“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, July 25, 2008

the advocate for the insects

My thesis of the human limit seems, at first glance, to be countered by Lüthi’s persuasive notion that folktale heros and folktale objects possess a depthlessness that can’t be attributed to some stylistic primitiveness. That depthlessness is a narrative choice, as one can see by looking at the legends that circulate at the same time, and within the same circles. If a character displays no astonishment about the world in which “wishes matter”, then perhaps this is a sign of the fact that fundamentally, pre-modern European societies saw the world in the same way as early modern and modern societies – that the world is essentially made for man. In fact, the positivist version of history would say exactly this. Isn’t God simply Man, suitably arrayed in a cosmic fatsuit? Doesn’t Red Riding Hood’s wolf speak French? Aren’t the stars above us tuned to the flushes and faints of the microcosmic Adam? Isn’t the stamp of man on the World since the world was conceived in the minds of men? And, to reverse my narrative line, isn’t it just in modernity that we discover the “indifference” of the world, to use Camus’ phrase?

The positivist narrative, which plots the advance of the human understand from belief in God to belief in humanity (whether that humanity is represented by the self interested individual, the proletariat or the scientist) generated a counter-narrative that became popular in the sixties, in which the “West” is identified with greed and technology, and we are given an easy to use list of villains, like Descartes, capitalism, rationality, etc., etc. In this counter-narrative, the founding book, Genesis, lays out the environmental disasters to come, as God gives man dominion over nature. In fact, the positivists and their opponents generally share a view of the unfolding of history, but assign different values to it. And, of course, ultimately both views seem to agree on the desirability of promoting happiness as the supreme emotional value.

Take, for example, the judicial relationship between man and beast. Or man and caterpillar.

“In 1586, extraordinary rains caused a great quantity of caterpillars to be born, which devastated Dauphiné. The grand vicar of the diocese of Valence cited them to appear before him and appointed for them a curator of defender. After solemn debates, the caterpillars were condemned to empty the premices of the diocese immediately; but they failed to hasten to obey, and, in place of anathemas and excommunications, it was agreed, after the advice of two theologians and two professors of law, to have recourse to abjurations, prayers, and aspersions of holy water. In spite of all, the caterpillars only disappeared a long time afterwards. This singular sixteenth century trial is remarkable inasmuch as this was the age of a great intellectual movement imprinted on minds and that the teaching of Roaldes, Cujus and Salinger threw a lively flame on the university of Valence.” (Bulletin d'archéologie et de statistique de la Drôme, 1875:452-3)

What happened in Valence was not an unusual occurence. The philosophes of the eighteenth century had great fun with the idea of an “advocate for the insects”. However, LI is fascinated by the very possibility that the insects have a legal side that should be listened to, debated, especially since we know that the asperging of holy water has given way to the asperging of insecticide without the insects having any advocate left.

The positivist could say, however, that the advocate of the insects is only advocating for them from the human point of view – that is, God is using them to avenge some human fault.

Well, this will lead us to a little essay by Lichtenberg. And the, by these byways, we will get back to Schiller, Goethe and astrology.


Azazel616 said...

Cognitive anthropomorphism? The book of the Bee.

Azazel616 said...

The cheerful view from around 1222. From the book of the bug...
"Hence, when Divine Providence wished to create the world, the framing of Adam was first designed and conceived in the mind of God, and then that of the (other) creatures; as David saith, 'Before the mountains were conceived.' Consequently, Adam is older than the (other) creatures in respect of his conception, and the (other) creatures are older than Adam in respect of their birth and their being made. And whereas God created all creatures in silence and by a word, He brought forth Adam out of His thoughts, and formed him with His holy hands, and breathed the breath of life into him from His Spirit, and Adam became a living soul1, and God gave him the knowledge of the difference between good and evil. When he perceived his Creator, then was God formed and conceived within the mind of man; and man became a temple to God his maker, as it is written, 'Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you2?' And again, 'I will dwell in them, and walk in them3.'"

roger said...

The book of the bug????

Azazel616 said...

Actually, it's from 'The Book of the Bee'. There is a 'Book of the Bug' as well, different subject though.

The Bee has held a place in various religious texts going back to at least 3000 B.C. My grandfather was a bee keeper, and used to tell me all kinds of stories. One of my favorites was that the bee would carry ones soul to heaven after death. They would also bring souls to inhabit bodies of newly born children. To this day, bee keepers tell many stories along these lines.

Here's something interesting to chew on..

roger said...

Your link is incredible! I've always known that tv had a mystical and incredible origin, much like any mythic hero. The film on Hivemaker makes it all clear!

To have a beekeeper grandfather is pretty cool. LI has been bee friendly since the great bee disappearance started a year and a half ago.

Azazel616 said...

That was also the last film Burroughs appeared in. Glad ya liked the link.

Craig said...

The classic book on this subject is E.P. Evans' The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals. Since its original publication about a century ago, no one has really followed up this subject.

roger said...

Craig, actually there is a more recent book that I can't find - except for the references to it - Catherine Chene Juger les vers - which is apparently about the excommunication of leeches in Lausanne in 1554.

Craig said...

I was not aware of that book. Thanks, Roger. According to the Library of Congress catalogue, there are a couple more books on the subject - all in French or German.