Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

From Experiment to Epidemic: Embodiment in the Decadent Modernism of Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan" and "The Inmost Light"

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

From Experiment to Epidemic: Embodiment in the Decadent Modernism of Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan" and "The Inmost Light"

Article excerpt

In Arthur Machen's Decadent horrors "The Great God Pan" and "The Inmost Light," contagion becomes a modern form of transformation that upends Cartesian dualism. Drawing on theories of embodied cognition, latenineteenth-century neuroscience, and Decadent aesthetics, this essay examines Machen's depictions of the mind-body in tumult.

Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan" remains one of the most influential works of horror ever written, cited by seminal artists who work in the genre--from H.P. Lovecraft to Guillermo del Toro--as a prominent influence for its psychological and aesthetic complexity. (1) The broad appeal of "The Great God Pan," with its plot-driven narrative and fidelity to stock tropes of Gothic fiction, separates Machen's work from the category of Decadence as high art represented by figures like Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and Arthur Symons. Machen's novella also survives as an enduring text of British Decadence, although infrequently paired with representative works, such as Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray or Beardsley's illustrations of Salome. Additionally, Machen's role as an innovator who contributed to the development of Decadence is complicated by the publication history of "The Great God Pan."

A short version of "The Great God Pan" was first published in The Whirlwind in 1890, but its most visible appearance was an extended version packaged with "The Inmost Light" as volume five of "Keynotes," a series commissioned by Decadent impresario John Lane and embellished with Beardsley covers, key prints, and title pages (Nelson, Nineties 263). Lane's stable of authors were aware, as Matthew Sturgis has noted, that his support "was based more on commercial canniness than artistic admiration" and of "the trace of opportunism that lay behind his promotion of their 'decadent' work" (203). Notwithstanding Lane's mercenary desire to capitalize on the sensation surrounding the movement, the "Keynotes" series increased the visibility of British Decadence, serving as an organ for the dissemination of aesthetic and conceptual innovations of the most radical experiment of the period.

These "Keynotes" works teeter on the seam that divides Decadence between highbrow and lowbrow art, between the commercial appeal of genre fiction and more serious cultural ambitions. (2) It is, in fact, the potboiler appeal of Machen's "Keynotes" stories that allows one of the most radical aims of Decadence to slip through: the aesthetic expression of perception and cognition derived from embodied experience. (3) A central tenet of Aestheticism and Decadence was the rejection of Cartesian dualism in order to investigate embodied being. Walter Pater's aesthetic philosophy emphasizes how sense-experience of the "ever penetrating" external world of forms--"a flood of random sounds, colours, incidents"--is a critical component of internal processes, becoming a part of the mind's "structure" (Selected 118). These late-nineteenth-century explorations anticipate what will become, in the twentieth century, a rich and wide-ranging discursive field, with philosophers and critics reassessing the ways that sense-experience and physical perception are married to cognition and conceptualization. Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological inquiry into "the experience of one's own body" is foregrounded by the long shadow of Enlightenment thinking, "which gives us only the thought about the body, or the body as an idea, and not the experience of the body or the body in reality" (198-99). Tracking the consequences of the separation between intellectual and physical knowledge, Michel Serres considers what a system of knowledge that incorporates the body might look like by displacing logical disassociation with sensory association. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explore how "the very mechanisms responsible for perception, movements, and object manipulation could be responsible for conceptualization and reasoning" (38). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.