Already, he was dreaming of a refined solitude, a comfortable desert, a motionless ark in which to seek refuge from the unending deluge of human stupidity Joris Karl Huysmans, Against the Grain Against the Grain alternately translated as Against Nature is a slim novel 110 pages where French author Joris Karl Huysmans 1848 1907 employs a torrent of baroque descriptions and unending streams of rococo linguistic curlicues to write about a bored, jaded aristocrat by the name of Des Esseintes, who uses his inherited wealth to seal himself off in a custom made, artificial world where he can live his entire life on his own aesthetic and highly refined terms There really isn t any dialogue or other characters, nor is there any plot or storyline in the ordinary sense of the term, rather, the novel describes the details of Des Esseintes s life as a monk of the sensual.We read how Des Esseintes forced his servants to wear heavy felt covers over their shoes so he wouldn t hear the sound of their feet up on the 2nd floor how, in dealing with the weakened state of his stomach, he planned his meals at the beginning of each season how his senses were titillated and stimulated his sense of smell by perfumes and scented powders, his taste by rare wines and all variety of liquors, his eyes by carefully chosen colors and exotic flowers, his hypersensitive touch by silks and cottons and many other fine fabrics We are also provided exquisite detail of, among other luxurious, lavish, plush, extravagant belongings, his vast library of rare books, ancient and modern, and his marvelous collection of paintings and prints.My words above are relatively plain, not even close to the style of Huysmans s ornate, exaggerated language As by way of example, here is Des Esseintes reflecting on two modern authors he enjoys Baudelaire and Poe, these two men who had often been compared because of their common poetic strain and predilection for the examination of mental maladies, differed radically in the affective conceptions which held such a large place in their works Baudelaire with his iniquitous and debased loves cruel loves which made one think of the reprisals of an inquisition Poe with his chaste, aerial loves, in which the senses played no part, where only the mind functioned without corresponding to organs which, if they existed, remained forever frozen and virgin This cerebral clinic where, vivisecting in a stifling atmosphere, that spiritual surgeon became, as soon as his attention flagged, a prey to an imagination which evoked, like delicious miasmas, somnambulistic and angelic apparitions, was to Des Esseintes a source of unwearying conjecture And here is the reaction of Des Esseintes when forced to encounter others on the street, The very sight of certain faces made him suffer He considered the crabbed expressions of some, insulting He felt a desire to slap the fellow who walked, eyes closed, with such a learned air the one who minced along, smiling at his image in the window panes and the one who seemed stimulated by a whole world of thought while devouring with contracted brow, the tedious contents of a newspaper Here s a description of one of the many flowers he purchased, A new plant, modeled like the Caladiums, the Alocasia Metallica, excited him even It was coated with a layer of bronze green on which glanced silver reflections It was a masterpiece of articiality It could be called a piece of stove pipe, cut by a chimney maker into the form of a pike head That s enough quotes as I m sure you get the idea This is the arched, over the top language a reader will find on every page Either this novel is to your taste or it is not But there s something about this cult favorite of decadent prose that is so intriguing and fascinating Perhaps it is reading about a lover of the senses and literature and all things aesthetic who has the money and resources to create his very own virtual reality For me, I love it, finding the lavish, ornate language and many of the descriptions laugh aloud hilarious.Although my own life and level of wealth differs greatly from Des Esseintes, I can see part of myself in his immersion in the worlds of art and literature and his absolute revulsion for much of the general run of society and its coarse values as I write this I have a mental picture of a smirking potbellied husband and his obese wife in their white pants and gold chains waddling into a Las Vegas casino So, in a way, I am laughing at myself as much as I am laughing at Des Esseintes.One further note I chose this translation by John Howard since the audiobook is available through LibriVox available on line, free of charge For me, listening to this reading of Against the Grain was a lush, rich, glorious experience, reminding me of listening to Frans Br ggen on alto recorder playing Variations on La Follia by Corelli Fortunately you don t have to be a wealthy decadent French aristocrat to indulge in this sumptuous feast of words. It must have been so exciting to be a novelist in the second half of the nineteenth century You weren t limited to just creating a novel if you were talented, you could create a whole new kind of novel Here, Huysmans has written the first example known to me of the novel where nothing happens Frail, sickly des Esseintes has dissipated a good part of his inheritance on various kinds of vice there is a memorable passage