I’m taking a break from bothering the worms.
It’s cold and they’ve slowed right down and so must I. I’m also taking a break from Vinciane Despret, deferring the moment of loss when I finish her book and have to let go the daily surprises she offers me.
Now dipping into Adam Phillips’ Darwin’s Worms. Meditations on death, nature, time, loss, bodies…Darwin and Freud. (Skipping Freud for the moment and also the stuff about God, though I am admiring Phillips recognition of how Darwin subtly worms away at God and all the attendant hierarchies.) Phillips is gripped by Darwin’s attentiveness to worms as lowly workers, working through digesting: “labour was a prodigious work of digestion… For the idea of work as digestion, and digestion as the body’s forced and unforced labour, Darwin turned to the worms.” (43-44).
No doubt Darwin was attuned to the vitality of digestion by his own digestion problems. But his admiration for worms did go beyond that. Phillips tells of the consolation and joy Darwin found in worms, as creators of the earth: “They buried to renew: they digested to restore.” (56)
No killjoy scientist is Darwin — more on killjoy scientists later, when I return to Despret. But for now, recalling Despret’s question of questions, I enjoy Phillips’ positing of Darwin’s fundamental question as “What would our lives be like if we took earthworms seriously, took the ground under our feet rather than the skies high above our heads, as the place to look, as well, eventually, as the place to be?” (60-61) And, can we add, if we engaged with the worms as artful collaborators?