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Glossary of Literary Theory
by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown


A late nineteenth century movement whose characteristic slogan, "art for art's sake," stresses the uselessness of art and divorces aesthetics from any moral, social, political, or practical concerns. The work of art is viewed as being isolated from extrinsic reality or nature and as existing in, of, and for itself. Worshiping the decay and transience of things of beauty, aestheticism often incorporates decadence, seeing the accursed poet as a visionary who cultivates a systematic derangement of all the senses and makes a demented inner voyage into the dark depths of the self. Decadence luxuriates in the flowers of evil such sophisticated ennui produces. From Charles Baudelaire's demonics to the dandyism of Oscar Wilde, aestheticism leads to the modernist cult of the image and the formalist view of art as a self-enclosed universe.

© Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown,
University of Toronto
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University of Toronto English Library
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Last modified: March 31, 1997