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└ Rebours (1884) - J. K. Huysmans

Related: J .K. Huysmans - 1884 - novel - dandy - French literature - 1800s literature - Decadence (art movement)

"The text which most fully represents the spirit of Huysmans's └ Rebours in recent years, both in terms of its 'nihilism' and its melancholy relationship to it, was published by Bret Easton Ellis in 1991. American Psycho is the fictional account of a New York executive called Patrick Bateman, whose determined retreat from reality is signified by his infatutation with brand name clothing and his slavish adherence to the prescriptions of the apparently inviolable texts such as the Zagat restaurant guide and Bruce Boyer's Elegance: A Guide to Quality in menswear" --Cynicism and Postmodernity (1997) - Timothy Bewes [Jul 2006]

Robert de Montesquiou used his wit to shield himself from genuine human emotion, and in this form is remembered as a model for Des Esseintes in Huysmans's └ Rebours, and the Baron de Charlus in Proust's └ la recherche du temps perdu. [Jul 2006]

Influenced: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

Similar: American Psycho (1991)

└ Rebours/Against the Grain (1884) - Joris Karl Huysmans [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


└ rebours (English translated title Against the Grain, or Against Nature) (1884) is a novel by the French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans. It is a novel in which very little happens; its narrative concentrates almost entirely on its principal character, and is mostly a catalogue of the tastes and inner life of Des Esseintes, an eccentric, reclusive aesthete and antihero. └ rebours contained many themes which became associated with the Symbolist aesthetic.

In doing so, it broke from naturalism and became the ultimate example of "decadent" literature. └ rebours was imitated by Oscar Wilde in several passages of The Picture of Dorian Gray. └ rebours gained further notoriety as an exhibit during Wilde's trial in 1895, during which the prosecutor referred to the novel as a "sodomitical" book.

It is sometimes regarded as one of the most profound works in the history of decadent literature, especially because it successfully transcended the definition of Romanticism into Decadence. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%80_rebours [Jan 2006]

The work had a tremendous impact in decadent circles, but also the Catholic novelist Barbey d'Aurevilly paid attention to it. Of A Rebours, Oscar Wilde wrote: "The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its pages and to trouble the brain."Arnold Hauser sees the character in The Social History of Art as the prototype of all Dorian Grays. "The age of nature," says Des Esseintes, "is past; it has finally exhausted the patience of all sensitive minds by the loathsome monotony of its landscapes and skies." --http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/huysm.htm, accessed, Feb 2004

On Jan Luyken

He [Des Esseintes] possessed a whole series of studies by this artist in lugubrious fantasy and ferocious cruelty: his Religious Persecutions, a collection of appalling plates displaying all the tortures which religious fanaticism has invented, revealing all the agonising varieties of human suffering - bodies roasted over braziers, heads scalped with swords, trepanned with nails, lacerated with saws, bowels taken out of the belly and wound on to bobbins, finger-nails slowly removed with pincers, eyes put out, eyelids pinned back, limbs dislocated and carefully broken, bones laid bare and scraped for hours with knives. --J. K. Huysmans via └ Rebours, page 57


Literature & Art selected by Duc Jean Floressas des Esseintes

NB: All the above quotations are taken from the novel └ Rebours (Against Nature, 1884) by J-K Huysmans (Penguin Classics edition, translated by Robert Baldick, first published 1959) --http://www.btinternet.com/~rubberneck/decahome.html [Jan 2005]

"Then, when he was tired of consulting these time-tables, he would rest his eyes by looking at the chronometers and compasses, the sextants and dividers, the binoculars and charts scattered about on a side-table which was dominated by a single book bound in sea-calf leather: The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym, specially printed for him on laid paper of pure linen, hand picked and bearing a seagull water-mark. . .Better perhaps than anyone else, Poe possessed those intimate affinities that could satisfy the requirements of Des Esseintes' mind. . .it was Poe who, in the sphere of morbid psychology, had carried out the closest scrutiny of the will."

"The author he really loved. . . was Petronius. . .he described the everyday life of Rome, recording the manners and morals. . .women having hysterics; legacy-hunters offering their boys and girls to gratify the lusts of great testators, all these and more scurry across the pages of the Satyricon, squabbling in the streets, fingering one another in the baths, beating one another up like characters in a pantomime. . .this story with no plot or action in it, simply relating the erotic adventures of certain sons of Sodom. . .the vices of a decrepit civilization, a crumbling Empire. . ."

