…and Nothing besides!*

Darwin caricature

By the second half of the 19th century, scientific progress was adding to a persistent pessimism, and it was becoming more and more difficult to affirm life. The theories of Charles Darwin, for example, played an important role in discrediting more of the myths that human beings relied on. The insulting description of Homo Sapiens proposed in Origin of the Species destroyed once and for all the belief that man occupied a dignified position in the order of things and ruined the hope of cosmic purpose.

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Sweet Nothings

Chalk Cliffs on Rugen by Caspar David Friedrich

Much like how rationalism diminished the credibility of religious authority during the Enlightenment, the Romantic period brought a deluge of irrationalism and eroded confidence in reason. While it’s questionable whether Romanticism was motivated by a genuine search for the truth or by the tedium and conservatism of rational inquiry, reason as the exclusive guideline was gradually dethroned, as was the presumption that the world was an coherent and structured system.

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de Sade

Bust of the Marquis de Sade by Man Ray

For centuries, the Marquis de Sade’s blasphemous works, full of detailed and elaboration of sordid sexual perversions, were dismissed as the ravings of a rotten and corrupt mind. His life was a never-ending scandal, and now his name is immortalized as sadism – the compulsion to achieve sexual satisfaction by inflicting pain on others.

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