In my continuing researches into decadence (the turn of the century movement, thank you very much) I’ve managed to snag a few of the Decadence from Dedalus series titles. What a cool bunch of books, and what a great publishing venture, which, it appears is now waning. (I remember a trove of these showing up at the library sale and being snapped up by my good friend John. I can also still picture me begging him to let me borrow them for just a day or two and his endless evasions. And now I can see these same books lying untouched by him in a flooded basement or a recycling pile somewhere, victims of the general shipwreck of his life. Where are the books of yesterday, John! Lend them while ye may! But I digress…)
Right now I’m working my way through The Dedalus Book of German Decadence: Voices of the Abyss. It’s a great volume, full of stuff impossible to find elsewhere. It’s too bad there’s a lot of extracts from novels instead of the whole thing like in The Decadent Reader: Fiction, Fantasy and Perversion from Fin-de-Siecle France from Zone books, but I suppose it’s impossible to include all of everything. The Germans are, typically, a little more ham handed in their version but reach insane heights of true feeling. The femme fatales are a little more on top in this world view – just ask Sacher-Masoch. Here’s a few passages from a work called The Poisoned Well by one Arthur Holitsher (who, the editor Ray Furness tells us was influenced by my main man Knut Hamsun). Note the typical references to paganism and orgiastic dance that so captured the decadent imagination:
And after Desiree had ordered her hair she loosened her belt and laid it on the couch. In a few seconds her robe had dropped to the sand and she rose from the floods of dark purple, from the foam of fine rustling silk, smiling quietly, and totally naked. Then she picked many of the yucca blossoms, pressed them with both hands between her breasts and waded through the narrow stream to the statue of Pan, laying the light green chalices upon the high pedestal. She stood for a moment, the rosy splendor of her limbs displayed against the marble pallor of the stone.
Sebastian had never seen anything like it, neither in life nor in his most secret dreams: it was also the first time that she had ever danced in front of him. It could, in fact, hardly be called a dance, for her whole body seemed to dissolve into movement as the colors flowed one into the other. The gleam of her eyes, the wave of her hair, an expression on her lips – these were the only human entities. But even these had to surrender their corporeal essence to the mysterious bond which, separate and independent, pulsed between dancer and spectator and whose name was: burning soul.