early on about the mirrors in his bedroom Now he s tired of it He resolves to withdraw to a specially designed house in the country where he will live a life of contemplation, as far removed from reality as he can arrange.The rest of this review is available elsewhere the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons The hipsters are right society is trying to destroy you not your body, or your mind, but you, the part which makes an individual That s what society is the aspect of human life that is not the self, but is communal, the part that causes humanity to behave like a colony of ants.As brilliant Nietzsche scholar Rick Roderick pointed out, advertisement is the opposite of psychotherapy The idea of therapy is to take things that are hidden within your brain biases, prejudices, hangups, fears, habits and to bring them to the surface, to make you aware of them so they can be processed, or even gotten rid of.The idea of advertisement is to plant in your brain things you don t realize are there, but which change the way you think We conflate Coca Cola with comfort and familiarity, the Nike swoosh with athletic ability, Mickey Mouse with childhood our idea of how relationships work is based on yoghurt commercials.Today, we marvel at the idea that people used to memorize The Iliad and recite it aloud but when you re ninety years old, you re still going to remember songs about alka seltzer, plastic dolls that pee, cartoon ninjas, and the theme tune of your local water park Think for a minute just how much space in your brain is devoted to information like that, stuff you don t know you remember until suddenly, you hear it again Now, think of how else that space could have been used what would you rather know instead of those jingles French Greek philosophy How to rebuild a carburetor That s how culture gets to you it surrounds you all the time, trying to make you into a copy of itself, and you and everyone in that culture are a part of that system We shame other people, we guilt them, we tease them, we make suggestions, we tell them little infectious phrases that are supposed to be helpful Look over the comments on Goodreads some time and you ll see it at work people trying to shut up dissent, repeating mantras and plugging their ears, and who clearly think that insulting and belittling people is the same as discussion But why shouldn t they It s how they were socialized Then, when people confirm our biases when they align with our groupthink we listen and nod, we praise them, we tell them it s so nice to talk to a person who understands It s the confirmation of that tribal need to all be in the same boat together, on the same course.Then there are systems within that society churches, military complexes, corporations, stores, entertainment industries, political groups all of which are trying to sway you, trying to sway society, promoting their own best interests as if there were nothing artificial about it It s why we accept inequality, why we accept the massive scale of deaths every day from car accidents and untreated addicts and poor people who can t afford medical treatment we may not always like it but we still accept it.Really, it s pretty remarkable that we retain any individuality at all I mean, how strong must that impulse be to reject all these things that people tell us we are supposed to be We are reminded of this shit every day by books, movies, adverts, and assholes on the bus Sure, we internalize it to some degree, but for a lot of us, we retain an iconoclastic streak that stops us from being taken over completely.As Roderick describes it, the mind is constantly under siege we put up walls to keep out the overwhelming force of culture Sure, some gets in, but our defenses keep a lot out Ideas can be infectious, they can be viral, they prey on our hopes and fears, our prejudices and insecurities, but over time, we build up better and better defenses to recognize and root out these ideas.So when hipsters reject something popular, there s a reason they have that knee jerk reaction they feel society s fingers reaching into their skull and they instinctively flinch That s why they don t want to look like other people, or listen to their music, they don t want to be advertised to or pandered to They have constructed a sense of identity for themselves what makes them them and when they see someone else doing the same thing, it threatens their sense of identity.They re wrong, of course, but their response makes a certain kind of sense They ve traded one aspect of culture for another They are a subculture, but one that still feeds into and supports the main culture They are rampant consumers, early adopters who are constantly looking for new ways to spend their money because as soon as other people start liking what they like, they have to dump it all and buy new stuff Every subculture becomes co opted and sold back to the people for a profit, and the way corporations have maneuvered hipsters is brilliant If they stop consuming fashion, products, information, politics, music, and craft materials, they lose their identity And so, of course, we see that they are just as dominated and defined by the culture as the sheep they so assiduously mock They are conformists.That s always been the problem, though, way back to the Dadaists if you are obsessed with rejecting mainstream culture, that