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Insects in Literature and the Arts


Laurence Talairach-Vielmas and Marie Bouchet

This bilingual collection of essays (in English and French) looks at entomology and representations of insects from a scientific, historical, philosophical, literary and artistic viewpoint.
The contributions illustrate the various responses to the insect world that have developed over centuries, concentrating upon the alien qualities of insects – a radical otherness that has provoked admiration and fear, or contributed to the debates over humans’ superiority over animals, especially during the evolutionary theory controversy, or in today’s ecological debates. Insects not only helped shape new discourses on nature and on the natural world, but their literary and artistic representations also reveal how humans relate to their environment.
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Nabokov’s Text under the Microscope. Textual Practices of Detail in his Lepidopterological and Fictional Writings (Marie Bouchet)


Textual Practices of Detail in his Lepidopterological and Fictional Writings


Vladimir Nabokov was not only one of the major writers of the twentieth century, but also a recognized entomologist, specializing in Lepidoptera, notably a family of butterflies called the Blues, which he completely reorganized. His findings and his research, despite a few corrections added in the 1990s, still hold true today. Nabokov named many butterflies, genuses and genera, and many lepidopterists then named their findings after him or after the characters in his fiction. Even though he had received no formal training in biology and was self-taught, he worked for about ten years in research museums in the USA, especially at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology where he was a Research Fellow, conducting his research as he was teaching literature in universities, translating major Russian works into English, writing criticism, and of course composing novels and short stories.1

In an interview, he explains:

My passion for lepidopterological research, in the field, in the laboratory, in the library, is even more pleasurable than the study and practice of literature … The tactile delights of precise delineation, the silent paradise of the camera lucida, and the precision of poetry in taxonomic description represent the artistic side of the thrill which accumulation of new knowledge, absolutely useless to the layman, gives its first begetter. Science means to me above all natural science … Apart from this basic consideration, I certainly welcome the free interchange...

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