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Three Versions of Russian Decadent Dandyism: Demonism, Hellenism, and Theatricality


Russian artists of the early twentieth century focused not merely on the production of their own artistic works but also on the aestheticization of life itself. This phenomenon, known as zhiznetvorchestvo (life-creation), was often expressed in the form of dandyism. Modernists clothed themselves in unconventional fashion and exhibited eccentric behavior in order to express their opposition to what they considered as the anti-aestheticism of quotidian life. Of the various instances of Russian modernist dandyism, this dissertation examines three distinctive manifestations of decadent self-creation. The primary material for analysis my discussion includes biographies, critical essays, and literary works that address the decadent aesthetic and its practice in life. First, I explore the literary group comprised of Valerii Briusov, Konstantin Bal'mont, and Aleksandr Dobroliubov by focusing on their demonic aestheticism. The next chapter illustrates the dandyism of Mikhail Kuzmin who rejects what he considered the demonic decadents' amoral aestheticism and in its place turns to Hellenic notions of beauty for inspiration. Lastly, I explore the dandyism of Aleksandr Blok who assumes the mask of a jester-dandy grieving over the loss of aesthetic ideals and who expresses his sorrow through theatrical performance. I also compare the three cases of Russian decadent dandyism with their European counterparts, particularly that of Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire. By doing so, this work not only demonstrates the influence of Western dandyism on Russian decadent self-creation but also considers differences between the two aesthetics, particularly their distinctive concepts of convention and beauty. In addition, I argue that in contrast to their Western counterparts Russian decadent dandyism and the aesthetics associated with it hardly marginalized such idealistic values as Hero, Truth, Life and Nature.

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