|Abstract (english)|| |
The topic of this dissertation is decadence in Croatian literature on the turn of the century, more specifically decadent characters in prose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Aware of the complexity and heterogeneity of the term ʼdecadence’, and without pretence that it is possible to encompass and define it in a stable and unproblematic manner, we examine the ways in which the decadent sensibility so characteristic of the European fin de siècle manifested in the works analysed herein. We examine decadence as the awareness of existential decline and the meaninglessness of the world, a latent or openly expressed state of mind, a distinctive feeling of inferiority, and assert that the decadent character, who embodies decadence in various forms – physical and spiritual weariness, melancholic apathy and blasé attitude, nervous tensions and neuroses, etc. – is among the most common character types in the Croatian prose of the fin de siècle. Therefore, this dissertation is focused on characters as literary constructs and often the most important structural elements of a work of literature. Believing that it is important, perhaps even essential, to interpret literature within the context in which it was created, we strive to show how decadence in its specific manifestations was of decisive importance regarding the typology of male characters, who are the key methodological element of this doctoral thesis. Structurally, the thesis is divided into four chapters. These are preceded by a brief introduction presenting the analysed works, followed by a description of the goal, hypothesis, methodology, and methods of analysis used in this thesis. Since we have detected that the manifestations of decadence in Croatian literature on the turn of the century reflected the spiritual climate in Europe, the first chapter presents the physiognomy of decadence. This includes definitions of decadence, the history of the term, and the cultural context, presenting the collapse of values as one of the defining characteristics of that period. Namely, even though the idea of historical decline is by no means characteristic of the 19th century, no other period had such a reputation for pessimism as the fin de siècle. In the West, the fin de siècle indicated much more than just a period of time. Closely linked to the closing of one century and the onset of another, it encompassed the characteristic mind-set of the time, a series of spiritual, moral, and cultural aspects that can be linked to decadence. In art history and literature, the term came to signify various pathological conditions, i.e. a break with old stylistic tendencies and aesthetic categories. The term spread from French to other languages and came to encompass the technological, industrial, economic, cultural, and scientific progress of modern society and the prevalent feeling of pessimism and unease that burdened modern man. Decadence is the main and, at the same time, most complex term in this thesis and is therefore in the focus of our interest. As a general term, it stems from social and cultural history, in which it signified the decay of values, gradual loss of creative energy, and the decline, fall, and/or collapse of some political or social system (e.g. it often pertained to the collapse of great civilisations, especially the Roman Empire). However, from the end of the 19th century, and especially following Nietzsche’s stressing of the importance of the revaluation of values, it no longer signified only decay, but also the awareness of it, with the important difference that it now became a way out of that decay. It grew into an awareness that leads towards nihilism as the final point from which a different world is built, into an awareness of decay as a renewed existence. As an exceptional form of emotionality within the frame of the mal de vivre phenomenon, decadence simply had to manifest so that the human spirit could try to reject being conditioned by grand narratives, be they intellectual, scientific, or socio-political. In support of this interpretation, we highlight that Nietzsche characterised 19th -century European culture as a whole as the awakening of a feeling of a certain form of décadence. This feeling was a reaction to the collapse of European values based on two edifices that were pressuring the fin de siècle man. Mutually opposed, they both eroded the spirit of the people of that time. One of them was metaphysics, which, proclaiming the principles of Christian morality and human immortality, deprived the individual of his orientation towards the mundane world. The other was science, which used abstract and objective principles to exclude from the world all that is subjective, human, promoting principles of rational objectivity as opposed to metaphysical moral principles. Both influences made humans into weaklings who, through a decadent consciousness, raised their voice against morals and rationalism. Thus, the characters we examine here are aware that a certain world order is collapsing, disappearing, and of their frustrating helplessness to prevent this collapse or to build a new world – what they all have in common is a resistance, usually completely passive, towards imposed norms, social conventions, and a priori assigned roles. Decadent consciousness is affirmed as something that tears people up from the inside. A special place within the complex of decadence is devoted to the problem of fatigue, i.e. the weakening of the body and spirit, and degeneration and neurasthenia, two phenomena that left a powerful mark on the end of the 19th century and its atmosphere of decay. In addition, we underline