The paradoxes of aesthetic individualism : fashioning communities and selves in fin-de-siècle France and Spanish America

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Nietzsche's famous call to "give style to one's character" exemplifies the phenomenon at the center of this dissertation, a constellation of ethical and aesthetic ideals prominent in three literary movements of the mid-to-late nineteenth century: Decadence, Symbolism, and Modernismo. I call this constellation "aesthetic individualism," by which I mean (1) the intrinsic valorization of individual difference, self-determination, and self-coherence; and (2) the belief that aesthetic objects and practices can model, express, and cultivate these ideals. This dissertation identifies a series of figures representative of aesthetic individualism -- Charles Baudelaire's génie, Rubén Darío's raro, Joris-Karl Huysmans' and José Asunción Silva's collectors, Arthur Rimbaud's damné, and José Martí's hombre natural -- and argues that their creation is paradoxically motivated by desires and anxieties about collective identity at the different yet related scales of class, nation, and region. Decadence, Symbolism, and Modernismo have conventionally been seen as a "turn away from the world of public interest into the interiority of the private self." Since the late 1990s, however, scholars have become interested in these movements' communal dimensions, both in terms of the socialities they promoted and of the social and geopolitical identities they defined. But there have been few attempts to give an extended, comparative account of how French and Spanish American fin de siècle writers conceived of the relation between the individual and the collective, the aesthetic and the political. This gap is partly due to a differential in prestige between French and Latin American literary traditions, which produces myths about the exceptionality of French literary modernity and results in the dismissal of Modernismo as derivative. This dissertation goes against the grain of the Eurocentrism that still underlies much of the scholarship on these movements. Viewing modernity as multiple and aspirational, my dissertation aims to provide a comparative account of the formal and ideological diversity of the French and Spanish-American literary fin de siècle. I do so by showing how the values of aesthetic individualism betray idiosyncratic and locale-sensitive views on what modernity is, both as a historical fact and as a set of communal aspirations, sometimes progressive, sometimes reactionary. These divergent configurations of the modern challenge preconceptions that have guided Anglo-European theorizations of literary modernity: the autonomy of art and its concomitance with the rise and fall of romantic individualism.


Type of resource text
Form electronic resource; remote; computer; online resource
Extent 1 online resource.
Place California
Place [Stanford, California]
Publisher [Stanford University]
Copyright date 2023; ©2023
Publication date 2023; 2023
Issuance monographic
Language English


Author Pesci Feltri Zurita, Victoria Eugenia
Degree supervisor Hoyos, Hector
Degree supervisor Landy, Joshua
Thesis advisor Hoyos, Hector
Thesis advisor Landy, Joshua
Thesis advisor Briceno, Ximena
Thesis advisor Hill,Christopher
Thesis advisor Wittman, Laura
Degree committee member Briceno, Ximena
Degree committee member Hill,Christopher
Degree committee member Wittman, Laura
Associated with Stanford University, School of Humanities and Sciences
Associated with Stanford University, Department of Comparative Literature


Genre Theses
Genre Text

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Victoria Zurita.
Note Submitted to the Department of Comparative Literature.
Thesis Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2023.

Access conditions

© 2023 by Victoria Eugenia Pesci Feltri Zurita
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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