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Degeneration Paperback – November 1, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0803283671 ISBN-10: 0803283679 Edition: Reprinted edition

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Degeneration is one of the most important documents of the fin de siècle, the years between the 1880s and 1900 when the robust views of the nineteenth century clashed with the heightened sensibilities of a searching and disillusioned generation. . . . [It] is a mirror of conflicting attitudes which are, in fact, contemporary with our present cultural dilemmas. But culture itself always reflects the state of society. Max Nordau presents us with a searchlight whose beams reflect the kind of world [we] have made for [ourselves.]"—George L. Mosse in his introduction to the 1968 edition
(George L. Mosse)

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 566 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press; Reprinted edition edition (November 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803283679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803283671
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #833,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By BHM on May 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Degeneration" was written by Max Nordau at the end of the nineteenth century. Nordau was an arch-conservative in his views, and was distressed by the threat to social stability posed by the swarm of "degenerates" infecting society. Although he starts off his book with some general discussion of the problem as he sees it, he soon turns to the analysis of those artists or writers who, in his opinion, exemplified mental degeneracy in particularly marked forms. His opinions read like pronouncements from the throne, as he treats the targets of his ire as medical cases whose insanity can be definitely established by someone with his scientific knowledge. In fact, it's downright frightening how glibly he can issue a sentence of insanity or mental degeneracy on someone simply by analyzing that person's written works, even fictional works.

Despite the creepiness of Degeneration - or perhaps because of it - there is definitely some fun to be had in reading the book. Also, although the text is a translation from the German, the quality of the English is generally very good. However, Nordau's analysis of any one person usually goes on far too long. This is likely a consequence of his assertion that an inability to concentrate for long periods of time is a key indicator of mental degeneracy, and he no doubt wanted to prove that he himself had strong powers of concentration. Alas, owing to the diseased condition of the ratiocinative centers of my brain, I usually got bored with the reading long before Nordau got bored with the writing.

There is one interesting wrinkle: around the time that Degeneration was published, Lev Tolstoi came out with an extended essay "What is Art?
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29 of 39 people found the following review helpful By TheIrrationalMan on February 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Max Nordau's "Degeneration", first published in 1892, is a scathing attack of the Decadents, Aesthetes, Parnassians and various artistic disciplines of the late nineteenth century. By adopting the superficial and thus highly questionable theory of Lombroso, Nordau, himself a physician and a disciple of the said Lombroso, interprets the works of such stars as Baudelaire, Verlaine, Wilde, Tolstoy, Wagner, Nietzsche and Ibsen as the result of physiological "degeneration" and classifies the various artists according to their respective pathologies - egomania, sadism, exhibitionism and mysticism. It is ironic that the author, a Zionist Jew with socialist leanings, should have anticipated the programs of Fascism in the twentieth century, with their public burnings of books, Cubist paintings and all other art forms arbitrarily deemed as "degenerate art". In contrast to such art forms, these regimes, of course encouraged "healthy" art, embodied in propagandist statues, usually depicting the athletic male type with upstretched arm, triumphantly affirming the ideals of authority, militarism and nationhood. Nordau is admittedly readable, writing in a lively and vitriolic style, pouring scorn on the figures he brings under his scrutiny. But it is a prohibitionist work compiled by an arch-conservative purist, explicitly calling for the suppression of so-called "undesirable" art and espousing a reductionist theory that may have enjoyed a vogue for some decades but is now recognised as manifestly worthless. An example of politics masquerading as science, to be approached with caution.
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28 of 40 people found the following review helpful By S. Gustafson on December 7, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is almost entirely bunk from its first page to the last. This is what makes it worth reading.

Nordau was a nineteenth century believer in the supposed virtues of Clean Living. He thought that the works of contemporary poets and artists were too deliquescent and depraved. Looking for some grounds to condemn them while maintaining the facade of liberal objectivity, he turned to nineteenth century pseudoscience.

Cesare Lombroso, an Italian anthropologist, had invented a doctrine of what could only be called forensic phrenology. He believed that criminals could be identified as "atavistic" by their physical features; in practise, just about any feature could be considered "atavistic."

Nordau turns this starry wisdom against the poets and artists of whom he disapproves. Not surprisingly, they all turn out to have "atavistic" features in their person, and display equally apish traits in their art. Fortunately, in the process of condemning these writers, he must necessarily compile an anthology of some of the most interesting passages from the authors and intellectuals he condemns. This alone may be worth the price of admission.

If you take this twaddle seriously, you will probably be infuriated by it. But who says ya gotta? (Atavism's got me in its simian clutches!) If you enjoy unintentionally (?) funny rants like Bram Dijkstra's -Idols of Perversity-, you might get some kicks here too.
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