the importance of the Russian ’superfluous man’, i.e. the Slavic heritage in the creation of Croatian decadent characters. Keeping in mind that all the mentioned spiritual dispositions were mostly built on the basis of philosophical-conceptual developments, in the second chapter we encompass the philosophical groundwork and the crisis of culture through the basic principles of Schopenhauer’s, von Hartmann’s, and Kierkegaard’s philosophy. The most complete expression of the predominant 19th -century belief that the world had lost all meaning and that life is constant suffering was Schopenhauer’s pessimism, which was further developed by his ’pupil’ Eduard von Hartmann, who suggested that it would be better had this world never existed because life is a fraud that nobody should experience, and Kierkegaard, who posited anxiety as that which determines every existence, explaining that we undeniably live in a time of spiritual depression. In the third chapter, we examine the broader socio-political and cultural context of Austria-Hungary and Croatia as its constituent part. Decadence in Croatia was built on the firm foundation of national psychology, and the reception of European spiritual currents was in many ways determined by the political situation. Namely, in the Schopenhaueresquely hopeless years of Ban Khuen Héderváry’s governorship, Croatian writers were also dismayed due to their country’s position within the Dual Monarchy, in which they felt as frustrated subjects, exhausted by their lack of freedom as well as their political, economic, and social inferiority. Applying the set theoretical and methodological framework to the prose of the Croatian fin de siècle, the fourth chapter encompasses manifestations of decadence in the analysed works, showing on concrete examples how Croatian literature was affected by the contemporaneous social, political, and cultural environment. In the centre of our interest are works of prose focused on the formation of psychologically prominent individuals, in which we have identified decadent characters created in that distinctive spiritual climate. The decadence that we examine is specifically Croatian; unlike Western decadence or the decadence of the Russian ‘superfluous man’, it is not inherent to members of the upper classes who live in wealth and, in their idleness, indulge in analysis and rumination, but is instead usually tied to ’common’ people, teachers, fallen priests, writers, or (semi-)intellectuals who, often also pressed by material worries, collapse under the weight of frustrating melancholia and anxiety. According to our interpretation, these dispositions are two sides of the same phenomenon: symptoms of neurosis as the starting- and end-point of all decadent identities. All characters from the analysed texts are burdened with the historical heritage of melancholia, a yearning for the unattainable and lost as well as an all-pervading sorrow, and anxiety, some unclear paralysing fear that prevents them from actively participating in their own lives. We begin the analytical part of the dissertation with Šenoa’s Lovro (1873), whom we have identified as the predecessor of all decadents, who paved the way for the full development of that type of character, and Gjalski’s Borislavić (1887) and Leskovar’s Ivanović (1894), sensitive decadents preoccupied with mystical-philosophical problems, especially Schopenhauer’s will, which precludes them from actively living their life. We have devoted separate subchapters to characters determined by their environment – Novak’s Šegota (1888) and Nehajev’s Mirković (1902) and Grančarić (1903), who are torn between their homeland and the world abroad, the country and the city, and therefore formed so that they constantly, neurotically feel they belong neither here nor there – and those whose fate is decisively influenced by the futility of the situation in Croatia – Gjalski’s Radmilović (1894), Novak’s Zlatanić (1901), and Nehajev’s Andrijašević (1909), whose tragic fates are related to their alienation from both themselves and others. A prominent place is given to Leskovar’s modern decadents, whom we encompass in two subchapters: we examine Martić (1891) and Imrović (1897) through the complex problems of melancholic attachment to object-loss, and, through exceptional aesthetic sophistication that prevents one from living life ‘properly’, Bušinski (1898), an archetypal example of a passive decadent whose clinical image is grounded in philosophical and historical pessimism, a hopeless feeling of ennui. A prominent position in the gallery of characters is also given to Šimunović’s Lukavac (1911), a radical decadent without an identity in a failed quest to find his own roots. The final subchapter is devoted to Leskovar’s Ljubić (1892) and Kamov’s Toplak (1906–09), whose decadence is built around tuberculosis as the starting point for the collapse of all values. In the conclusion, we summarise the theses put forward in this dissertation and refer to its analytical part, in which we identified decadence as a privileged state thanks to which an individual comprehends the foundations of their culture and society, seeing their meaninglessness and corruption. We have therefore singled out protagonists styled as neurotic decadents, whose decadence is detected as one of the dominant topoi of the time, and analysed the factors that decisively influenced their creation. Read within the frame of fin de siècle historical scepticism and the mal de vivre phenomenon, the analysed works reveal anxious, lost, paralysed characters, who in various ways face the nothingness of the world and the consequent inability to establish one’s own identity.