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date: 15 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article argues that Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the death drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) is in dialogue with a set of aesthetic and philosophical principles that inform literary Decadence around the turn of the century. It starts from an analysis of August Weismann’s scientific studies of evolution and mortality, developed in the late nineteenth century, which were influential with Freud. It then studies the features of a perverse desire for death that are found in the works of a number of key writers associated with Decadence, including Charles Baudelaire, Michael Field, A. E. Housman, Walter Pater, A. C. Swinburne, Oscar Wilde, and W. B. Yeats. Particular attention is paid to the connection between death and sexual desire and identity.

Keywords: Baudelaire, Decadence, death drive, Freud, homoeroticism, psychoanalysis, science, sexuality, Pater, Swinburne

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