The Work of Imitation: Decadent Writing as Mimetic Labour

  • Matthew Potolsky
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


This chapter argues for regarding decadent writing as a sophisticated rethinking of the longstanding refusal in Western thought to treat mimesis as a form of work. From Plato to nineteenth-century social theorists like Gabriel Tarde, imitation is either a kind of game or an unconscious process, more child’s play or biological twitch than reasoned craft. Decadent writers instead see mimesis as a means of production, a way of creating something new through the reuse of older cultural materials. They reflect on their reworking of the idea of mimesis by contrasting the practices of decadent aesthetics with those of factory labour. While writers like Huysmans and Wilde associate the latter with mere repetition—a mechanized variation of Plato’s dismissal of mimesis as a reproduction of what already exists—they connect the former with aristocratic traditions of skilled craft.


Artifice Craft Decadence Imitation Joris-Karl Huysmans Labour Mimesis Oscar Wilde Plato 

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Potolsky
    • 1
  1. 1.University of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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