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Decadent ModernityCivilisation and 'Latinidad' in Spanish America, 1880-1920$
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Michela Coletta

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786941312

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786941312.001.0001

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Against the poetics of decadence: Latin America and the aesthetics of regeneration

Against the poetics of decadence: Latin America and the aesthetics of regeneration

(p.116) 4 Against the poetics of decadence: Latin America and the aesthetics of regeneration
Decadent Modernity

Michela Coletta

Liverpool University Press

In the late nineteenth century, sociological studies often functioned as a channel between the psychological and criminological sciences and the traditional field of literature. I argue that Nordau’s work, which drew as much upon Italian criminology as it did upon Jean-Marie Guyau’s sociological theory of aesthetics, constituted a major path by which ideas of degeneration taken from the medical and criminological sciences came to be a fundamental tool of interpretation of modern Latin American culture. One of the main lines of argument in this chapter is that social theories on the degeneration of modern art were useful to vast sectors of the late-nineteenth-century intellectual elites to identify with the values of modern civilisation. By linking the development of literary modernismo to the wider engagement with questions about the features of modern civilisation, this discussion offers a new reading of modernismo as a movement that in its boom phase helped foster ideas of modernity as an essentially urban − and therefore transnational − phenomenon through notions of refinement, disease and degeneration. The second part of the chapter shows how Rodó’s seminal essay Ariel marked a turning point from decadent civilisation to the idea of Latin American culture by building on a moral conception of aesthetics.

Keywords:   Max Nordau, Jean-Marie Guyau, Rubén Darío, José Enrique Rodó, Ariel, Cultural nationalism, Modernismo, Degenerate art, Aesthetic regeneration, Arielismo

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