What is the relationship between a cinematic grid of color and the most visceral of the negative affects, disgust? The history of “good taste”—from the philosophical subdiscipline of aesthetics to French haute cuisine—banishes and simultaneously cultivates all things that taste bad and are in bad taste. Reading the phenomenologist Aurel Kolnai with the gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, this article explores how rot and decay, the negative of the aesthetic and gastronomic, function as a structural language in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), producing a rotting film form that simultaneously brings into being the possibility of the chromatically new. The author argues that criticism errs in taking rot as a fixed, concrete, knowable thing made available as a present, transparent “image of” (a corpse, softening meat, some mold). Rot is neither reducible to its visual representative of a rotting thing nor is it immediate or visceral or marked by obviousness; and decay is not a metaphor for moral declivity or ideological distaste. Instead, this article claims that putrescence is a structure-in-process, a textually constituting gesture that must be read for.

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