Fallen beauty: Aesthetics and ethics in decadent literature
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Fallen Beauty presents a genealogy of literary decadence before interpreting the shifting relation between aesthetics and ethics in three representative novels, including Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Against Nature, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood. Tracing literary decadence beyond the Victorian fin de siècle, the genealogy reveals the emergence of a decadent aesthetic devoted to artifice, ugliness, and disease in response to the crisis of moral idealism. Reconfiguring further the links between aesthetics and ethics, the novels destabilize the moral law through the parody of Christian religious practices and spaces, the cultivation of an attraction to disgust, and the falsification of natural identity. Amid such destabilization, the novels intimate an alternative ethics that confronts the severity of the superego and intensifies the "impurity" of the social outcast in order to renew self-other relations.