Work Title: Insect Poetics
Work Author(s): Eric. C. Brown, editor
University of Minnesota Press
464 pages, Hardcover $75.00, Softcover $25.00, 0-8166-4696-1
Reviewer: Vince Brewton
While writers since Hesiod have employed insect imagery to make their metaphors crawl, no writer in the entomological tradition has as much "street cred" as Franz Kafka, whose hero Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis awakens to find himself transformed into a giant insect. This collection of seventeen essays counts on readers' familiarity with that classic transformation, and surveys other uses to which insect imagery has been put by writers and visual artists. Readers may recoil from bees, ants, flies, "circus fleas," butterflies, moths, worms, locusts, beetles, spiders, and cockroaches, but will read on nevertheless because of their interest in Homer, Aesop, Plato, Aristotle, Vergil, Erasmus, Emerson, Thoreau, Freud, Jung, Dali, Woolf, Plath, Gass, and others.
The editor is assistant professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington; his collection but casts a web over the extensive figures of language and representations in visual art in which insects appear, from The Aeneid to beekeeping manuals to low-budget "big bug films" of the twentieth century. Among other notable chapters, Insect Poetics includes an examination of hive imagery in relation to political identity in Augustan Rome. Insects may have disturbed medieval belief in the resurrection of the body, but the Greek Gospels harbor entomological metaphors. Eighteenth-century French authors proposed entomology as a corrective to urban vice. Thoreau's insect tropes expressed concerns over immigration and the mass of those---"the gross feeder is the man in the larva state"---living in quiet desperation.