfilled. Decadence—the cultural reaction to nationwide decline and person degeneracy so well-known in nineteenth-century Europe—was hence taken up by way of teams of artists and writers in significant American towns equivalent to ny, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. Noting that the capitalist, advertisement context of the US supplied percentages for the doorway of decadence into pop culture to some extent that easily didn't happen in Europe, David Weir argues that American-style decadence used to be pushed by means of a twin impulse: clear of pop culture for ideological purposes, but towards pop culture for monetary purposes. via going opposed to the grain of dominant social and cultural traits, American writers produced a local variation of Continental Decadence that at last dissipated “upward” into the emerging rest classification and “downward” into renowned, advertisement culture.

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Extra info for Decadent Culture in the United States: Art and Literature Against the American Grain, 1890-1926 (Suny Series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century)

Sample text

Saltus escaped the kind of moral opprobrium visited on Wilde for two reasons: he was not homosexual, and he reserved his most outrageous material for history rather than fiction. As Levin puts it: “Under the guise of historical documentation it was possible to discuss matters still too delicate for fictional handling” (Levin, 1073). Despite Levin’s balanced and generally positive critique, Saltus disappeared almost immediately from subsequent literary histories of the period. 9 Saltus’s disappearance from the canon of American letters may be attributable to the variety of his production.

The paradox may hold, in part, in the case of Edgar Saltus, though his eclipse from American letters had already begun by the time he shifted his literary career to journalism. But the general contradiction holds: Saltus, like others, tried to popularize a culture in the United States that ran completely counter to the cultural interests of most Americans. Instead of local color, like Stuart Merrill he provided French pastels; instead of Emersonian optimism and self-reliance, he counseled Schopenhauerian pessimism and self-annihilation; instead of genteel realism and moral assurances, his writing conveyed artificiality, nihilism, and decadence.

Not one of [these] is strictly American” (93–94). The Saltus efflorescence of the early 1920s aside, Pollard’s treatment of Saltus as an artist of excess, combined with Mencken’s dismissal of Saltus as the hollow man of the old century, sets the tone for future critical assessments. ”6 While acknowledging that Saltus held some appeal in the 1920s “for other exquisites” who found “his fantastically overstylized books interesting,” Kazin follows the cynical Mencken in his judgment of Saltus’s lack of substance, the absence of a “moral pattern”: “Saltus was something more than a decadent; he was so completely without a core that his fashionable skepticism now seems almost pathological” (66).

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