means you have to follow mainstream culture closely enough to know what it is doing, so you can then reject it All your actions are defined by that culture, it s just that instead of following the example, you do the opposite, which makes you just as predictable which means you are just as useful to the culture Predictable ants are useful ants.But of course, the real iconoclast doesn t identify themselves with certain bands or aesthetics, with clothes or objects They create identity based around ideas and society doesn t want to co opt ideas When society takes a movement and sells it back to us, the ideas are the first things stripped out.The iconoclast doesn t look left and right to see what everyone else is doing before they act, because their actions aren t defined by conforming to or rejecting what others do They have an internal motivation, a philosophy which tells them what is worthwhile and what is not, and why.Real iconoclasts are cool They are fucking amazing They change the world, they have an ineffable magnetism They control minds, they guide fashion, so that in a century, you can look back and say we think the way we do, write the way we do, dress the way we do, because of a handful of people And what tends to define them when they are alive is a near complete lack of recognition Society attacks them in all the standard ways guilt, mockery, critique Society is uncomfortable, it wants to invade that mind, to break the siege and to remake the person as a useful ant under the status quo This often kills the iconoclast, or drives him mad, or makes him bitter and misanthropic sometimes all of the above.But misanthropy and bitterness are mind killers They halt thought They turn the thinker into a self prejudiced creature who is no longer willing to think or change, who has been so embroiled in the frustrating stupidity that surrounds him that it stops him in his tracks That is the trap into which Des Esseintes falls in Huysmans experimental novel, called A Rebours in the French, variously translated in English as Against the Grain or Against Nature.Des Esseintes is the false iconoclast, the man who is obsessed with being different for its own sake, but who does not know himself The long lists of his preferences and dislikes that fill the book are, for the most part, empty opinions They do not point to some grander philosophy or understanding.Again and again, he tells us that he despises this or that thing because a merchant s wife likes it His sense of identity is threatened he has built it around these objects and movements, and his fondest wish is to keep them all for himself That is why he locks himself away, alone, and refuses to see anyone Yet, even then, even in complete isolation, it is still not enough to let him discover himself However alone and unobserved he may be, his likes and dislikes are defined by an outside culture which he claims to have rejected, but which seems to rule his every thought His attempted iconoclasm becomes mere contrarianism It is the misanthropy of the problem child who does things he knows he mustn t do not because he enjoys them, but out of a desire to betray the image of authority he has created in his mind.One of the curious threads in the book is the effect which his religious education has had on him though it has not made him a faithful man, it has inspired him to reject man and the world as worthless and flawed, and to instead spend his time living for another world, a false world which exists only in his mind.He is the prototype for the man who sits and plays Warcraft alone all day, every day, until he loses his job, his friends, and his family Des Esseintes harps again and again on a desire to live in an artificial world of his own making a virtual world It does not really give him pleasure, it is just a way from him to avoid the world It is a life without risk, a life where he does not have to confront anything uncomfortable or challenging, which will never hazard upsetting or drawing judgment from anyone a pointless life of perfect safety which he romantically paints as fraught and challenging, because it allows him to imagine himself as the noble struggler against hardship but solely on his own terms.Yet, ironically, he also complains about how there is nothing genuine left in the world, how it is all artificial for which he decries it despite the fact that he spends the rest of his time trying to live in another artificial world of his own making Clearly, artificiality is neither the problem nor the solution, but a mere cover up for the real issues.His aesthetics are a replacement for faith, which explains why his house is filled with religious iconography repurposed into furnishings for his museum to himself and yet, not himself, for throughout the text, though he spends his fortune to pursue every idea which seems to him easing at the time, none of it satisfies him indeed, it drives him mad, makes him sick, destroys him He is not pursuing his own desires, he is not following his own thoughts and needs, and so he is never satisfied Instead, he tries again and again to create identity through external trappings, like a college girl who wears a beret in order to feel worldly.These trappings invariably break down around him they disappoint him, they do not live up to his hopes He sits and recites opinions he already holds, and fearing disappointment, seeks