Genealogy and Degenerescence: the Culture of Decadent Legacy


  • Angelo Mitchievici


Decadence, Decadentism, Naturalism, Degeneracy, Inheritance, Heredity, Genius, Atavism, Illness


Starting with the considerations formulated by the philosopher Maël Renouard in his essay Nostalgie et mélancolie regarding the both material and symbolic meaning of a heritage and from Nietzsche’s reflection on the connection between heritage and memory, we analyzed this topic from the conjugate perspective of decadent aesthetics and philosophy of decadence as approached by theorists such as Mario Praz, A.E.Carter, Richard Gilman, David Weir, Barbara Spackman, Matei Calinescu and philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler, or Emil Cioran and degenerationist theories of heredity from the late 19th century. From the perspective of heritage as cultural memory and defective heredity correlated with the decadent theme of the last living scion of an aristocratic family or of genius as a “superior degenerate” in Cesare Lombroso’s terms, we approached two relevant texts in this sense: the novel Against the Grain by K.-J. Huysmans and the short story Remember by the Romanian writer Mateiu I. Caragiale. The decadent aesthete type becomes the depository of an extended cultural memory, a living library/pinacotheque, at a time when the heritage can no longer be passed on but only exhibited for the last time.