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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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Love, Cannibalism, and the Sacred. Roger Caillois and the Myth of the Praying Mantis (Romi S. Mukherjee)


Roger Caillois and the Myth of the Praying Mantis


The summers of my childhood, passed for better or worse in the suburbs of New Jersey, were marked by the extremes of ennui and occasional adventures into those patches of forest, canals, and streams which had somehow managed to evade the encroaching menace of strip malls and sprawl. There were no parents in the woods and there my mates and I would plunge and pillage the fauna in search of toads, lizards, bugs, and ‘exotic’ species of all sorts. One afternoon stands out; the four of us spotted a radiant green praying mantis, poised ever so gracefully on a freshly dug up mound of red mud. The contrast between the hues of the creature and the landscape was vivid. I lunged to grab it and was immediately held back by my friends. Within an instant the faux bravado of these pre-pubescents was dissolved. One exhorted that mantises were evil insects that should be avoided at all cost. Another claimed that they were carriers of strange diseases that had no cure and that their venom could actually kill instantly. Yet another claimed that the mantis was the state bug of New Jersey and that killing one held a fine and possible jail sentence.1 Young boys are known to exhibit a rare degree of cruelty. However, despite all the bugs we had killed in the past, in the case of the mantis, I was warned to...

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