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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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Ants on Hollywood Screens. Monstrous Mutations and Projected Fears (Them! and Phase IV) (Gilles Menegaldo)

← 182 | 183 →Ants on Hollywood Screens


Monstrous Mutations and Projected Fears (Them! and Phase IV)


Insect films mark off a specific area of horror: an unending, implacable bio-machine composed of infinite separate entities. Insects are the ideal choice for evoking fear in films, because of their general appearance – multiple eyes, coarse hairs, numerous twitching legs, mandibles, antennae, wings, etc. Despite their relatively small size, they can be a source of ambivalent feelings, phobia and fascination. In The Philosophy of Horror, Noël Carroll refers to hordes of insects as: ‘Monsters of the magnified phobia variety’.1 Insects are also often associated with religious beliefs (metaphors for resurrection) or mythical lore (images of the soul, nemesis), which enhances their power of fascination. As Daniel Siganos states in Les Mythologies de l’insecte, in many cultures, in particular African ones, ants are associated with positive values and are seen, notably, as a symbol of creation.2 In a Dogon myth, the ants help to fertilize the world. In Bambara culture, ants are supposed to spread the words buried in their nest through some invisible canals of subterranean waters. Ants and termites are also associated with cerebral activity (termites are white and soft like brain matter), knowledge in general (an aspect that is exploited in Phase IV) and also work!

As regards ants, this ambivalent fascination/repulsion feeling is also due to their crawling numbers, the specific organization of their colonies, their hierarchic structure, their predatory instinct and also their constant association with intelligence. This...

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