From the perfumed verse of Baudelaire to the ‘fleshly’ poetry of Swinburne, from the extravagant and perverse sensory experiences of Des Esseintes in A rebours to the refined visual aesthetics of Dorian Gray, we encounter corresponding senses (synaesthesia) and extreme sensations, intensified by nervous or pathological psychological states. Reading Decadence, from ancient times to the present day, is to indulge in voluptuous pleasures (and pain), to sample exotic tastes and sounds, and to envisage states of mind in highly visual terms. ‘For each emotion’, as Oscar Wilde imagined for his drama, Salomé (1894), ‘a new perfume’.
This interdisciplinary conference explores the relationship of Decadence and the senses, and the ways in which Decadent writers attempt to capture fleeting sensations. It is an opportunity to trace common visual, aural and ‘perfumed’ motifs in Decadent works, and to reflect on the extent to which the senses are important to our understanding of the tradition.