Cicada Shells

Here is one thing our loveable copy-clerks Bouvard and Pécuchet might usefully have added to their archive: the song of the cicada! 

There is a very beautiful metaphor of the ‘shell of the cicada’ in a series of poems in Genji Monogatari. Genji is infatuated with a woman, who we come to know as Lady of the Cicada Shell.

Despite many attempts, he is denied any access to her. In one instance, he creeps up on the woman. She, however, detects the scent of his robes and scurries away from the room, her own robe slipping to the floor. Genji takes possession of the robe, likening it, in this tanka he sends to the woman, to the shell of a cicada:

empty cicada shell
how different from the body
beneath the tree’s root
more and more I’m longing for
the one it personifies

Over the last few days I have been desperately trying to finish some writing about mobile phone text messaging. In the piece I suggest the phone as a collecting device for many such cicada shells – moments of reflection upon the time (and space) lost, inevitably discarded. Indeed, these little devices held in our hands, empty out all meaning as soon as our message is sent; we are left with only a shell of having sent it. Equally, we accumulate all number of reminders from the one we long for; brief messages, like empty shells of the one they personify.

However, having been sonically plagued each day by the ‘voices’ of these insects (which swirl in one’s head like a rampant washing machine on spin cycle), and having now seen one of their shells left upon a leaf (see below), I am beginning to wonder how they might seem quite so charming or poetic!  


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