ABSTRACT While Charles Darwin's evolutionary account of organic decay, decline, and extinction provided a model for accounts of supposedly similar processes in the domain of human culture and society, Darwin's own theory of natural selection depended on models of cultural and social transformation, degeneration, and destruction. In the full circuit of the organic metaphor of decadence, then, a theory of culture was applied to nature and then re-applied to the cultural world even though cultural forms do not always literally display processes of organic morbidity, and natural forms do not always literally display the results of intentional human artistry, cultivation, and collection. The organic metaphor of decadence was some-times used to imagine a continuous and regenerating life; sometimes, however, the organic metaphor was used to imagine the necessity of all-pervasive death. The essay compares and contrasts these two approaches—exemplified, on the one hand, by Darwin's own writings and, on the other hand, by Joris-Karl Huysmans's Against Nature.

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