Decay as shifts from material to abstract identities in physical and socio-political matter

This discussion invites us to reconsider decay as an inevitable process between material and abstract states and argues that we can understand the socio-political landscape as being composed of matter in the same way as physical and natural objects.

Physical matter can be assigned with an abstract and material identity in accordance with its relationship to movement and space. Matter confined or slowed down in space is attributed a more material identity in contrast to matter that moves around or transcends space more freely manifesting a greater abstract identity.

To this end, decay is characterised by movement away from a familiar, tangible and empirical material state to an abstract identity that has a more unpredictable, uncertain and multifarious nature. The decaying process represents an overlap between these two states, one where it is difficult perhaps impossible to precisely detect or access directly the moment the beginning or end. Identifying decay is therefore only possible through deduction of by-products, consequences and hindsight.

The socio-political sphere can equally be understood as being made up of matter with material and abstract identities subject to similar behaviour and traits. Over the past century, seismic identity shifts from material to abstract states have occurred at artificially breakneck speed - physical processes and labour replaced by digitisation and robotisation; traditional and religious values to liberal and secular; protectionism to globalisation etc.

Can we understand this socio-political shift as one of decay as we do in terms of physical matter?  If so what can be said about its aesthetics and what new constructions can we expect to emerge? What are the impacts when decay is artificially accelerated as opposed to leaving the process to occur organically?

Abstract for talk - The aesthetics of decay - St Annes college, University of Oxford (February, 2020)