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Decadence in the Age of Fascism

Decadence in the Age of Fascism

Djuna Barnes’s Freak Dandies

(p.77) 3 Decadence in the Age of Fascism
The Freak-garde
Robin Blyn
University of Minnesota Press

This chapter explores the novel Nightwood by modernist writer Djuna Barness. It argues that the novel combines the arts of the freak show with the decadent aesthetics of the fin de siècle to protest both fascist and capitalist instrumentalization of the subject. It looks into the notion that against these repressive forces, the novel poses the freak dandy, a subject/object of sustained and unrequited desire whose freedom inheres precisely in the status as a commodity fetish. It challenges the views of decadence by proposing that the novel critiques the longstanding view that decadence is the unwitting progenitor of fascism, by suggesting that through becoming a commodity fetish, the freak dandies solicit and prolong desire, enabling them to resist both fascist control and embourgeoisement.

Keywords:   Nightwood, Djuna Barness, freak show, decadent aesthetics, fin de siècle, fascist, capitalist, freak dandy, commodity fetish, embourgeoisement

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