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Aesthetic Decadence for Dummies: Vol 1

For ages, people have tried to figure out what to do about the fact that life sucks.
Suffering has been one of the major topics of pretty much all of the greater religions.
Of these, I can only speak for Buddhism, where suffering is most broadly speaking
caused by our attitude towards pleasure and pain, and Christianity, where suffering
has a purpose only known to God, and all one can do is accept the fact that God has
good reason to make one suffer. Those who suffer on earth will find themselves in
Heaven, blah-di-blah. You know the story. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, then,
suffering on Earth is made bearable by a promise for lack thereof in afterlife.

Now, starting with the Enlightenment in Western Europe (around 1500, though
historians arguebut if they didnt, they wouldnt have anything to publish, and then
how will they get tenure???), people started questioning the supreme ability of
Christianity to explain the world. Thinkers started playing around with ideas such as
reason, gradually started to do science, other words, the Bible and religious
authority as such were no longer seen as containing all knowledge that mattered
about our world. This is all very beneficial for us when we get a toothache, say, but it
re-opened for discussion the fact that shit happens and life suckswe get sick, our
children die, depression and neuroses of all sorts eat at us, Aoi doesnt love Uruha,
theres famine, plagueand with the advent of the industrial age, to these were
added a score of man-made, but equally inescapable for the average person, sources
of suffering.

So, people started to produce secular philosophies of suffering and what to do about
it. Aestheticism is one of many such philosophies. An example of an aesthetic
philosopher is Schiller (German), who argued that one has to first ennoble the human
soul by touching it with beauty before people can truly understand high ideals and
implement them in reality (he was reacting to the French revolution starting out so
beautifully but ending up betraying its ideals in a bloodbath). But the guy we really
need here is Schopenhauer (also German), who in the beginning of the nineteenth
century said that life does suck, and it sucks sore, and the more intelligent you are,
the better you understand just how bad life sucks. At best, we can save ourselves

from such suffering only temporarily: through aesthetic contemplation (getting a kick
out of losing ourselves in something beautiful).

About a century later (the 1880s- on), aesthetic decadence emerged as an artistic
movement that feeds off of this idea. In the mid-19th century in France, literature and
art were dominated by the naturalist movement. The naturalists figured that since the
industrial revolution started, life had started to suck a lot for many people. To
address the fact that life sucks, naturalist writers (such as Emile Zola, the most
prominent naturalist) went to write about the daily lives of prostitutes, factory
workers, etc. Naturalism's main ideological tenet was that art was to be true to
reality and describe life as it really is. Furthermore, art could be transformative and
aim to convey a moral about life. Like every movement, naturalism had a lot to say in
the beginning; it processed intellectually the changes in peoples lives brought by
industrial society and educated the read/privileged about ordinary peoples lives
(cause the prostitutes and factory workers were not the ones to sit around pondering
the fact that life sucks, as you may gatherthey were too busy surviving it). This was
important to show, because the higher classes were quite prejudiced against the
morally inferior lower/working classes, whose sufferings were seen as self-inflicted:
the poor are lazy, debauched, and in general unwilling to discipline their baser drives
to drink and fornicate *winks.* However, again like every movement, there came a
time when realism in art had turned into a dogma and had started exhausting itself,
and many perceived it could hardly contribute anything newto illustrate with an
example from home, Aoi and Uruha are hot shit, but a stereotypical pairing; one
starts doubting whether one can really read anything new in the 354th latest fic.

This brings us to J.K. Huysmans, who was a French student of Zolas and, initially, a
realist himself. With his book Au Rebours, translated in English as Against Nature or
Against the Grain, he became the originator of aesthetic decadence in literature (yup,
its a French ideaOscar Wilde and co. caught up on it a tad later). This book can be
downloaded here, and references to it comprise at least 45% of Scwarz Stein
ideology, according to yours trulys fangirly estimation. Given that Kaya was in charge
of the aesthetic decadence part of the band concept (Hora being the near future
though how near future squares with playing Final Fantasy, understanding cat
language, and collecting Air Jordans is anyones guess LOL), we can conjecture that

this book has had an enormous influence not only on Oscar Wilde, but also on our
beautiful, absolutely awesome [insert ten rows of superlatives here] Kaya. An
extraneous factoid: Wilde admitted to having read Au Rebours and being shaped by it;
he also has Dorian Grey read it in The Portrait of Dorian Grey.

