Javier Patiño Loira

Javier Patiño Loira

Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fellow
Ecologies of Decay: Spontaneous Generation and Nature’s Economy


Javier Patiño Loira is a scholar in early modern Italian and Spanish cultures, working at the crossroads between the history of science and the study of poetic and artistic discourse and practice. Javier obtained his PhD from Princeton University in 2016, and is now Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of The Age of Subtlety: Nature and Rhetorical Conceits in Early Modern Europe (June 2024), the culmination of a project that was awarded an ACLS Fellowship in 2020. Javier has published articles and book chapters on a variety of topics in early modern studies, including the formation of libraries, education, translation, and the development of notions of interiority.

Project Summary

"Ecologies of Decay" argues that spontaneous generation (the belief that a variety of creatures, including insects, toads, and fungi, emerged from decaying matter) decisively informed 17th-century views of nature’s “economy,” its program to remain always similar to itself yet never the same. The book explores two developments resulting from the belief that death was a beginning for new life, and that individuals of one species could be born from the remnants of another species. The first was a view of nature as a dynamic, sustainable, and self-regulating web of interconnected beings that remained whole by repurposing rot. The second was the rise of complex forms of ecological thought. Spontaneous generation shaped a world of horizontal links, integrated by beings born not from what is similar to them but from what lies nearby, in which contiguity replaces lineage and hierarchy. By explaining spontaneous generation through material processes such as fermentation, natural philosophers vindicated the study of lesser life forms, including insects, fungi, and intestinal parasites. This project demonstrates that clichés about “Baroque” culture, such as flesh-eating worms and ruins—in vanitas paintings and devotional “arts of dying”—made sense within a materialistic ecology of decay and regeneration that captivated scholars and creators with its protean and riotous creativity, in which human and non-human history related to one another in terms of matter and its transformation.