nothing new The whole situation is summed up in the fact that, when he thinks on the horror of being forced to return to society, he laments that he will not be able to meet any men like himself, men who share his opinions He is not interested in engaging conversation, or in intelligence or brilliance, he does not despair of meeting remarkable people, he is upset because he cannot meet himself or rather, the self he imagines himself to be.Indeed, he will almost certainly meet himself when he rejoins society, for it is full of people just like him, who put on a false front to try to convince themselves that they are interesting, but who live hollow lives, providing nothing to the world, leaving nothing of worth to the future, and doing nothing in which they can take the least pride The unexamined life is not worth living which is why it destroys him.If this had been a send up of such a ridiculous fool, it could have proven a remarkable and wondrous work it worked well enough for Carlyle, Cervantes, and Sterne but, though there are certainly moments of irony and contradiction throughout, overall, the message seems to be that Des Esseintes is meant to be taken in earnest that we are meant somehow to respect or find interesting the cobbles of his life, his scattered opinions, his false identity.Again and again, the text harps on these facts, repeats them, wallows in them Each book Des Esseintes mentions is described by its color, the make of its binding, the type of dye used, the provenance of the ink within, the typeset, but all this detail is to no purpose It is not like reading a treatise of William Morris and coming to understand a particular aesthetic of how a book should be bound and why it is a mere litany of excess, the dull and trashy kind of overspending which marks the parvenu.Certainly, there are some interesting scenes within the book the famous tortoise episode actually achieving some real insight and satire , but overall, the book is terribly dull a piling on of detail upon detail without much central notion to hang them on Some might argue that the theme is the gross emptiness of decadence, but I don t think the work s scattered repetition does very much to explore it.It isn t surprising that the work proved influential to men like Wilde, who had come to concentrate so fully on form over function that their wit consisted mostly of switching about common words in convoluted ways until they no longer meant much at all, an absurd style which lacks real bite and that was the overwhelming impression I took away from Huysmans work that for all the fine words and lengthy lists and precise descriptions, there simply wasn t enough conceptual structure underneath to make it hang together It was a pile of Gothic trappings whose sheer weight broke through the roof of the old church to lay all in a shambles on the floor. After feasting on an excessive orgy of oysters, smoked salmon, quail eggs, marinated lobster, rare partridge breast, honey glazed pig trotters and spiced wine, I followed with a desert consisting of apple strudel with clotted cream and sticky chocolate pudding in a warm orange sauce, I took to the sofa in front of the open log fire while stretching my feet out on the Persian rug, keeping my fine Turkish cigarettes and bottle of plum brandy close at hand I finished reading rebours Against Nature A rich and decadent novel featuring just one man, the jaded aristocrat Des Esseintes, who leads an isolated life fuelled by his passions for excess and self indulgence Referring to society early on as frightful clodhoppers , this would become the one and only time I laughed, because even though the overall mood is charming and elegant, there is also a lingering sadness for the solitude Des Esseintes chooses He governs a life s philosophy with the desire to subvert, and even supersede, nature surrounded by art and a library of books at his fingertips, he takes to the works of Poe, Balzac, De Sade, voltaire, along with poetry and historical readings of the church, religion and medieval ramblings As we are stuck with Des Esseintes for the whole duration of the book, It would certainly be beneficial to take him to heart, however I loved and loathed him in equal measures.Thus it was difficult to like this any than I did For those who deem it a masterpiece, that s understandable, for those who think it s nothing than nonsense, I could agree as it s always a read to divide opinion, but I will sit on the fence, comfortable.Joris Karl Huysmans, who no doubt has a great pedigree for writing, does take the reader to far off places in the mind, there are episodes which are so arrestingly parabolic that they stand out when looking back at the text Images like a jewel encrusted tortoise perishing under its own weight have a mythic quality and chapters can seem like individual exercises, tied together by the Des Esseintes plot such as it is , like the master narrative of the Arabian Nights or a collection of Dickensian short stories Huysmans is at his strongest in passages of sensual pleasure If I was to re read in 20 30 years time, my views would probably change for the better.Now, where did I leave those liquor truffles The world is too much with us late and soon, Wordsworth wrote in 1802, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers Joris Karl Huysmans fin de si cle novel, Against Nature