Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Sickbed of Snails

Having spent most of the morning at St. Paul's Hospital, and much of the afternoon sleeping, I woke from strange dreams involving snails. I was in Australia, visiting friends, but as they were having some sort of party I chose not to join - and since I could not quite figure out how to work the computers comfortably - I went on a walk, seeking out rare species of snails. I found an enormous one in a ditch, and picked it up. Another seemed to slip out of its shell and reveal a body like a sea slug. Later in the dream, I awakened the wrath of wild dogs, and had to run quickly back to the house, imagining myself pursued... but the highlight of the dream was observing the snails.

Of course, there is a short story by Patricia Highsmith - equally my favourite misanthrope, my favourite lesbian, and my favourite alcoholic (not to mention my favourite writer!) - about a scientist pursued by snails on a desert island. Called "The Quest for Blank Claveringi," the story was once the hub of a strange coincidence which I wrote about here. It's something of a black joke - a comeuppance for colonialist hubris, in which a scientist eager to make a name for himself by attaching it to mythical giant man-eating snails on a Polynesian island is outwitted by said snails and devoured; it's sort of the antithesis of "Lienengen Versus the Ants." I still remember my indignation on reading this bizarre story in an Alfred Hitchcock anthology that I got out of my Elementary School Library - thinking, in effect, "They put stories like this in books aimed at children? The snails EAT THE SCIENTIST! What the hell...?" (whereupon I read it again - all this years before I knew who Patricia Highsmith was; what a wonderful way to have begun my history with her writing). Highsmith - who may or may not have had Asperger's Syndrome, and certainly seems to have been a bit of an odd duck - had elsewhere written of animals kiling people, in stories where she was clearly on the animals' side; since she was, herself, a snail-breeder, given, it is said, to occasionally bringing her pet snails about with her in her handbag, it is no great stretch to imagine that she is on the snails' side in "The Quest for Blank Claveringi." Somehow this story fills me with fondness and sympathy for Highsmith - or perhaps I might even say love. I suppose I'm a bit odd, too. Anyhow, my dreams prompted me to re-read it.

And now - since my DVD player remains busted and I don't feel like digging through my boxes of VHS tapes - I'm watching snail footage on Youtube. (Can you think of a better way to spend the time when ill?). Here's some lovely, tasteful footage of snail love; snails, I've heard, are hermaphroditic and often impregnate each other during intercourse. (I've also heard, but cannot substantiate, that this process sometimes can be harmful to the snails; I'd love to know more, if any snail experts visit this site). Then there's this bizarre clip of a giant snail that must be some kind of fake, but is pleasing no less. The strangest things do not need to be faked - check out this zombie snail clip (but for god's sake steer clear of it if you're on psychedelics - you will freak).
Finally, I am unsure if this is real footage of not, of enormous snails on a person's arm - but a real giant African land snail can be seen here, in this instructional video on keeping snails as pets. I like the last line: "Have fun with your snail!"


junjun said...

Wow it's certainly a strange dream.
Actually I serched about Patricia Highsmith and Quest for Blank Claveringi
after seeing this story on your blog.
I was just curious.
According to web site I refered.
Novels written by Patricia Highsmith sounds interesting.
But I'm not sure they are for everyone's sake.

I read some outlines of Quest for Blank Claveringi.
I'm sure this contents has great idea to scare a reader.
A scientist pursued by not high speed monster like the alien or the predator.
Snail closed little by little.
Cornered situation must increase your fear.
Thank you for introducing interesting story.

Darren Williams said...