"Among all the artists he considered, there was one who sent him into raptures of delight, and that was Gustave Moreau. He had bought Moreau's two masterpieces, and night after night he would stand dreaming in front of one of them, the picture of Salome. . . [Moreau's] sad and scholarly works breathed a strange magic, an incantatory charm which stirred you to the depths of your being. . ."

"[H]e paused more often in front of the other pictures that decorated the room. These were all signed Odilon Redon."

"The more Des Esseintes re-read his Baudelaire, the more he appreciated the indescribable charm of this writer who. . .had succeeded in expressing the inexpressible. . .[who] possessed that remarkable quality, the power to define in curiously healthy terms the most fugitive and ephemeral of the unhealthy conditions of weary spirits and melancholy souls."

"This psychic condition Barbey d'Aurevilly came close to sharing. If he did not go as far as Sade in shouting atrocious curses at the Saviour; if out of greater caution or greater fear, he always professed to honour the Church, he none the less addressed his prayers to the Devil in true medieval fashion, and in his desire to defy the Deity, likewise slipped into demonic erotomania, coining new sensual monstrosities. . .he had therefore had printed for him in bishop's-purple ink, within a border of cardinal red, on a genuine parchment blessed by the Auditors of the Rota, a copy of Les Diaboliques. . ."

Caps analysis

Edgar Allan Poe, Gustave Moreau, Miss Urania, Rue de Rivoli, Madame Laure, Cluny Museum, Ernest Hello, Jesuit Fathers, Les Diaboliques, Odilon Redon --Amazon.com

Curiously lacking from Amazon's text analysis are Jan Luyken, Charles Baudelaire, Barbey d'Aurevilly, Gautier, etcetera.

Baudelaire and Poe

"Baudelaire and Poe, these two men who had often been compared because of their common poetic strain and predilection for the examination of mental maladies, differed radically in the affective conceptions which held such a large place in their works; Baudelaire with his iniquitous and debased lovesŚcruel loves which made one think of the reprisals of an inquisition; Poe with his chaste, Šrial loves, in which the senses played no part, where only the mind functioned without corresponding to organs which, if they existed, remained forever frozen and virgin. This cerebral clinic where, vivisecting in a stifling atmosphere, that spiritual surgeon became, as soon as his attention flagged, a prey to an imagination which evoked, like delicious miasmas, somnambulistic and angelic apparitions, was to Des Esseintes a source of unwearying conjecture. But now that his nervous disorders were augmented, days came when his readings broke his spirit and when, hands trembling, body alert, like the desolate Usher he was haunted by an unreasoning fear and a secret terror." --└ Rebours (1884) - J. K. Huysmans

See also: Charles Baudelaire - Edgar Allan Poe

Des Esseintes and Patrick Bateman

The novel that best illustrates the spirit of the decadents is À Rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans, the breviary of decadence.
Jean Les Floressas Des Esseintes, the last son of a tired family, turns his back to the world to create an artificial world in his home. Suffering from ennui and spleen, this "degenerate" avoids every contact with people, and surrounds himself with art objects which are the last things which succeed to stimulate him. He experiments with his senses. Eventually, one of his greatest challenges is the eating of a hump of grimy bread. For the man who has climbed the pinnacle of aesthetic pleasure, the only thing that provides kicks is the most depraved.
"This was the end; as if all possible delights of the flesh were exhausted, he felt sated, worn out with weariness; his senses fell into lethargy, impotence was not far of."
Someone who has seen everything will not be surprised easily, will not feel anything any more. Only at the boundary of the imaginable can he experience that his senses and emotions still function. A similar problem haunts Patrick Bateman, ancestor of des Esseintes, hero of our time and protagonist of American Psycho (1991), the third novel by Bret Easton Ellis. This book is just as illustrative of the 1990s zeitgeist as À Rebours was for the fin de siŔcle of the 19th century.
Bateman commits horrible crimes (or imagines committing them). He does so because only then is he able to feel something, 'the very rarest of occasions - a rush of adrenaline'. His 'seriously weakened capability to feel anything whatsoever' leads him to extreme violence. Bateman suffers from a typically decadent disease: his senses have been dulled. He needs extreme stimulation to feel. He lives in a world of too much, an age brimming with muchness.
Patrick Bateman is a dandy suffering from spleen and ennui, with an 'incurable, deep wound, the result of supersaturation, disappointment and contempt in a sickened mind, tormented by the present, loathing from the past, already discouraged by and afraid of the future' He has everything, probably twice, but he suffers. From the Pepsi Max-feeling.
--Het Pepsi-Max-gevoel (1995) - Rob van Erkelens via http://www.groene.nl/1995/04_05/pepsi.html, translation mine [Jan 2005]

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