‘Between sublimity and the dissolute, we discover the aesthetics of revulsion’, writes the philosopher Dylan Trigg in his recent book The Aesthetics of Decay (2006). Trigg is the latest in a venerable line of thinkers to turn his attention to decay in general and garbage in particular. His book’s contention – that the ruin or remnant embodies a mode of ‘critical memory’ at odds with the sanctification of official monuments and sites of collective recall – may be argued at the level of contemporary cultural theory, but its terms and tone are actually ancient. There seems to be something in the study of ruins, rubbish, junk and trash that means its enthusiasts can’t help reverting to awed lists of defunct artefacts. They may begin with more rigorous and abstract ambitions, but time and again it is the details of decay that fascinate its theorists.
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