The Decadent Decades: A Phenomenology of Fetishism in the Turn-of-the-Century French Novel: The Case of Huysmans

Dissertation, Cornell University (1996)

Traditionally, the fetish is a material object invested with religious significance by a human subject, but the contemporary concept subsumes any form of human obsession for any object, on the part of the perceiving subject. Fetishism occurring in aesthetic production is the construction of a material Other. The fetish is constituted as a fictionalization; as the agency of human obsession governing materially significant details. ;Chapter One charts an overview of fetishism and its subsequent adoption by contemporary theorists as an interpretive tool. From this critical analysis a new approach to fetishism results, the phenomenological derivative. The explicit connection between fetishism and phenomenology is established here, as is that of literary decadence and phenomenology: all share the object as their primary focus, with nuances. In fetishism, the object itself is aspectualized as the locus of human devotion; in phenomenology, the object's focus gives way to the primordiality of the intentionalized human consciousness that perceived that object. ;Chapters Two and Three situate the theoretical model in late nineteenth-century France with its specialized fetishes. The writer Huysmans saturated his literature with abundant forms of fetishism; from the material ornament to the ethereal fantasy, the fetish distinguishes itself as an independently reified sign in the novel. Huysmans's texts, A rebours and La cathedrale, provide the locus in which intrinsic codes of fetishism are identified within the novel, ideally illustrating the phenomenological framework of being and the dynamics of fetishism through the character des Esseintes, a name suggesting the essence of essences. ;Fetishism displays how objects are preferentialized by a perceiving subject; by extension, phenomenology shows how fetishism is a form of being-in-the-world. By evolving fetishism thus , fetishism expands beyond the parameters of its current definitions. This formulation is then applied to the excessively populated interior of French literary decadence. Revealing the modes of construction in these works raises questions of more culturally significant interest to critics of fin-de-siecle literature
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