Fin de siècle (French: [fɛ̃ də sjɛkl]) is a French term meaning "end of century", a term which typically encompasses both the meaning of the similar English idiom turn of the century and also makes reference to the closing of one era and onset of another. The term is typically used to refer to the end of the 19th century. This period was widely thought to be a period of degeneracy, but at the same time a period of hope for a new beginning.[1] The "spirit" of fin de siècle often refers to the cultural hallmarks that were recognized as prominent in the 1880s and 1890s, including ennui, cynicism, pessimism, and "...a widespread belief that civilization leads to decadence."[2][3]

The term "fin de siècle" is commonly applied to French art and artists, as the traits of the culture first appeared there, but the movement affected many European countries.[4][5] The term becomes applicable to the sentiments and traits associated with the culture, as opposed to focusing solely on the movement's initial recognition in France. The ideas and concerns developed by fin de siècle artists provided the impetus for movements such as symbolism and modernism.[6]

The themes of fin de siècle political culture were very controversial and have been cited as a major influence on fascism[7][8] and as a generator of the science of geopolitics, including the theory of lebensraum.[9] Professor of Historical Geography at the University of Nottingham, Michael Heffernan, and Mackubin Thomas Owens wrote about the origins of geopolitics: "The idea that this project required a new name in 1899 reflected a widespread belief that the changes taking place in the global economic and political system were seismically important." The "new world of the Twentieth century would need to be understood in its entirety, as an integrated global whole." Technology and global communication made the world "smaller" and turned it into a single system; the time was characterized by pan-ideas and a utopian "one-worldism", proceeding further than pan-ideas.[10][11]

The Scream (1893), an expressionist painting by Edvard Munch is a prominent cultural symbol of fin d

The first trait is the concern for the perverse, unclean, and unnatural.[13] Romanticism encouraged audiences to view physical traits as indicative of one's inner self, whereas the fin de siècle artists accepted beauty as the basis of life, and so valued that which was not conventionally beautiful.[14]

This belief in beauty in the abject leads to the obsession with artifice and symbolism, as artists rejected ineffable ideas of beauty in favour of the abstract.[14] Through symbolism, aesthetes could evoke sentiments and ideas in their audience without relying on an infallible general understanding of the world.[16]

The third trait of the culture is egoism, a term similar to that of ego-mania, meaning disproportionate attention placed on one's own endeavours. This can result in a type of alienation and anguish, as in Baudelaire's case, and demonstrates how aesthetic artists chose cityscapes over country as a result of their aversion to the natural.[13]

Finally, curiosity is identifiable through diabolism and the exploration of the evil or immoral, focusing on the morbid and macabre, but without imposing any moral lessons on the audience.[14][19]

See also

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