“Who are you?” asks the Caterpillar, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Alice replies, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Alice is changing and she is confused. She looks for sympathy from the Caterpillar. “When you have to turn into a chrysalis—you will some day, you know—and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?”
“Not a bit,” says the Caterpillar.
I keep thinking about Sam Anderson’s piece about about what caterpillars actually go through inside their cocoon:
Terrible things happen in there: a campaign of grisly desolation that would put most horror movies to shame. What a caterpillar is doing, in its self–imposed quarantine, is basically digesting itself. It is using enzymes to reduce its body to goo, turning itself into a soup of ex-caterpillar — a nearly formless sludge oozing around a couple of leftover essential organs (tracheal tubes, gut).
Only after this near-total self-annihilation can the new growth begin. Inside that gruesome mush are special clusters of cells called ‘‘imaginal discs,’’ which sounds like something from a Disney movie but which I have been assured is actual biology. Imaginal discs are basically the seeds of crucial butterfly structures: eyes, wings, genitalia and so on. These parts gorge themselves on the protein of the deconstructed caterpillar, growing exponentially, taking form, becoming real. That’s how you get a butterfly: out of the horrid meltdown of a modest caterpillar.
What will we look like when we emerge from our own meltdowns?
I am trying to remember: Beautiful things grow out of shit.