This article draws attention to the paradigmatic shift in the use of the concept of ‘life’, which can be observed at the end of the nineteenth century. With Michel Foucault’s notion of bio-power as a foil, the article aims firstly to discuss how influential aesthetic, biological and political concepts such as vitalism (Hans Driesch) and degeneration (Max Nordau) can be conceived as different reactions to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species in the light of bio-power. Even though both Driesch and Nordau use Darwin’s theories to produce positive ideas about respectively the strong and healthy body and the strong and healthy society, it is important to note that they do not converge. Secondly, the article aims to discuss how a controversy between these concepts is given literary form in the Danish author Herman Bang’s novel Hopeless Generations (1880), perceived as one of the first ‘decadent’ works in Scandinavia. The reading demonstrates that Bang makes use of a rhetorical strategy of ambivalence in order to bring the concepts into productive play.
VitalismDecadenceThe Reception of DarwinHerman BangBio-politics‘Hopeless Generations’