Rebours , tells the story of an aristocratic dandy who finds the realities specifically, the vulgarities of everyday life so insufferable that he decides to lock himself away in a house at Fontenay aux Roses, far from the incessant deluge of human folly, to live a solitary life through books, paintings, art and music Des Esseintes is an eccentric, a decadent, a misanthrope, and an aesthete, who is also obsessed with death and decay It has been noted that this is the novel which poisons Dorian s mind in The Picture of Dorian Gray 1890 , and it is indeed tempting to imagine Des Esseintes as Oscar Wilde Rebours is a fantastic book about what it means to be an aesthete, and it remains just as relevant today as when it was first published in 1884 It will appeal to anyone with an appreciation for good literature, art, and music. If Proust composed his In Search of Lost Time without having read this book, I ll eat my hat Of course, the similarities may have been unavoidable when considering that both authors concern themselves with the period of haute couture and Faubourg Saint Germain culture, and even chose the same aristocrat to model their own wildly eccentric characters on, the Comte de Montesquiou Fezensac inspiring both Huysmans Des Esseintes and Proust s Charlus And it could have been sheer coincidence that Huysmans delving into the cyclic throes of obsession and boredom seem almost a basic structure for Proust s cathedrals of thought and memory Still, the semblances are striking, although the differences forbid any possible thoughts of one author relying too heavily on the other For while Proust is gorgeous and light and understanding of almost every nuance of the human condition, Huysmans is, well Looking on the bright side of things, I hope that, one fine day, he ll kill the gentlemen who turns up unexpectedly just as he s breaking open his desk On that day my object will be achieved I shall have contributed, to the best of my ability, to the making of a scoundrel, one enemy the for the hideous society which is bleeding us white. That s Des Esseintes for you, speaking of a boy child he had granted three months of bi weekly brothel visits to, for no other reason but a sudden whim to conduct a viciously abhorrent sort of social experiment He doesn t get any better through the course of the book he is as capable of dwelling on the most beautiful of conjectures in full possession of his educated faculties, as he is of condemning the smallest aspect of life with all the spite and bigotry a human could possibly muster So what can redeem this spoiled and sickly creature, fully equipped with a substantial fortune, disgust with the whole of the human race, and access to the whole range of what culture, from the loftiest of heights to the most depraved in his day, at least of lows and everything that mixes that two, has to offer For one, the fact that this contrary soul is indeed human despite the weirdly grotesque passions that power it, and through all the oddities Des Esseintes surrounds himself one can still see the insolvable human condition that plagues every one of us He may be as easy to hate and be disgusted with as easily as he hates and is disgusted with everything beyond his luxuriously painted and perfumed bower, but he does have some measure of taste that one cannot help but take note of, and perhaps even sympathize with He wanted, in short, a work of art both for what it was in itself and for what it allowed him to bestow on it he wanted to go along with it and on it, as if supported by a friend or carried by a vehicle, into a sphere where sublimated sensations would arouse within him an unexpected commotion, the causes of which he would strive to patiently and even vainly to analyse. He ll pursue this ideal through sight in painting and horticulture, through taste in mouth organs and strenuous dilutions, through smell in perfumes and twisted senses, from the most ancient annals of religion to the newest source of physical debauchery that only those with a sensibility honed by years of monetary excess can hope to afford That unwholesome mix of artificiality posing as the real thing is fully expressed in the prose itself, metaphors that don t bother to limit themselves to one side of the equation and fully immerse themselves in delight and disgustand the Cypripedium, with its complex, incoherent contours devised by some demented draughtsman It looked rather like a clog or a tidy, and on top was a human tongue bent back with the string stretched tight, just as you may see it depicted in the plates of medical works dealing with diseases of the throat and mouth two little wings, of a jujube red, which might almost have been borrowed from a child s toy windmill, completed this baroque combination of the underside of a tongue, the colour of wine lees and slate, and a glossy pocket case with a lining that oozed drops of viscous paste. Oftentimes, he ll box himself up in snooty prejudices and hypocritical ideologies, but occasionally one will recognize measures of contemporary thought within his reminisces and desires, one of the most surprising instances occurring when he dwells upon the issue of abortion At other times he will think on qualities of pieces that at his point in time had not yet been composed, accrediting his thoughts that those who concern themselves with certain ideals will not find