by Hugh Raffles
Via Insectopedia: "A stunningly original exploration of the ties that bind us to the beautiful, ancient, astoundingly accomplished, largely unknown, and unfathomably different species with whom we share the world.
Organized alphabetically with one entry for each letter, weaving together brief vignettes, meditations, and extended essays, Insectopedia travels through history and science, anthropology and travel, economics, philosophy, and popular culture to show how insects have triggered our obsessions, stirred our passions, and beguiled our imaginations."
Via The New York Times: "Insects are all around us. They are the most numerous animals on earth, yet we pay them scant attention. Few of us attend to their innate beauty. More often than not, they are seen as pests sent to plague us (with the notable exception of the now threatened honey bee). 'We simply cannot find ourselves in these creatures,' Raffles writes. 'The more we look, the less we know. They are not like us. They do not respond to acts of love or mercy or remorse. It is worse than indifference. It is a deep, dead space without reciprocity, recognition or redemption.' [...]
Raffles’s approach is almost perversely eclectic. His alphabetical entries range in subject matter from the personal disgust he feels when he discovers a cockroach sharing the shower in his Manhattan apartment to epic journeys into Asia and Africa and observing cricket-betting in Shanghai and locust-eating in Niger. His essays may take up 20 pages or a mere two paragraphs. But the most satisfying ones illuminate his subject via potted biographies of men and women who are passionate about insects.
In 'Chernobyl,' for instance, Raffles offers a cameo of Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, a contemporary artist dedicated to creating near-perfect watercolors of insects deformed by nuclear fallout. This is sci-fi stuff: flies with legs growing out of their eyes, the kind of mutations that in any other animal would elicit our horrified response, yet which, because they occur in such small creatures, seem almost excusable because almost invisible. In the act of depicting them so exactingly, Hesse-Honegger, whose own child, we are told in an upsetting aside, was born with a club foot, 'discovers that the insect is deformed in ways she hadn’t noticed before.' Her aesthetic is that of concrete art, isolated images placed in a grid; her intent is a silent rebuke, a solemn challenge to a world that, even now, is turning again to nuclear power to solve its problems. [...]
Impossible to categorize, wildly allusive and always stimulating, “Insectopedia” suggests an Enlightenment amateur wandering around the world stocking his cabinet of curiosities, unrestricted by notions of disciplines or specializations. Its author is at one moment a scientist in the field, the next an art critic, then an acute historian. His is a disconcerting, fantastical, (multi-)eye-opening journey into another existence, and one thing is for sure: You will never look at a cockroach the same way again, even if it is sharing your morning shower."
Thanks to Nicolas Langlitz!