At the end of The Green Stockings, the ‘herbivorous man’ — or his insect counterpart — steps into the back wall of the stage, a verdant green horizon originally drawn by Abe’s wife, Machi. He disappears into the green, camouflaged. For a while, at least. Then the doctor spots him, and kills him with a thwack from the palm of his hand.
Not such good camouflage, then.
In fact, some research has argued that animals who blend into their backgrounds are just as likely to be killed by predators as those who don’t. This hypothesis requires a re-evaluation of the function of “camouflage.” If not for protection, then what?
Roger Caillois’s paper “Mimicry and Legendary Psychesthenia” argues that camouflage is one manifestation of an animal’s desire to become one with their environment and dissolve the distinction between subject and object. As Sean Homer writes in his book on Lacan, these insects “are captivated by the very space that surrounds them and seek to lose themselves within that space, to break down the distinction between organism and environment” (22). Homer folds this into a discussion of Lacan’s mirror stage and how we shape ourselves based on images. Camouflage is a manifestation of this imaginary identification that we find in the insect world.
This form of camouflage is not so much a form of escapism as it is a form of integration: it’s ‘blending in’ in the sense of ‘fitting in’. We know where Abe stood vis-à-vis (national, communal, social) forms of integration. And haven’t we seen insects deployed metaphorically in this way so many times, standing in for a vilified form of communism — not only in Abe but also in Hollywood films, Antz being one example coming from Pixar, whose films are all to some extent thinly veiled critiques of communism and valorizations of neoliberal North American values?
An incomplete thought, I know, but if I give it time to develop, it will pile up like an anthill, or like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, like childhood sandcastles, or even like the dunes that, termite-like, Abe’s sand-dwellers pile up in the desert. So, I’ll leave it at that for the moment.