The Loveliness of Decay: Rotting Flesh, Literary Matter, and Dead Media

Stommel, Jesse
June 2014
Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts;2014, Vol. 25 Issue 2/3, p332
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
This article explores the monstrosity of human matter. The human body, even while still alive, is teeming with inhuman cells. Dead bodies call attention to this fact, upsetting the status quo and our sense of ourselves as whole and distinct. Bodies rot, decomposing by means of the tireless work of bugs, bacteria, and fungi. Dead bodies make noxiously present the fact that humans are, at their most basic level, just matter. In my discussion of literary representations of decay and their ability to make the body vital, I turn to Julia Kristeva's theory of the abject and analyze several photographs by Cindy Sherman, non-fiction accounts of decay, Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse, and H. P. Lovecraft's "The Outsider." Ultimately, I argue that rotting flesh is lively flesh, more lively than manufactured flesh, more lively than embalmed flesh.


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