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  • Of Platonic Flies

    Just finished reading David Abram's book Becoming Animal, and I'd recommend it. He's a very endearing wordsmith, and I completely agree with his message: that what is means to be a human animal is totally reliant on the physical, temporal world and our relationships with everyone/thing else here. Reading it felt like coming home.

    At one point he talks about the Platonic and Aristotelian uses of the word 'idea'. Plato taught that individual forms of things are manifestations of perfect versions which exist as non-tangible 'ideas', whereas Aristotle used Plato's term 'idea' for a group of individuals which share a common form - what we now call a species. Both 'idea' and 'species' come from roots meaning the look, outward form or appearance.

    That got me thinking about how we define and illustrate species. As a naturalist, I prefer illustrated guides to animals and plants rather than photographic guides precisely because the organisms are idealised and averaged, playing down the individual idiosyncrasies of a weevil called George and clarifying the common form of the species to which George belongs. Which is great for getting to know George's tribe, but shouldn't detract from your relationship with George!

    (There are lots of other advantages to illustrations too - like getting the most useful position to show identifying features, having similar species in similar poses, making differences clearer, having everything in focus and getting rid of shadows and glare.)

    As an illustrator, I had to do this myself - trying to grok drawers full of pinned specimens to create a painting of an ideal which would serve in a practical way.

    Below are a couple of the paintings I did for a guide to blowflies - those wonderful under-sink macerators of nature... although these two aren't strictly blowflies, but close relatives. The book, by the way, is Blowflies by Zakaria Erzinclioglu, a forensic entomologist who sadly passed away 10 years ago.

    Top: Flesh-fly, Sarcophaga carnaria (Sarcophagidae)

    Bottom: Gymnochaeta viridis (Tachinidae)

    1 Comment

    • 1. Jan 22 2013 9:43AM by Gaby

      what wonderful illustrations! :-)

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