Sunday, May 16, 2010

Insectopedia by Hugh Raffles

I had the privilege two weeks ago to spend Friday evening in Gowanus (between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope) at a book and film party sponsored by Cabinet Magazine for Insectopedia, the brilliant a-z encyclopedia of essays in Entomology by Hugh Raffles, who teaches anthropology at the New School and is the kind of omnivorous scholar we sadly see so little of today in publishing. The Insectopedia ,published by Pantheon Books, offers a diverse entertainment on subjects as unusual as locusts in the Sahel, sex and animal crush videos(just found legal by the US Supreme Court on first amendment grounds),Kafka, the communication systems of bees, and the treatment by the Nazis of Jews as "lice"and the Holocaust to be as merely a delousing of society.
The evening was punctuated by video and aural displays and by Mr. Raffles' presiding over one hour of filmstrips, going back to animated Russian strips in 1912 dealing with an adulterous affair between a grasshopper and and a beetle,an award -winning educational French filmstrip in the 1940's, where the producer pointedly speaks of those who"suck on others being sucked in turn by their own parasites".
Then there was an experimental Stan Brakhage strip on moths and light and a Catherine Chalmers piece "Safari' with stunning close-ups of the bug eat world of some of our favorite insects. (By this time, my thorax was really acting up)

Chalmers is also the award winning author of a book on cockroaches showing some of them executed as if on death row. A commentary on capital punishment from across the species as it were.

All in all, a great evening,one that leaves one even more fascinated to read Edward O. Wilson's latest non fiction tract on the Superorganisms, those societies of ants and others,which operate for the benefit of the social system over individual lives (and whose decision points in their daily lives are governed by algorithyms parallel to the self -organizing pronciples of computers, since what their genes prescribe is not a literal life cycle, but as the author puts it, a program that is more like a molecular operating manual by which the colony asserts itself)

Bugs and computers- a nice combination- cockroaches can survive a nuclear blast and computers are anaerobic....

Which brings me to the last four lines of the famous story by the late Edward Gorey- discussing the disappearance of young Millicent Frastley-

They stunned her, and stripped off her garments, and lastly
They stuffed her inside a kind of pod,
And then it was that Millicent Frastley
was sacrificed to the Insect God.

ps -don't put borax in my thorax!

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