Friday, October 20, 2006

Bataille on Crustaceans

Crustaceans. – One day, Gérard de Nerval went for a stroll in the gardens of the Palais-Royal with a living lobster on a leash. The idlers crowded around him, flabbergasted and roaring with laughter at the strange retinue. One of his friends having asked him why he was making such a fool of himself, Nerval replied: ‘But what are you laughing at? You people go about readily enough with dogs, cats and other noisy and dirty domestic animals. My lobster is a gentle animal, affable and clean, and he is at least familiar with the wonders of the deeps!’
A painter friend of mine said one day that if a grasshopper were the size of a lion it would be the most beautiful animal in the world. How true that would be of a giant crayfish, a crab enormous as a house, and a shrimp as tall as a tree! Crustaceans, fabulous creatures that amaze children playing on beaches, submarine vampires nourished on corpses and refuse. Heavy and light, ironic and grotesque, animals made of silence and of weight.
Of all the ridiculous actions men take upon themselves, none is more so than shrimping. Everybody has seen that elderly gentleman, bearded and red-faced, a white piqué hat on his head, wearing an alpaca jacket, his trousers rolled up to his thighs, a wicker basket on his belly, his shrimping-net at the ready, hunting shrimps in a rock-pool for his dinner. Woe betide the poor shrimp that lets itself be caught! In desperation she wriggles, she slides, she flutters in the triumphant fingers. Elastic animal flower, graceful and lively as mercury, petal separated from the great bouquet of the waves. She is also a woman. Who has not heard of La Môme Crevetteı?
Among crustaceans, the crab known as the ‘sleeper,’ the image of eternal sleep, is the most mysterious, the most deceitful, the shiftiest. It hides under rocks and its mobile eyes watch for passing prey with a cruel malice. It walks sideways. It combines every fault. There are men who resemble it.
The crayfish and the lobster are nobles. They are cultivated like oysters and tulips. They are present at all human ceremonies: political banquets, wedding breakfasts and wakes.
All these beasts change their carapaces, grow old, harden, make love and die. We do not know whether they suffer or if they have ideas concerning ethics and the organization of societies. According to Jarry it would appear that a lobster fell in love with a can of corned beef…
Crustaceans are boiled alive to conserve the succulence of their flesh.

Georges Bataille Translated by Iain White

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