Updated: Nov 15, 2021
This week I discovered the remarkable Patricia Highsmith and her great love of snails...
Author Patricia Highsmith kept hundreds of snails as pets, taking them in a salad filled handbag to dinner parties.
Highsmith's affection for snails began as a young woman when she came upon two brown striped specimens locked in a bizarre embrace at a New York fish market and she took them home. Her fascination for the creatures' mating ritual inspired two of her protagonists.
I learned about Highsmith's fascination through Susanne Wedlich's Slime: A Natural History, from excerpts on Radio 4 (Slime: A Natural History, 2021).
For Fiona Peters, Professor of Crime Fiction at Bath Spa University, the snail represents an archetypical grotesque creature in Highsmith's fiction, suspending the audience between laughter and disgust, or fear. Peters turns to a long tradition of the snail as a symbol of transgressive feminine sexuality -- interesting how, in psychology, all things involving animals relate to sexuality!
Given that we all share our domestic spaces with snails, I thought I would include here photographic documentation of my Greenhouse Project.
The Greenhouse Project mainly consists of an art exhibition, installed especially for creatures inhabiting the greenhouse space. Over a course of 7 days, the artworks were consumed in more ways than one - mainly during nocturnal hours...
Seed packaging devoured:
Snail - papier mache sculpture:
It was shortly after constructing a new greenhouse in my garden that I noticed how incredibly perceptive, smart and inventive snails and slugs were in navigating this strangely fabricated space that straddles somewhere between the outdoors and the domestic.
It seemed these molluscs knew exactly when fresh seedlings and plants were introduced to the space, and much to my frustration, their nightly visitations became completely uncontrollable.
I would cleverly devise barricades and disguises to deter these visitors. I soon learned that my limited human understanding of mollusc otherness was no match for the superior intelligence of these gastropods and their incredible sense of knowing. And their persistent behaviour soon led me to Donna Haraway's "Situated Knowledges", a term defined as a means of understanding that all knowledge comes from positional perspectives.
It seemed these snails possessed a higher knowledge - a deeper sense of knowing and connection to my garden. We’re living in a world of connections and it matters which ones get made and unmade and I had completely under estimated their levels of perception and awareness.
Haraway argues: "the view from a body [is] always a complex, contradictory structuring and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity." (Haraway, 1988, p.589). For mere upright bi-peds, I'm sure there is lots to be learned from mollusc knowing.
Knowledge is always situated. Your social location produces a particular take on knowledge.
Snails, slugs, squids, clams, scallops, etc
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Mollusc Specialist Group provide information to IUCN on mollusc biodiversity conservation, the inherent value of species, their role in ecosystem health and functioning, the provision of ecosystem services, and their support to human livelihoods.
According to the European Red list (European Commission on the Environment), a large number of species are threatened due to their restricted range and consequential high levels of extinction risk. The ranges of many of these species do not lie in protected areas and their current conservation status is concerning. Over 30% of all assessed species were impacted natural system modifications, including the removal of banks and hedges, changes in fire management practices, quarrying, livestock grazing, wetland conversion and peat extraction, changes in land management practices, logging and other forest management, especially of old-growth forests.
Berger, J. (2009) Why Look at Animals. London. Penguin
Haraway, D. (1988) Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, Vol 14, No. 3. Feminist Studies Inc.