Collapse Volume VI, 379–430


Undercover Softness

An Introduction to the Architecture and Politics of Decay


Amongst philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages, few did not make at least a tangential remark on a particular or general aspect of decay and putrefaction. Whether in the context of theological quandaries concerning the world of beings or in the context of philosophy and the science of the age, mediaeval thinkers touched on putrefaction as a problem too intimate with the world of beings or the explicatio of the universe to be brushed aside on emotional or rational grounds. Yet even among this rot-frenzy of the Middle Ages, there are only a handful of passages that directly focus on the implications of omnipresent problems which decay and putrefaction give birth to. One such passage can be found among the pile of proto-scientific works on impetus theory ascribed to the German theologian and mathematician Henry of Langenstein, also known as Henry of Hesse the Elder. Henry poses a ludicrously bizarre yet metaphysically troubling question regarding the possibility of the generation of one species from the putrefying corpse of another species: that of whether a fox can spontaneously be generated from a dog’s carcass…