Decolonizing Decadence: Full Issue


  • Volupté Journal


Decadence studies has long recognized the relationship between literary and artistic decadence and an imaginary stance toward the decline of empires. Nevertheless, even when the decadents presented themselves as cosmopolitan critics of national artistic paradigms or jingoistic imperialisms, decadent art and literature has been suffused with colonialist tropes, a pervasive orientalism, and the persistent exoticization (if also celebration) of the Other. Indeed, much European decadent art and literature has been entranced by settler-colonial fantasies of extinct and vanishing peoples. In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, for example, Dorian collects strange instruments from ‘the tombs of dead nations or among the few savage tribes that have survived contact with Western civilizations.’ What would it mean, then, to ‘decolonize decadence,’ to decentre, ‘undiscipline,’ and displace literary and artistic imaginaries so enmeshed with Western myths of progress, decline, and racial degeneration? How can Decadence Studies and studies of aestheticism engage with concepts such as coloniality or highlight indigenous voices or epistemologies that might imagine decadence and aestheticism otherwise? How does decadent or anti-decadent writing think through the consequences of decadence (artistic, cultural, or historical) for the processes of political, cultural, or psychological decolonization? Moreover, how can Decadence Studies as a field take account of how decolonizing movements worldwide deployed decadence and related concepts to oppose Western influences, to devalue or disavow cultural production seen as too Western?