Symbolists and Decadents

I think Elton John qualifies for being among the most decadent people in the ephemeral world of media and personalities. This is not a criticism - merely an observation. But I must tell you what I understand by the term "decadent" and indeed "Elton John", for both are open to interpretation. But first..

Oscar Wilde was not particularly decadent. The Decadents declared that Art must be independent of moral and social concerns. He conducted an anatomy of decadence, through works such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, but that was a deeply moral book, despite the author's denials. Even his plays, with such a light touch, were often a gentle critique of Victorian mores.

Wilde took as his source material for that book, the writings of another. That other was J K Huysmans, whose À rebours or Against Nature, was a handbook of decadence. Nobody can be sure if Against Nature was sincere or a massive joke. This is so often the way. The main character in the Huysmans book is a proto Elton John. Jean Des Esseintes is an archetype of the kind of petulant, fickle, rich dilettante whose sojourn through life is tainted with ennui, mediated by myriad sensations and an unquenchable thirst for novelty. Decadence is to seek sensation for sensation's sake. It has no other purpose than to distract and amuse and has the inbuilt quality of being transient and titillating, yet ultimately unsatisfying. Against Nature has many sordid and satirical vignettes, but one of the better known is the Tortoise. Des Esseintes acquires a tortoise and has it encrusted with jewels, so that it will wander about his apartment giving off little coruscating rays of coloured light. The creature dies under the weight of the jewels.

To be fair to Elton John, at least part of his life is not decadent; he gives a great deal of time and money to AIDS charities and still gets involved with musical ventures. He does however, share one thing in common with footballers (football being one of his enduring passions), and that is the state of being enormously wealthy without being enormously sensible.

A word about Symbolists; they are lumped together with decadents but they sought,  in artistic terms, to make the words and characters mean more than their face value, as an antidote to the Realism and Naturalism of writers like Zola and Flaubert. Wilde displayed his Symbolist credentials in  Salome, but even with this work, critics argue about whether he "meant it" or not - the key to Wilde's work being that it reflected his life, and his work, which was essentially a simulacrum in dramatic form.

* * * * * * * * *

I began writing this because of something completely other. I believe that David Cameron is about to introduce a Tax Allowance for married couples and civil partners. Those who do not fall into this category say it is not fair. Hardly surprising, is it, but I like the idea. I like it, because it is symbolic of a preference for the state of marriage. Knock it if you like, but when two people vow publicly to commit to one another, it is a statement of intent and belief and faith.

The alternative is ultimately a declaration of decadence; to place no such belief in longevity, or faithfulness or hope. I am not saying you cannot be committed without being officially married, what I am saying is that There is a spectrum of commitment, with marriage and civil partnership at the top and casual sex at the bottom. This is a deeply moral statement, I know, but I believe it. If you reject it, you probably do not share my value system, which is fine.

Gordon Brown was recently asked, "What is your favourite love poem?" It is at times like these when all the briefing notes and editorial control flies out of the window. Brown's reply was to open and close his mouth like a goldfish, finally coming up (some time later, and probably after a meeting with his advisors) with the Burns poem, "My love is like a red, red rose"

I would not blink for a second before telling you mine from the poet who was deeply influenced by the Symbolist Movement, William Butler Yeats:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
The Pilgrim Soul - how far away from the trappings of fame and stardom and how much more valuable?

12 comments:

more cast iron bollox said...

Yes the Tories have certainly embraced diversity and cast aside their moralistic family values agenda. Giving £3 a week to two blokes because they've agreed through a 'civil partnership' only to bugger each other.
God help us.

denverthen said...

Never took you for Rosicrutionist, WW. I'm (even more) impressed.

But I'm not a member, unfortunately (Blackballed)

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Perhaps you have missed the point. The point of marriage, or civil partnerships, is to symbolically enshrine and ascribe higher values to a lasting, faithful partnership.

I don't know why gay couples get "civvied" but I do know I did not get married in order to only fuck my wife. I like to think there was a little more to it than that, regardless of the mechanics.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

DV, are you referring to WBY? I guess you are.

denverthen said...

You don't mean me, I hope. I was talking about the literature stuff.

I agree with you on the other things wholeheartedly.

denverthen said...

Oh, right.

Not just William Butler, no.

This is a bit confusing. I'll get my coat. Have a better one.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

My first comment was aimed at the first commenter, not you.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

I'll just get my coat too.

Jim Baxter said...

That poem just won't do. That's Yeats at his most mawkish and vain, and he was a mawkish and vain poet. It's never hard to discern the hero of the hour in Yeats. Where's the steel?

This is much better:

FOR I was a gaunt, grave councillor,
Being in all things wise, and very old;
But I have put aside this folly and the cold
That old age weareth for a cloak.

I was quite strong—at least they said so—
The young men at the sword-play;
But I have put aside this folly, being gay
In another fashion that more suiteth me.

I have curled mid the boles of the ash wood,
I have hidden my face where the oak
Spread his leaves over me, and the yoke
Of the old ways of men have I cast aside.

By the still pool of Mar-nan-otha
Have I found me a bride
That was a dog-wood tree some syne.
She hath called me from mine old ways;
She hath hushed my rancor of council,
Bidding me praise

Naught but the wind that flutters in the leaves.

She hath drawn me from mine old ways,
Till men say that I am mad;
But I have seen the sorrow of men, and am glad,
For I know that the wailing and bitterness are a folly.
And I? I have put aside all folly and all grief.
I wrapped my tears in an ellum leaf
And left them under a stone;
And now men call me mad because I have thrown
All folly from me, putting it aside
To leave the old barren ways of men,
Because my bride
Is a pool of the wood; and
Though all men say that I am mad
It is only that I am glad—
Very glad, for my bride hath toward me a great love
That is sweeter than the love of women
That plague and burn and drive one away.

Aie-e! ’Tis true that I am gay,
Quite gay, for I have her alone here
And no man troubleth us.

Once when I was among the young men …

And they said I was quite strong, among the young men …
Once there was a woman …
… but I forget … she was …
… I hope she will not come again.

… I do not remember … 45
I think she hurt me once, but …
That was very long ago.

I do not like to remember things any more.

I like one little band of winds that blow
In the ash trees here: 50
For we are quite alone,
Here mid the ash trees.

more cast iron bollox said...

WW. It's just that I thought the point of the married tax allowance was to re inforce the family and help them to bring up kids. To give it to gays sums up call me Dave perfectly. All inclusive and totally pointless. A hetero couple living together but not married but bringing up kids will be worse off than a gay couple who have committed to each other. I'm sorry but that's a waste of millions of pounds to no effect apart from making dave look cool. I'd say making him look a tool but I'm middle aged.

more cast iron bollox said...

Oh and apologies. I've learned that comments have to be slightly OTT to get any response from you. Hope my rocket didn't go too far up your arse ; )

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Actually, I have been overwhelmed with other things.

I think we have to start where we are. Society has taken a course and we must follow it, or be arrested. I am old enough to realise that this witch hunting and parading of perversions as somehow something to be "celebrated" is a phase. Normal service will be resumed, one day, but I cannot be the judge of those with different sexual preferences. You have to take people as they are. Society is not something I subscribe to, so, what society does and thinks, and what I do and think, are different things. If you believe in some kind of social cohesion, you have to take account of the demographic, or the whole idea is a nonsense, so accordingly, civil partnerships are not only logical from a societal point of view, they are essential, or the idea of society (which remember, I do not subscribe to) is a farce.