Did you know that the “ipis” or “kuratsa” are a favorite subject of artists?
In the novella Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka, the protagonist Gregor Samsa finds himself one morning transformed into a “gigantic insect”—which could have been this—a cockroach. Based on a formalist reading, this irresistibly magnetic work—owing to the character’s transformation into “something outside humanity” articulates not only man’s isolation and alienation but also how modern life virtually dehumanizes man himself. More than anything, the work is an “effective portrayal of a modern world spun well beyond our control and the toll it takes on the human psyche.”
Meanwhile, our very own National Artist for Literature, Señor Bienvenido Lumbera, in his poem “Eulogy for Roaches” praises cockroaches to high heavens, even mocking how humanity fares less compared to them. The poem is a staple reading in Introduction to Philippine Literature classes.
I wonder whether these insects really need us in order to survive. (Just imagine that cockroaches have been here on earth some 32 million years ago—and totalling 4,600 species, 30 of which according to science are found in human habitats. Talk of sustainability.)
I mean why were they even created if human beings find no immediately visible or sensible reason why they should coexist—or cohabit in, say, a small household? Should we even consider them for pets? Hmm.
But more than anything, I see some drama in (the life of) a cockroach. We find them alone usually—in the dead of night—surveying a wall, “loitering” on some space in the house, or tinkering with a morsel of bread left over the study table. Everywhere and anywhere they appear always—and more often than not, surprise us—while we take a piss in the bathroom, or go to the kitchen to fetch some drink or finish a snack.
They surprise us because we easily feel they “en-(cock)croach” our spaces, invading our delicate, precious well-guarded spaces, wherever and whatever that is.
Cockroaches are better left alone—of course by humans who are festered by their mere presence. I see them as icons of isolation—as in, they must live away from humans, whose only job upon seeing them is to trample on them, whisk them away, spray them off and crush them with all the disgust they could muster.
I suppose the kuratsa—the usually unexpected and certainly unwanted if not much-hated tenants in our house—are our fellows in solitude particularly nowadays in the much-needed lifestyle of isolation.
In this new normal, we realize we need to do things alone, probably just like them. So when our situation doesn’t change in the next few months, shouldn’t we start learning something from them? If it’s any consolation. So who needs whom now?