Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cabaret du Néant

The sight of this lugubrious group of Parisian thrill-seekers seriously threatens the reputation the French have for a reckless pursuit of pleasure. They pose grimly for the camera, surrounded by the paraphernalia of death, adjusting their eyes to the nocturnal gloom and preparing for the serious business of inebriation. Parisian nightlife catered handsomely to the fin-de-siècle passion for morbidity with cabarets celebrating the criminal underworld and heaven and hell. The most extreme example of this trend was the Cabaret du Néant (Nothingness) where the clientele was served by staff dressed as funeral directors at tables made from coffins – the decor was all shrouds and skulls, bones and skeletons and the entertainment was a succession of tableaux satirising the world of the occult. For a blasé and chronically jaded public it offered a welcome escape from the endless parades of dancing girls exposing their under-garments for the gratification of sex-starved visitors from the prudish Anglo-Saxon regions. The visual clichés of death and extinction have lost none of their power to both shock and amuse and continue to thrive in the iconography of tattoos and body decoration, in video games and comic books, in thrash, death and heavy metal music and in Gothic fashion styles.


Isabel said...


I'm reminded of Francis Thompson asserting that ritual is "poetry addressed to the eye" - the crystallisation and manipulation of aesthetic experience.

In a sense, then, modernity itself is a vast pop poetry. Society learns its capacity for shaping experience, and like any child or Shakespearean villain can't resist exercising that power.

What great photos!

The Clever Pup said...

I bought these postcards at auction as part of the contents of a drawer..