The safety officer at Is.’s school hands out safety leaflets like this one each week. Most of these “coloring sheets” concern animal safety messages on letting sleeping dogs lie, never putting your face close to a dog’s face, and so on. In a friendly gesture, s. officer always hands me two. “Take an extra one for the refrigerator.”
Australian reporter Harriet Alexander, in a January report titled “Quick! Before the Worm Turns,” looks into the practice of beach-worming–the harvesting of wormbait from sandy beaches using fingers or pliers. Use of fingers reduces the risk of breaking apart the long worms in the process, according to Col Buckley, the human subject of the story. Buckley suggests a linkage between the beach-trawled worms and the fish in the neighboring waters. He also prefers a conservative ethic:
Buckley can be found splashing around the watermark at low tide during summer, pulling up slimy invertebrates and stuffing them into a pouch. They sniff out decaying fish and seaweed and poke their heads up to feed, concealing the rest of their bodies, which can be up to 2½ metres long, beneath the sand. Bream, whiting and flathead all like to eat worms, although the portion of worm threaded on to the hook needs to be varied according to the size of the targeted fish species. Recreational fishermen can harvest up to 20 worms a day, although Buckley does not believe in taking more than are needed.
The question surfaces again. Worms turn, diverting away from a danger. This is not the same “worm turn” as the idiom induces, which implies revolution–a reversed power dynamic in which the worm, relative to the lion, ends up on top. The worm turns, in this second case, means the underdog ascends. But in the context of this Alexander’s report, these turns are more or less successful, whether we think of them as a body (the individual worm turns) or a species (the lot of worms are vanishing). In the bodily sense, they turn, sometimes caught and split apart at this or that segment. Other times they turn and by turning escape harm having dived underground again. Worming, Buckley explains, is not about speed and quickness; its success hinges on being “gentle and smooth.” The predatory kairos operating here finds opportunity improved not by timing but by manner. A severed worm, now part-safe in the ground and part-pierced on a fish hook, I imagine, experiences without “experiencing” a regenerative if bifurcated metanoia.
By the way, the story also mentions that the beach worms are wind-shy, which means they don’t surface as often on windy days. This, too, goes against the sand-grain of a winds-of-change thinking about revolutions and instead recognizes winds-of-change thinking as partly responsible for worms-returning to their safe havens.
I realize this is obtuse and playful stuff, folks; just using the blog to pluck away for a few minutes at the threads of a couple of ideas.
Last time I ended by asking about Elbow’s believing/doubting-game, “Do absurdity and hyperbole gain traction in the predominance of a doubting manner?” I think what I meant was, Do absurdity and hyperbole function most powerfully when we hold a doubting mindset? If believing goes along with things, grants ideas a chance, then absurdity and hyperbole must lose some of their shock effect under those conditions. Believers wouldn’t find them unbelievable; believers would assent (temporarily) in these moments when critique is on hold.
Later in the article, there comes another list even more ramshackle seeming than the basketball-themed chunk I worked through the other day.
There are more personal emotional fears that reinforce the monopoly of the doubting game and which must therefore be explored here. I think we all fear, to a greater or lesser extent, being taken over, infected, or controlled by a bad or wrong idea. The believing game asks us, as it were, to sleep with any idea that comes down the road. To be promiscuous. We will turn into the girl who just can’t say no. A yes-man. A flunky. A slave. Someone who can be made to believe anything. A large opening that anything can be poured into. Force-fed. Raped. (185)
Reading the essay (again, reading to decide its fit in a class I will soon teach), I hovered on this paragraph slightly longer than most because I found it difficult to play the believing game with it. Promiscuity, slavery, rape: here as tropes these are excessively blunt for explaining the risks in preferring one intellectual manner over another. Because Elbow’s list-work deals out these references in quick succession, I attempted to read it as a dare–a lure configured deliberately to remind readers that our believing has its limitations and that such limitations are often due for direct contemplation (e.g., attending to how hyperbole works on us). The paragraphs that follow confirm Elbow’s concern for believing as an inroads to dangerous ideas–dangerous ideas that the doubting game’s overeager critical impulse would shield from us: “What is needed is practice in learning to immerse the self gradually in the element perceived as dangerous–and it is just such a process that is constituted by the believing game” (186-187).
Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. 1954.
New York: Harper, 1986.