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Decay: A Curative Manifesto


Our perceptions are not our own. Our gaze is codified by norms and this dictates how we see nature. In this, global outlook is prescribed by the Western canon, rooted in the Abrahamic tradition, in which God mandates humans “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis, 1:28). Cue ecocide: the wanton destruction of nature for extractivism. Here, ‘queering’ becomes a practice in ecological alterity. The verb ‘queer’ reclaims nature from normativity, presenting it anew. Queering nature, thus, negates the normativity of extractivism.


If normativity informs our gaze, then queering can alter it. Here, the cultural works of Oscar Wilde and Susan Sontag become ecologically formative.


In The Decay of Lying – An Observation (1891), Wilde posited that “Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life.” Decay advocates anti-mimesis, a philosophy which suggests that we see not what is there, but what art teaches us to see. Wilde propounded Aestheticism—art for art’s sake—over Realism—representation without artificiality. If Realism is constrained by tradition, ergo normativity; and Aestheticism is freedom of expression; then Decay is, in essence, an opposition to normativity. Here, queerness as noun; and queering as verb, embody non-normativity, both practically and theoretically.


Sontag wrote Notes on 'Camp' (1964) in response to Wilde’s Decay. In it, she suggests “Camp taste effaces nature” in its love of the unnatural. Sontag’s ‘natural’ can be understood as Wilde’s Realism: both of which become normativity. As theorist Stephen Vider writes in The Queerness of Home (2021), “Sontag presented ‘Camp’ [...] as a way of seeing the world.” Thus, if queer praxis disseminates normative notions of nature; Camp is queer, and, ecologically, its practice negates extractivism.


Wilde’s Decay was published in Intentions; a title of poignance. Semantically, an ‘intention’ is an aim; medicinally, it infers a wound's healing. Combined, they make Decay a curative manifesto.

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