I get the question “Why insects?” quite a lot. My stock response depends on how flippant I’m feeling at the time, but comes in two flavours. One is all about lofty literary ideals and exploring the human condition via the chitinous mirror that is insects. The other is “I just like insects.” Both are true1.
The lofty literary business is a thing, though. There is a genuine tradition, mostly a Central/Eastern European one, of using insects to examine human nature. Kafka’s Metamorphosis, of course, but also the Insect Play by the brothers Capek, and Viktor Pelevin’s Life of Insects. Even the ant section in T.H. White’s Sword in the Stone is worth a mention2.
These are all great works, but for me – the lover of insects – they share a problem. Their portrayals are all very negative. When Samsa wakes up as a cockroach3, it is both to the revulsion of his family and peers, and to considerable physical difficulty just getting around in a human world4, and the various insects in Pelevin and Capek are shown as human, but the worst of what humanity has to offer – selfish, rigid, murderous, warlike. They are an object lesson in where we’ve gone wrong as a species. Read More »