1. Sometimes I wonder if any distinction was made early on between cicadas, locusts, and crickets. Mostly just cicadas and locusts, and I wonder about either of their roles as an agent of destruction.
1.2. A locust is a type of grasshopper, more specifically, a locust is a short horned grasshopper. A long horned grasshopper is known as a katydid or, more commonly, just a grasshopper.
1.3. The cicada is related to the aphid and comes in two varieties; the annual and the periodical cicada. The annual cicada has a life cycle which repeats annually, i.e. they breed and hatch once per year. The periodical cicada may have either a 17 or 13 year life cycle and spend the time between breeding buried in the ground until billions of individuals hatch in unison.
1.4. The confusion over what a cicada is seems due to the possibility that when Christians settled in the Americas the periodical emergence of billions of large ravenous vegetation eating chirping insects drew parallels with the biblical stories about plagues of locusts and consequently the cicadas were referred to as locusts. The periodical cicada uses the “safety in numbers” survival strategy and each brood hatches in such large numbers that they simply cannot all be eaten by predators.
Bereft of song,
already dry and empty
the dead cicada.
Into the stones
only the cicadas’ cry goes.
Nothing in its song reveals
that tomorrow it must die.
Basho (by way of Jorge Carrera Andrade’s Micrograms, 2011)
One fear is that.
The sound of the cicadas.
Out in the blackness zone is going to crush my head.
Flat as a piece of paper some night.
Then I’ll be expected.
To go ahead with normal tasks anyway just because.
Your head is crushed flat.
As a piece of paper doesn’t mean.
You can get out of going to work.
Mending the screen door hiding.
Your brother from the police.
Anne Carson’s “SEPTEMBER TOWN” (Grand Street, 1989)
Once upon a time, the story goes, cicadas were human beings, before the birth of the Muses. When the Muses were born and song came into being, some of these creatures were so struck by the pleasure of it that they sang and sang, forgot to eat and drink, and died before they knew it. From them the race of cicadas arose, and they have this special privilege from the Muses: from the time they are born they need no nourishment, they just sing continually without eating or drinking until they die…
from Plato’s Phaedrus (259b-c)
5.1. Like Midas, the cicadas can be read as an image of the fundamental erotic dilemma. They are creatures pulled into confrontation with time by their own desire. They enact a nobler version of this dilemma than Midas did, for their passion is musical, and they offer a new solution to the lover’s paradox of ‘now’ and ‘then.’ The cicadas simply enter the ‘now’ of their desire and stay there. Abstracted from the processes of life, oblivious to time, they sustain the present indicative of pleasure from the instant they are born until, as Sokrates says, “they escape their own notice, having died.” Cicadas have no life apart from their desire and when it ends, so do they.
5.2. Unlike Midas, the cicadas are happy in their choice of life-as-death. Yet, they are cicadas. That is, they are creatures who were once men but preferred to decline from human status because they found man’s condition incompatible with their desire for pleasure. They are creatures whose sole activity in the course of a lifetime is the prosecution of that desire. It is not a choice open to human beings, nor to any organism that is committed to living in time. Organisms struck by desire, however, tend to misprize this commitment, as we have seen.
from Anne Carson’s “Cicadas” in Eros the Bittersweet (1986)