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Colloque ’L’exotisme, le colonialisme et la décadence autour de la fin du siècle (Université d’Oxford, Christ Church, 25–26 septembre 2018)

Le 23 septembre 2018 à 16h24

Colloque ’L’exotisme, le colonialisme et la décadence
Autour de la fin du siècle
Université d’Oxford, Christ Church

Mardi 25 et mercredi 26 septembre 2018

Welcome to Exoticism, Colonialism and Decadence around the fin de siècle, a conference to be held at the University of Oxford (Christ Church) on the 25 and 26th September 2018.

The conference aims to explore the intersections between ideas of decadence and the experience and discourses of colonialism, the latter being understood to include neo-colonialism, or cultural and economic imperialism in the broader sense. ‘Exoticism’, though at first reading the term might seem evocative of a Romantic attitude that is already out-dated by the fin de siècle, continues to arise at the intersections of far-flung colonial realities and the predominantly urban, metropolitan phenomena of decadence. Shifting between nostalgia, parody, and polemic, literary exoticism is also held up as a foil for ‘true’ colonialism. Decadence, meanwhile, is a concept that is more provocative than prescriptive. Ideas of a decline since a hypothetical Golden Age sit uneasily with the doctrine of progress and the mission civilisatrice that underpin colonial ideology. The conception of French or European society itself as being in a state of social, physiological and moral degeneration (Nordau) casts other cultures as either a model of decadence, or a source of potential regeneration. Even regeneration has two faces : while some remain attached to the earlier, essentially Romantic, idea of a ‘renaissance orientale’ (Quinet) that draws on the Islamic world or ancient oriental civilisations, others see in the colonies a source of energy for the coloniser, and thus a means of combatting metropolitan decadence (an ‘école de la virilité’, Psichari). And anxieties about metropolitan sexual identity likewise draw on colonial territories and ‘exotic’ lands in widely differing – indeed, contradictory – ways, torn between hopes of regeneration and a displacement of sexual menace.

​Decadence is often expressed in medical or historical terms, although literary decadence can also be understood as a style. It has been described as an art of sophistication and self-consciousness that rejects mere nature (Baudelaire), or a beautiful new disease (Arthur Symons). Paul Bourget defines decadent style in formal terms as one in which the unity of the book decomposes to give way to the independence of the page, while the unity of the page decomposes to give way to the independence of the word. For Gautier, summing up Baudelaire’s achievement after his death, decadent style – complex, nuanced, knowing – is a characteristic of aging civilisations.

Alongside this foregrounding of stylistic, historical and medical concerns, decadence is also understood in terms of geographical and cultural difference. This intersection of decadence with the exotic is constantly revisited during the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, a period that is much broader than the narrow period of time most obviously associated with the decadent ‘movement’. Romantic Orientalism, whose rise corresponds with the first steps towards France’s modern colonial era (the abortive 1798–1801 Napoleonic campaign in Egypt and Syria ; the conquest of Algeria in the 1830s and 1840s), already contains many of the traits of later decadence. It is however in the 1880s and 1890s that the decadent literary movement asserts its existence most explicitly, and this is exactly the period when a truly colonial ideology begins to take on importance in French popular culture.​

​You can ​find here out how to register.

Pour mémoire, l’appel à communication.

Merci à à Wanrug Suwanwattana pour nous avoir signalé ce colloque !