themselves content with the current ageSensitive to the remotest affinities, he would often use a term that by analogy suggested at once form, scent, colour, quality, and brilliance, to indicate a creature or thing to which he would have had to attach a host of different epithets in order to bring out all its various aspects and qualities, if it had merely been referred to by its technical name By this means he managed to do away with the formal statement of a comparison that the reader s mind made by itself as soon as it had understood the symbol, and he avoided dispersing the reader s attention over all the several qualities that a row of adjectives would have presented one by one, concentrated it instead on a single word, a single entity, producing, as in the case of a picture, a unique and comprehensive impression, an overall view He may have enjoyed the works of Faulkner, whose The Sound and the Fury accomplishes just that Or he may have spurned the work that occupies itself with trivial mundanities and contains not the slightest hint of elevated passions or feverish splendor The world will never know. With A Title Translated Either As Against Nature Or As Against The Grain, This Wildly Original Fin De Si Cle Novel Follows Its Sole Character, Des Esseintes, A Decadent, Ailing Aristocrat Who Retreats To An Isolated Villa Where He Indulges His Taste For Luxury And Excess Veering Between Nervous Excitability And Debilitating Ennui, He Gluts His Aesthetic Appetites With Classical Literature And Art, Exotic Jewels With Which He Fatally Encrusts The Shell Of His Tortoise , Rich Perfumes, And A Kaleidoscope Of Sensual Experiences The Original Handbook Of Decadence, Against Nature Exploded Like A Grenade In The Words Of Its Author And Has Enjoyed A Cult Readership From Its Publication To The Present Day Decadent Rants and HaranguesThis 1884 novel is a wonderful assemblage of prescient and decadent rants.Something Huysmans says of another book of rants could apply equally to his own workConceived as harangues, they contained a certain strong muscular energy and were astonishing in the intolerance of their convictions Scoundrels and ImbecilesJean Des Esseintes I ll call him Des E for short fills his life with literature, art, music, furniture, jewelry, flowers, perfumes, food and liquor.His journey started as a childImmersed in solitude, he would dream or read far into the night Educated by Jesuits, he acquires abold and independent spirit.He grows to scorn his fellow manHis contempt for humanity deepened He reached the conclusion that the world, for the most part, was composed of scoundrels and imbecilesAlready, he was dreaming of a refined solitude, a comfortable desert, a motionless ark in which to seek refuge from the unending deluge of human stupidityDes E the Eccentric DandyDes E s taste is anything but mainstream, even if he s familiar with it The thing is he has consumed enough to know what he doesn t like and to be able to discriminate.He becomes an eccentric dandy Huysmans writes about the sensuous with a style that has both an economy and a sensuality of its ownOut of black edged plates they had drunk turtle soup and eaten Russian rye bread, ripe Turkish olives, caviar, smoked Frankfort black pudding, game with sauces that were the color of licorice and blacking, truffle gravy, chocolate cream, puddings, nectarines, grape preserves, mulberries and black heart cherries they had sipped, out of dark glasses, wines from Limagne, Roussillon, Tenedos, Val de Penas and Porto, and after the coffee and walnut brandy had partaken of kvas and porter and stout Whatever we might think of Des E, that s a meal I d love to have shared with him Artifice against NatureOne consequence of Des E s lifestyle is that, the he discriminates, the he moves away from other people, until eventually he lives an almost hermit like existence on the outskirts of Paris, surrounded only by the objets of his own immaculate taste and artifice It s almost as if his subjectivism has become a form of solipsism.His aesthetic opposes the artificial against nature It elevates the dreamlike above the realistic, fantasy above naturalismThe secret lies in knowing how to proceed, how to concentrate deeply enough to produce the hallucination and succeed in substituting the dream reality for the reality itself Artifice, besides, seemed to Des Esseintes the final distinctive mark of man s geniusNature had had her dayReally, what dullness There is not one of her inventions, no matter how subtle or imposing it may be, which human genius cannot createGustave Moreau Study of Salome for Salome Dancing before HerodThe Consoling Beacons of Ancient Faith90% of the novel documents Des E s taste We learn exactly what he likes and what he dislikes From a literary point of view, you could assemble from the details of his library a reading list erudite and filled withthe consoling beacons of ancient faiththan anything compiled by den Grossenlistengenerator Steven Moore view spoiler it s telling that it could be said, even then, as now, that the compilers of such lists like the work of one of Des E s idols, Ernest Hello have oftenaffected inordinate pretensions of profundity There were some fawning and complacent people who pretended to consider him a great man, the reservoir of learning, the encyclopedic giant of the age Perhaps he was a well, but one at