Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Connections: Ommatidium — The Eyes Have It (Part I)

1. This creepy illustration (by Lou Beach) appeared in the October 8 NYTBR, accompanying Natalie Angier's review of D.T. Max's The Family That Couldn't Sleep. The book "tells the story of a an Italian family that for at least 200 years has been plagued by an extremely rare hereditary disease that destroys the brain's capacity to fall asleep."

The disease is linked to kuru, scrapie, mad cow, and "Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, a rare, fatal neurological disorder of humans thatat least in some pcases is thought to be the result of eating beef from cattle infected with mad cow disease."

2. I was reminded of the old paperback cover of Stephen King's Night Shift—a partly bandaged hand bursting with eyes. (In high school, a friend was so freaked out he had his mother bury the book in their backyard. The cover was giving him nightmares!)

A simple unpacking of the image: The hands which hold the book will be powerless to shut the covers. The frightened reader's eyes will also refuse to close. Hence—open eyes on the open hand!

3. Cattle call: The original multi-eyed being was Argus, or Argus Panoptes, who was ordered by Zeus's wife, Hera, to guard a heifer (the nymph Io in disguise) from Zeus's amorous advances. (This brings us back to the mad cow element of the Max book.) No more than two of Argus's hundred eyes would ever close at the same time.

4. Zeus has Hermes take care of Argus. To kick things off, H. tells the story...of a nymph...who also changes form (into reeds)...and Argus nods off! This is a nice place to stop for the moment (that is, before Hermes kills our watchman), because then you can look at these rather horripilating images of eyeball mania and pretend someone is telling you a story of this motif and it's very repetitive and finally you too can go to sleep.

5. UPDATE: Today at the bookstore, I saw an A.R. Ammons collection on display: Ommateum. The title refers to an insect's compound eye.


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