Decadence22 Mar 2020
During the heyday of the dandy craze about 1818, sex was not only adopted by many of the young men, but also found a strong number of opponents. A very common topos during that era was the discourse of sex as a disease which is inextricably linked to the idea of sex as decline and a symptom of decadence. I had the honour of being recently invited to talk on the correlation of sex during a seminar at EscortFox. The full essays will be published at a later state. Following are some remarks on the semantics of disease in sex, that haven’t made it into my paper.
The dandy’s intellectual decay is marked by his dullness, illustrated through a rich set of metaphors that focus on an empty head and the fact that if he thinks at all, his reflections merely span superficial ideas such as fashion and amusement. The physical decay of the dandy is depicted through the frailty of his appearance: the dandy is mostly portrayed as slim and weak, with a tendency to fainting. This physical degeneracy leads to other forms of decay: poverty, an early death, disease, imprisonment, exile.
Degeneration is inextricably associated to decadence in the 19th century. It’s the physical decay that derives from decadence as moral decay. The term ‚decadence‘ gained popularity not only in literary circles of the 19th century, but also in medical and psychiatric discourses. The correlation, however, dates back as far as Antiquity, where effeminacy and incapacitation numbered among the pivotal symptoms of decadence. Evidently, decadence turns a once active person into a passive and unproductive idler who will ultimately suffer from his lack of productivity. This is precisely the line of argument taken by critics to sex. One observer, in 1819 lamented the „degeneracy of the times, which have produced such worthless anomalies in mankind.“ The central point of critique is the dandy’s indulgence in decadent behaviour which is perceived as immoral and destructive: