I really enjoyed reading this book. It was the perfect combination of fact-filled academic writing and more personal stories. In class, it's always neat when Hugh shares stories of things he has learned over time. The book was exciting because it went into depth of the many (!!) places that insects have taken him. There was also references to material that we've covered over the course of the class. It was surprisingly enjoyable to reiterate the findings of Haraway, von Uxkull, and David Dunn. I was surprised on how fast I went through the book; the changes from academic to storytelling and the many great photographs set up an enjoyable experience. The way the book is set up was also nice: the numbered sections within the alphabetically constructed parts kept me paced. I really enjoyed the more expressive chapters like Nightmares and the Unseen; they gave a really cool voice to the book as a whole. As a whole, I felt like I was reviewing this class but with the opportunity to learn more about Hugh and his insect fueled journey. It's crazy how many areas of life are populated by insects; from food to sex to pop culture. The book itself is beautiful (this is my typography/print design classes taking over) and the information is well crafted and unique.
Insects are bizarre I have to say. I was distinctly repulsed when we wactched the documentary in class, whereas I found the beetles particularly endearing during the Starewicz stop motion films even though I was fully aware that they were dead corpses being manipulated, if that had been a dead dog or human it would be an entirely different story. The way people think about instects and how they interact with them varies as much as the category of insect itself. While watching the documentary, the section with the worms made me sqeamish, the some of the beetles disgusted me, some were comforting, like the lady bugs for instance, the gigantic beetles made me cover my face. However, whether bugs have been comforting or revolting for me in my personal expirience they definitely provoke a perplexing relationship. My expirience with lightning bugs kind of represents, in my mind, these mixed feelings about bugs and it may be disturbing to some and relatable to others. Lightning bugs are one of the few insects that I love to touch and catch and wouldn’t mind sharing my home with. However, a favorite past time of my childhood was swatting lightning bugs with tennis rakets, extracting their light, and putting them in my hair and my friends hair. Not only did I admire the insect, but I also destroyed them and dissected them, something I would never think to do to any other living thing, but it’s not like my personal insect crusade has ended, I kill roaches in my house daily, it’s strange to think about when we’ve spoken about the ethical treatment of other animals all semester. I think for the most if I would stop and say, I can’t kill that spider or fly or roach because it might hurt, or it could be a mother, someone else would just kill it for me and we’d all go on with our day. Is that weird? I feel kind of uncomfortable thinking about this.
Gina said that the way people think about and interact with insects is as varied as insects themselves, a point which I think Insectopedia conveys on every page - just the very format of the book is an attempt to make sense of a seemingly endless and overwhelmingly complex subject matter. Similarly, the mix of history, science, and personal narrative illustrates the variety of both bugs and the ways in which we think about bugs - as well as their important historical, scientific, and personal value. It was also interesting to read the contents page of Insectopedia - trying to imagine how this wide variety of words and phrases would each be the focus of a consideration of insects. I think this is why the book isn't about just insects (as individual species) but is about the category as a whole and how we (humans) think about them (the category of insects). The book attempts to make sense of just how many ways we love, hate, and fear these small animals. Even Hugh's question from last class - "are insects animals?" is fascinating and could spark endless debates and arguments. It seems that insects make us stop and think about what it means to be an animal, and we are too often human-centric in this thinking.
Insectopedia explores the varied ways in which humans have treated insects; I have never before thought about the complex and numerous ways in which people have approached and thought about insects. Believing as if humans were insects can justify the reason to exterminate people, like the ways the Nazi terminated Jews during the Holocaust, as if they were lice, but being treated like a bug can also a way to arouse and be aroused. The diverse and opposite ways in which insects are viewed exposes the conflicting interaction people have based their relationship upon. Insects have a unique place in the world of the human; they are like us and not like us in the ways they mutate, communicate in their own forms of language, exhibit non reproductive sexual behavior. However their scale and alien like physical appearance, compared to those of other sorts of animals, allow for treatment and understanding of insects that is not acceptable in the human social world.
Insectopedia reveals the significance of the interrelation between human culture and the non-human animals we share our lives with through the impact of some of the smallest and easiest to forget non-humans: insects. Activities such as cricket fighting and locust eating are revealed to be both socially significant and socially revealing. To map their history is to map the history of a culture: cricket fighting disappears during the Cultural Revolution, picks up steam again among an older generation looking for a connection to the past, only to become widely popular among gamblers at the same time that China begins to embrace certain aspects of gambling. The locust trade in Niger reflects a similar cycle of a society's transition from traditional agrarian life to living as a poor country within an advanced-capitalist world, as locusts transition from being a feast to being, at best, a source of meager income, and, at worst, a nuisance for the crops society demands. Insectopedia shows not only how societies and their culture are highly susceptible to change, but also how severe these changes can be: Jews quickly transform from being viewed as likely carriers of lice to the physical embodiment of lice. Given the vast diversities of life, and the vaster possibilities of ways to socially organize groups of life, absolute truths are called into question, and everything begins to be viewed only through a narrow, socially constructed framework.
