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in defence
of decay


philosophy &


chaos &




Vilanova 1998






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This piece of writing was published in The Yoke in Autumn 2002. The illustration by Aoibhe Hogan is a reduced version of the graphic which originally accompanied the text.

In defence of decay

illustration of a succulent fig

The sweet flesh of a ripened fig - exposed, moist, glistening - promises to seduce the most jaded of palates.

Kiss me. Lick me. Suck me. Eat me.

No emblem of innocence this. It lies poised to disintegrate in a posture of submission, softening and fermenting inside, drunk in its own juices. The well-aged Burgundy, the melting ferment of a ripe Camembert and that lustful fig in its wrinkled skin are lying side by side in the basket of Dionysos.

Aphrodite is jealousÖ..

Our souls breathe in such displays, an inspiration that fuels desire. Ripeness, maturity and the processes of decay bring with them their own erotic qualities. They are subtle and hidden, and refuse to yield themselves up to the detached gaze. Instead it is intimate sensual communion which brings the rewards.


The spirit of our time has difficulty accomodating the soulful decadence which is a characteristic of maturity. Ageing is a contemporary taboo. Not only is it an uncomfortable reminder of our own mortality, but it also takes time and patience. Time is bound to money, and we canít afford to wait. Patience is a neglected virtue in modern society, where attention deficit disorder extends way beyond the world of Cokeíd up youngsters. Life is fast: a training ground for adepts at premature ejaculation.

Nothing is allowed to ripen in its own time. It is apparent ripeness that sells the fruit. Shining perfect skin, waxed and polished, masking the hard interior that struggles to taste of anything. Appearance is everything.


Itís the image that counts. We live in an environment so dominated by images that Darwinian selection pressures come into play. Only the fittest survive, and they will be the most image conscious. Whatever grabs our attention with the greatest jolt might just get a little sensory air-time. Subtlety is a weakness, a precursor to rapid extinction. Our sense of sight is so over stimulated that we may see a lot but we notice nothing. Nothing stands out. There is no depth. Hypnotised by flashing surfaces, we feast on the superficial. Face value is the only value.

This 2-D world is a look-but-donít-touch-world. To touch is to corrupt or be corrupted. Do not lick the TV screen, keep your fingers off the negatives and do not scratch the surface. Intimacy is discouraged by the laws of physics no less. Move too close and the image blurs out of focus. Keep your distance. The voyeur as connoisseur vets the framed view for good or bad taste while digesting it in the imagination.


Narcissus is in heaven. No longer stuck by the pond waiting for a still day, he strolls up and down passed "the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue", mesmerised by the reflections of his own geometry. The Ideal Woman and the Ideal Man mock reality from the hoardings; pictures of health, the etchings of experience have been airbrushed away to reveal the perfect form and proportions of the eternal 25 year old.

Cosmetics, those servants of Cosmos, keep Chaos at bay in the mirror at least. All signs of ageing must be removed or masked. The pleasures of self-ornamentation and the graceful enhancement of imperfection become clouded by anxiety. Superficial symptoms of ageing are associated with the disintegration of beauty, as if maturity is devoid of any aesthetic appeal of its own and is inherently unattractive.


The urge to counteract the ageing process is an understandable one. But how this urge finds expression can seriously influence the quality of lives. It can be done gracefully, in a way that honours and respects the passing of time. Life is change and imperfection is its ground state. Perfection is vulgar, and does not belong in the realm of the senses. It is lifeless, like the scribed circle on a piece of graph paper.

Obsession with image distorts the senses. We become anaesthetised to reality and blind to its magic. What you see is what you get. The impact of visual media and communication technology compounds the problem. Detached voyeurism overrides intimacy and participation. Text messages and email provide the ultimate strategy: a retreat into the purely mental plane which obviates the need for any sensual communion at all. Our souls, which feed on input from all five senses, are close to anorexic.


Appreciation for the process of decay provides the antidote. Aesthetic attunement to decadence draws one beneath the surface, awakening a sense of the sublime. The soul reflates in response, and the mundane becomes magical. The illusory ideal cracks, giving birth to the real.

Copyright © 2003 Bill Sheeran. All Rights Reserved.