whose bottom one often could not find a drop of waterhide spoiler An ornate, sickly, claustropobic book, full of fascinating discussions about art and literature, and studded with items of outr vocabulary I still haven t worked out what m chialogie means It is a novel for people who like talking about novels the plot itself is slim and of little importance I ll summarise it quickly des Esseintes, a rich, effete aristocrat, retires from a life of excess and debauchery to live in his retreat at Fontenay outside Paris, where he shuts himself off from the rest of the world and ekes out an existence in a cloying, hypochondriac, lamplit environment that has been elaborately constructed to meet his own aesthetic requirements.Basically, he s a proto hipster, who has had enough of dealing with Other People and wants to lock himself away from public opinion Anything that s popular with anyone else is out Goya gets taken down from his walls for being not obscure enough Cette promiscuit dans l admiration tait d ailleurs l un des plus grands chagrins de sa vie d incompr hensibles succ s lui avaient jamais g t des tableaux et des livres jadis chers devant l approbation des suffrages, il finissait par leur d couvrir d imperceptibles tares, et il les rejetait. This promiscuity of admiration was one of the most distressing things in his life Incomprehensible successes had permanently ruined books and paintings for him which he had previously held dear faced with widespread public approbation, he ended up discovering imperceptible flaws in works, and rejecting them Although he has given up interpersonal relationships himself even his servants have to wear felt slippers, so he doesn t hear them walking around , he often reminisces about his previous conquests I particularly loved the early description of his old bachelor pad, decorated in pink and lined with mirrors, which had been c l bre parmi les filles qui se complaisaient tremper leur nudit dans ce bain d incarnat ti de qu aromatisait l odeur de menthe d gag e par le bois des meubles. famous among the girls who had been pleased to soak their nudity in this bath of warm carnation infused by the smell of mint given off by the furniture His view of women in general is distinctly un modern, but often weirdly fascinating I liked the strange little anecdote of his liaison with a US circus performer, which read like an Angela Carter short story Unfortunately, in a complaint soon to become a clich among European male writers, his American girlfriend turned out to have une retenue puritaine au lit Des Esseintes moves on to date a ventriloquist, whom he makes lie out of sight and enact odd, symbolist dialogues between statues of a chimera and a sphinx that he bought for the occasion.There are even some aesthete esque hints towards des Esseintes s homosexual urges, with vague references to a young man who made him think about sinning against the sixth and ninth of the Ten Commandments.Other senses, too, get close examination An entire chapter is given over to various exotic scents and perfumes which des Esseintes is trying to create When it comes to taste, our hero has what he calls a mouth organ , which consists of several dozen barrels of alcoholic liqueurs ranged side by side, which he mixes and matches to create a variety of gustatory symphonies or harmonies to suit his current mood.The language all this is described in is deliberately rich and unnaturalistic Huysmans s basic approach is outlined when des Esseintes explains the kind of writing he admires among Latin authors full of verbes aux sucs pur s, de substantifs sentant l encens, d adjectifs bizarres, taill s grossi rement dans l or, avec le go t barbare et charmant des bijoux goths. purified verb extracts, nouns that reek of incense, bizarre adjectives rough hewn from gold, with the barbaric, charming appeal of Gothic jewels I came to Huysmans via Barbey d Aurevilly, and it was nice to see that des Esseintes thinks so highly of Les Diaboliques that he had a special copy made, printed sacrilegiously on ecclesiastical parchment Barbey reviewedRebours when it came out, and made a surprisingly perceptive comment that its author, like Baudelaire, would have to choose between la bouche d un pistolet ou les pieds de la croix the mouth of a pistol or the foot of the Cross What is it about these Decadent authors Baudelaire, Huysmans, Barbey himself that despite their obvious dislike of religion, they all ended up going back to the Catholic faith Suffice to say that this novel draws its power to shock and delight from its willingness specifically to go againstrebours the ideals and principles of a Catholic culture not that that prevents a secular modern reader from being shocked and delighted in his or her own right.And they should be, it s worth it This book can be oppressive, but it s a wonderful experience. The ideal novel for people who hate novels And other people.
Charles Marie Georges Huysmans was a French novelist who published his works as Joris Karl Huysmans He is most famous for the novel rebours Against Nature His style is remarkable for its idiosyncratic use of the French language, wide ranging vocabulary, wealth of detailed and sensuous description, and biting, satirical wit The novels are also noteworthy for their encyclopaedic
- 242 pages
- À rebours
- Joris-Karl Huysmans
- 08 August 2019 Joris-Karl Huysmans