Insectopedia has many beautiful points for me. While reading I enjoyed the structure of the book itself because of the active dialogue between the chapters themselves and also the author and the reader. The chapter on Chernobyl made me think about how the nature of a categorically based philosophy opposes things which are inherently brought together in mental explorations, ie: the discussions about the different models of curves measuring the safety of radioactive materials and the institutional alienation Cornelia experienced because of artistic and scientific processes. This discussion in the text lead me to think about the ideological nature of genre building and how this methodology is constructed, although it may be counter intuitive. If categorization is ideological, does it have it's roots in the worship of man? (Expressly what Cornelia advised against).Another point which impacted me was the discussion of Defeat in the chapter titled Death. The visual of both Hamburg in 1943 and the reference to flies drinking from living bodies "heralding the transition, only slightly premature," present life as a slow death and an awareness of this on the part of the fly itself. It hard not to understand this as intelligence, although part of me doesn't want to.
I imagine that as a child, I lay back onto the grass that carpets my lawn. I imagine what lies beneath my little body. In the soil, millions of animals. In the air above you, in one steep column upwards of fifteen thousand feet, as many as thirty six million. And in the mere couple of millimeters between myself and the topsoil, thousands. I look around, at the house so proportioned to my human size. Others: my bike, my car, my telephone. Things that make up the world in which I live. Most of us, myself included, have no space in our minds set aside for tender thoughts of insects. I’ve been trying recently, but it’s a hard feat when we live in such a large world, on one side of such a large divide. We think, because they are so small, that any death they may suffer is somehow completely painless, a small step into the ether. So I try again. I imagine that I myself am the size of an insect. I feel my body, my muscles and tendons, seek out the edge of my vision. Although I may be little, I am still whole. And while my perception may differ, my world is still present and just as huge.How should we think of insects? I’m not sure, but we can at the very least acknowledge their tiny existence.
Sorry for the delay in getting this up: I too have some difficulty with conceiving of insects as anything but small, novel bio-robots hard-wired for specific actions and incapable of learning others. I'm not sure if this perception is largely socially constructed or if it's something more deeply rooted and archetypal, or if it's something derived from childhood observation and comparison. The chapter on the "Quality of Queerness" is particularly interesting to me because it draws insects into the socio-sexual realm of animal interaction that we've previously touched on in this class. The idea of animals using unusual sexual interactions for various social purposes is fantastical enough, but ascribing these same tendencies to insects seems to dissolve many of the arbitrary separations I'd erected between their kind and the animal kingdom. In general, I think the feature that most "realizes" insects for me is their use of ritual and decorum of sorts in the mating process. Their various dances and elaborate means of partnering show an individual finesse - and that seems to really strike at the core of the issue. Insect species seem to be indistinguishable hordes, collections of self-similar copies of one creature rather than a race of distinct individuals as they actually are. It's hard to imagine insects as clones reading of the balloon fly's nuptial gifts or observing the ritual behaviors we saw in the David Attenborough film in Tuesday's class.I'd love to know more about individual distinctions between insects; are personalities clearly observable in individuals? I suspect that your work in the cricket-fighting world yielded a lot of information towards this subject. I'd like to know more about it.
(Sorry so Late!)Insectopedia is a collection of stories and scientific studies from various cultures and time periods. The literature on small insects, as Hugh points out, is “scant,” most likely due to the fact that they are distance from us, physically and biologically. This reminds me of Leach’s research on the “remoteness” of non humans as a form of taxonomy and understanding. A connection to insects seems to be the main source of scientific study, as with Cornelia Hesse, who tries to imagine herself as an insect as she paints them. She claims she “loses herself in the animal” (13). It is interesting how each culture seems to manifest their depiction of insects, for example, cricket fighting in China which functions as expressions of feudal decadence, contemporary injustices, and cultural tales (79). And also the “crush freaks” who fanaticize about being crushed as bugs as they reach orgasm (268). Conversely, the Jews were perceived as “parasites,” which justified their extermination and “unsanitary nature” (142). The vast utilization as larvae, as expressions of social tension and cultural, fascinating “jumping beans” reflect the ambivalence and diverse theorizations of what insects really are to humans. Insectopedia is an incredible chronicle of all these cultural manifestations.