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Taking Nerval’s Lobster for a Walk

March 6, 2013

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Boing Boing (is that an onamonapia?) recently offered up a rather interesting piece on the one and only Gérard de Nerval, who plays a somewhat-prominent role in How to Become an Intellectual. It discusses how the poet and essayist skittered along the jagged line of genius and madness (“To make matters worse, the lunacy that had tormented him all his life was back, scrabbling at the basement door of his mind.”) as well as his influence on other intellectuals and writers (“T.S. Eliot sampled him in his modernist mash-up The Waste Land.”) but spends much of its length talking about the man’s unusual choice of pets: a lobster that he sometimes walked around town on a leash of blue ribbon.

When confronted about this lifestyle choice, Nerval reportedly responded:

“Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? Or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don’t bark, and they don’t gobble up your monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn’t mad!”

But the article delves deeper: is it possible, in fact, to leash a crustacean and take it for a stroll on dry land, without causing the poor beast to expire? Scientists are divided, apparently, about the feasibility of such a thing. Lobsters can walk a bit in the open air, although “prolonged exposure to air” will eventually kill them (ambient temperature can also create a problem). All that being said, though, One scientist thought a short walk would be possible under certain conditions.

The whole article is well worth reading. Whether or not the lobster walk was true, or yet another embellishment of an already-weird life, Nerval was an interesting character.

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