The Decadent Deep Sea: Jules Laforgue’s “At the Berlin Aquarium”

  • Claire Nettleton
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature book series (PSAAL)


In “At the Berlin Aquarium” (1895) and “Impressionism” (1883), poet Jules Laforgue (1860–1887) reinterprets Darwinian science to affirmative of the possibility of an avant-garde revolution in perception, which is similar to the ways in which animals see. According to the poet, the physical eye of Impressionist artist can be liberated from the constraints of human thought. However, in Laforgue’s poem, this transcendent experience occurs within a city aquarium. The aquarium represents freedom for Laforgue because it is perceived as an escape from Western urban society. Nettleton thus also discusses the cultural interest in the Japanese paintings of the “Floating World” during the nineteenth century. Through an examination of aquatic literature of the period paired with contemporary zoo studies (Rothfels, Malamud), Nettleton illustrates the ways in which aquariums represented a new role for art to dive into the very origins of the human experience—within a glass enclosure.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claire Nettleton
    • 1
  1. 1.Pomona CollegeClaremontUSA

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