Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween special: A rare interview with the ancient vampire squid from hell.

How far apart are humans from animals—even the Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the "vampire squid from hell"?
Let's discuss.

Considering the human condition along with the Vampyroteuthis infernalis condition seems appropriate because "we are both products of an absurd coincidence," writes Vilém Flusser.
 

Q&A WITH VAMPYROTEUTHIS INFERNALIS
Subject of Vilém Flusser's Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise


Q. How are you and humans the same? Flusser writes "We and the vampyroteuthis harbor some of the same deeply ingrained memories, and we are therefore able to recognize it in something of ourselves." Do you agree?

You know, it's hard to say—I haven't met all that many humans in my time. The oxygen minimum zone is pretty rough on humans, and conversely, I'm a fairly poor traveler when I leave this biome and drift upwards. I guess I'm a bit of a homebody. Flusser did visit me once, however—I don't remember the year—in a special suit he'd made himself, or so he said.

So I can, I suppose, extrapolate from him as he did for my species from me. (In fact, I'm currently working on a book called Vilém Flusser: A Treatise, with a Report by the Institute Aquatique de Spéculatif Humanoïdes so this is a bit of an advance preview. Please check any reused quotes against the final published text.) He was a nice man, and I'm pretty nice as far as deep sea cephalopods go, so that's one thing we had in common. He had huge glasses—he said they were the largest glasses in the animal kingdom—and I have massive globular eyes—they are the largest eyes in the animal kingdom in proportion to my body—so that was another bonding moment. Both our species, I could see, had deep relationships with our respective habitats—as if the very functions of our bodies and our behaviors were in some deep way determined by the habitats we ourselves inhabited. He wore a cape, and I have a cape-like webbing between my tentacles. I suppose what Flusser was discussing in your quote is something we talked about at great length, which is that when you get down to it, we really do come from the same phylogenetic tree after all.

So in some ways, what once was mine was also once yours?



I think we both preferred the dark in some ways. Which reminds me of another strange similarity. You may not know this, but I'm covered in photophores—meaning, one might see flashes of light shimmer off my mantle. They're these amazing little light-producing organs. It's quite nice, and a useful thing in a sea of eternal night where light can be your only way to communicate, throw a distraction, entice some prey, or see the manuscript you're working on. Well: Flusser was excited to see this light in action—something about technical images—because he felt it was so unique and different from anything humans could do. But when he was down here, we discovered that when his thinking grew excited, we'd start seeing these bursts of light flash from around his head and crackle through is beard and out into the water column. He was amazed—and said you couldn't see this up in his natural habitat. But down here, well—it really was quite spectacular to watch.

Q. What can the vampyroteuthis infernalis teach humans about the earth and our mutual place in it?

There are a few simple things. Don't try to send me some candy in a styrofoam cup, because by the time it reaches me it will have been compressed down to the size of a thimble, spilling all the candy. Flusser tried that once. But then again, do try—we in the deep sea have a phrase we like to use: "it's the thought that counts." And the thought really did make me feel good.

A couple other things:
1) It's okay to be a drifter sometimes. Use your jet propulsion once in awhile (it is fun) but going with the flow can be really nice. Flusser read me this great poem about "wandering lonely as a cloud" or something like that like that. It was very deep-sea in spirit, and reminded me of my life as a sometimes-drifter in the pelagic zone. Though I don't drift as much as others—like that Deepstaria enigmatica, dude, they are so LAZY.

2) Not everything with a scary name is scary. Sure I do a cloak thing where I spin my webbed tentacles up around my body and there are these little bristles that come out. I always yell PINEAPPLE when I do it. Does it look scary? Sure, maybe. It works to hide, and scare a predator away. But I'm doing this because I'M scared! Seriously! Those spines couldn't hurt a sleeping Laetmogone violacea and that thing just sucks mud all day long. I'm not trying to be scary, I'm just hiding all my wonderful photophores and my big eyes. Did I mention I have really big eyes? I'm kinda famous for it. Google it. But to someone else I look all scary—so now I'm a Vampire. From hell, supposedly. And there are so many way creepier things down here.

Oh, my friend Macropinna microstoma is BEGGING me to tell you about its eyes too. Ugh. Okay. I admit they're super cool.



3) Don't think for one second that weird and beautiful things like me don't exist, because they do. I do. Really. And have for a very, very, very long time.

Q. Did Flusser's intervention on you miss anything?

I am a really good dancer. For real. Giganticus is always amazed how light on my tentacles I am. And we throw some killer light shows down here at our dance-offs.

Q. A recent review of the book culminates with "So ask not what you can do for the vampire squid from hell. What you do for the vampire squid from hell, you do for yourself." What the devil does that mean?
(Incidentally, the article also mentions the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which, I understand, is a big fan of yours.)


Oh, such nice folks those MBARI kids. I like it when they visit. I'm not sure about the review—I live one measly biome outside the LA Times delivery area. Do you know they deliver all the way to the mesopelagic zone?!? I've been asking for years for them to expand their coverage. Every once in awhile an issue floats down through the bathypelagic zone, but by then it's been chewed on so many times and there's usually someone faster who gets to it first (stupid Sixgill Sharks!).

So I really shouldn't guess without having seen the review, but it sounds like it's maybe got something to do with biological interaction. You know what I'm talking about, the whole touch one thing it touches everything. Mutualism, Symbiotic relationships, Neutralism, Commensalistic relationships, Parasitism, Amensalism, Antagonism. I suppose we're all better at certain forms of biological interactions than others. Humans included I guess.

But seriously, what do I know? Maybe if I got the LA Times I'd be up to date.

Q. What are the three most shocking things about you?

My dancing. I don't have ink sacs—instead, I expel this awesome bioluminescent mucus that erupts in a dazzling cloud to blind and confuse any potential predators. Oh, and my dancing.

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Vampyroteuthis infernalis is the only living member of its order—Vampyromorphida—and is found in tropical and temperate oceans throughout the world. It lives a solitary life and enjoys marine snow, and is disappointed to have once been associated with Goldman Sachs's blood funnel. It is the subject of Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise, with a Report by the Institut Scientifique de Recherche Paranaturaliste by Vilém Flusser. Join him in the digital abyss on Twitter: @vampyinfernalis.

"At once inquisitive and whimsical, this unclassifiable book brings together some of the best work of two cutting-edge thinkers that were not only geographic but also intellectual neighbors."
—Eduardo Kac


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Happy Halloween!

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