In direct opposition to naturalism, aesthetic decadence argues that reality should

strive to imitate art, not the other way around. This is because in art, humans
express their ideal view of how life should be; art is the true marker of humanity
because while every species struggles with the fact that life sucks, survival-wise, only
humans create beauty for its own sake and have a spiritual experience enjoying it.
The truly meaningful human life, then, is one devoted to creating and experiencing
beauty. Furthermore, life sucks. Life always has sucked and always will, and the best
we can do about that is find temporary solace in beautiful things. Reality is harsh and
ugly; the dream and the aesthetic ideal is where its all at. All fans/fanficcers
understand intuitively that reality pales to art and the dream: fic is better than RL,
and no beauty can measure up to photoshopped jrockers ^_~.

Posing beauty as a supreme ideal and finding in it relief from reality is the aesthetic
part of aesthetic decadence. The decadent part comes from the conviction that art
should not aim to teach a moral lessonthat art is about the aesthetic transport
rather than about "teaching a lesson.
Decadence is usually associated with rich societies in decline (and in the 1880s-90s,
some believed that because they were living at the end of the ninetenth century,
Western society was richer than any time in history, and traditional religious values
were being undermined, it was in its decline as well). The corrosion of traditional
values and rules of behavior became a topic of intellectual discussion. Amongst the
scariest trends were female empowerment (women voting! Le gasp!), the uninhibited
expression of female sexuality, sexual deviance (homosexuality, etc.), and the like.
People wondered what this meant and where it was leading. Some criticized it, some
embraced it.
Decadence is one philosophical/artistic trend bread by these wonderings. It rejected
morality and by morality we mean the idea that people should express their
sexuality in one way rather than another because it is not right/natural. In Against

Nature, Huysmans also touched on other aspects of morality (crime, prostitution), but
decadence as a movement evolved to focus on the rejection of morality pertaining to
the expression of sensuality and sexuality. This is also how it enters in Kayas work.

The exploration of the sexual and sensual, uninhibited by shoulds, oughts, and
categories, is one of the central themes of his artlyrics, music, and performances
alike. Our lovely Kayako aims to live outside of categories of being and proper
behavior, outright refusing to circumscribe himself to being a boy or a girl, or to stick
to a particular aesthetic style and make that the foundation of his identity (as in, Im
a gothic Lolita). I suppose more people in this community know this than not, but in
blog entries, he repeatedly speaks of moving along the gender continuum as the
mood strikes. He has also spoken of not limiting himself to a given musical style,
and of the importance of truly being oneself without reference to class, race, gender,
religion, etc.

Clubbing is one activity which allows one to truly be oneself. For Kaya, it is one the
best examples of decadence in action, and not only because everyone has been
drinking and there is an air of debauchery. When clubbing (as well as during a
Masquerade), one steps into a chosen costume of ones own, and out of the
societal costumes of age- and gender- appropriateness that one has to wear day-today. Clubbing has an aesthetic dimension as wellone enjoys the music (music
being art), and also primps oneself upputs thought and effort into the creation of
an aesthetically pleasing costume. A reason why Kaya makes clubby music is that he
associates clubbing with freedom of self-expression.

Bless his heart for being such an aesthetically pleasing inspiration!

A/N: If Aesthetic Decadence for Dummies takes off, Volume 2 will discuss
Huysmans book Against Nature in order to trace the origins of some Schwarz Stein
ideology. We will be talking about artificial hallucinations, syphilis and disorder (SS

titles), as well as about not giving in to reality and creating brilliant dreams we will
never wake up from (excerpts from blog entries). We will discuss what aesthetic
decadence implies about the balance between escapism and being present, and my
perceptions of how Kaya lives this balance.

Volume 3 will talk about Carmilla (the book) and the vile accusation that because
Carmilla is about lesbianism and not about gay men, Kaya cannot have used it for
anything but the pretty image *winks.* Indeed, that would be tantamount to saying
that in reading/writing yaoi fic, fangirls do not explore issues of femininity. Pfft! But I
am getting ahead of myself

I also find myself in the need to know more about what Hyakki Yagyou is, and how
the lyrics of that single relate to the underlying mythology. If this project takes off,
would anyone like to write/collaborate on an issue of Aesthetic Decadence for
Dummies on the topic? Also, it would be awesome to learn about how the
essentially Western idea of aesthetic decadence reverberated in Japanese
literature/art, in order to trace some of Kaya's more "native" influences. So, if you
are a Japanese studies person, please consider hopping in on this?