Robert's Spiders

Robert Pucek
Robert's Spiders
  • Czarne
    Wołowiec, 2014
    ISBN 978-83-7536-782-9
    128 pp
    133 x 215

Robert's Spiders is a book in which the natural world meets the world of the humanities, or, as the author himself writes, it is "an attempt to throw a footbridge across the trench of misunderstandings that divide the two worlds."

In Robert Pucek's introduction he provides examples of these misunderstandings from literature: the essay "The Hell of Insects" from Zbigniew Herbert's Still Life with a Bridle, or Les Chants de Maldoror by Lautréamont (examples of "how lack of knowledge can lead even the finest poets astray"). He also writes of those who brilliantly joined the two worlds in their work – of Jean-Henri Fabre, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Vladimir Nabokov, "for whom the coloration of the radial cells of the front wings of the female Lycaenidae seems to evoke no less powerful an amorous response than the cheeks of Lolita or Ada."

Robert's Spiders is a stockbook, a catalog, a collection of spiders (but also butterflies, including the charming, though unfortunate Black-veined White) inhabiting the home and the environs of the narrator's home. Robert Pucek describes the customs – including those marital and maternal – of his arachnoid neighbors, combining knowledge of nature, a literary touch, and a sense of humor and distance from reality. This book is also an exercise in changing one's optics (incidentally, Leeuwenhoek appears in its pages, that "brilliant grinder and creator of perhaps the finest microscopes of his time") and an exercise in perceptiveness.

Focusing on the details of spiders' lives, we sink into meditation, and we also expand our philosophical horizons. It is essential that Robert Pucek chose spiders as the protagonists of his book – animals which evoke fear or disgust in many people – instead of more generally adored creatures. This tactic helps us better understand the relativity of beauty as a category. The author recalls a moment when a bat scuttles off at the sight of Robert's wife, Agnieszka ("a woman of considerable charms"): "in a sense, this is the same story that the ancient Chinese liked to tell. A tale of a beautiful woman who nonetheless scared off all the fish when she fell into a pond. It is also a tale of another human attribute – for if Robert were to show her a yellow Misumena Vatia, she would recoil in disgust, unable to perceive the arachnoidal beauty. In other words, it is a tale of a curtain pulled between various kinds of creatures, which does not allow them to perceive each other's charms and which is opened a crack, only sometimes, by poets or philosophers."

The minimalism, quietude, and combination of aesthetics and philosophy is reminiscent of Japanese culture, which Robert Pucek recalls several times: when he looks at the somewhat shredded wings of a Peacock butterfly, "missing some of its scales, like shingles a storm has wrenched from the roof of an old house, it occurs to him that it is the same beauty which the ancient Japanese perceived in a chipped teapot or in a torn lantern," or when he longs to invite a neighbor over to "watch the snow fall" – "an invitation in the spirit of the Japanese aesthetic – though it occurred to him straight away that the villagers would have taken it differently from how the Englishmen took one Mr. Natsume, who, arriving in England in 1900, made the same mistake and was gently derided."

There are books which one recommends as "perfect vacation books." To my mind, reading Robert's Spiders is a vacation in itself, particularly for a reader who feels overburdened by everyday and often superficial subjects.

Agnieszka Drotkiewicz
Translated by Soren Gauger