Decay Theory

deadline for submissions: 
September 23, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
American Comparative Literature Association (March 19-22, 2020)

"Decay Theory" Scholars have recently turned to processes of decay as a way to theorize what has been excluded or marginalized in totalizing formulations of capital, the Anthropocene, and the global. From within these fissures, explorations of decay emerge to challenge hegemonic political orders, tropes of human’s ecological dominance, and ontological or aesthetic stasis. This seminar will bring together these emergent disciplinary perspectives to begin theorizing how decay might reshape our scholarly methods and archives. Decay, we contend, is especially useful to think with because it spans the symbolic (e.g. Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay) and the material (e.g. Anna Tsing, Mushroom at the End of the World), bringing together narratives of political, evolutionary, and cultural “progress” as well as their limits. In short, this seminar proposes that we attend to both matter and metaphor as it breaks down, rots, and disintegrates, and to query whether we might then find ourselves in “hot compost piles” of surprising collaborations (Donna Haraway).

We invite scholars from all fields to join us as we investigate how decomposition might recompose our foundational disciplinary questions and assumptions. Topics may include, but are by no means limited to: the afterlife of energy regimes, such as nuclear waste; genres, affects, or tropes of decay, such as the gothic or disgust; activist engagement with decompiculture; ecological and environmental art practice; interspecies collaborations with decomposers; literary and cultural histories of decay as a symbol for anxiety or fear; and, historical and theoretical engagements with decay’s function in the longue durée, from Darwin to plastics.Please contact Christopher Walker ( and Kathleen Burns ( for questions. Apply through the ACLA portal: