Surrealist Questionnaire on Smallness
Guy Girard: Rather than imagine myself shrunk down to the size of such objects, I would prefer to see them enlarged to a much bigger size as compared to their referent objects in the objective world. Wouldn’t a giant dollhouse be of a much better nature to disorient the mind? Just as much as a giant scarab would be troubling! But above all I dream of seeing all of those miniaturized objects over which contemporary society is so obsessed become suddenly gigantic. Imagine that tomorrow, at precisely 3:45 P.M., all cellphones became suddenly ten times bigger and ten times as heavy…
Penelope Rosemont: On confronting the miniature room, house, space, involuntarily, I take a deep breath as I would before a dive into ocean and then mentally I try to adjust my size. I feel great, I feel gigantic, expanded. I look around in the space carefully. My grandfather built a doll house for me, and until I was five years old I could get inside and look out though the windows and door. I would pull the roof over me. I felt hidden, invisible. It was a green roof and I would pretend to be a turtle, It was a great joy.
Brandon Freels: I guess I often assume that miniature objects will function the same as regular-sized objects. At my house, we have a small double bass keychain that we use for the key to the mailbox. Whenever I pick up the keychain, I have the urge to strum the strings. It’s somewhat disappointing to know that the strings are not real and make no sound.
Doug Campbell: Delight. A very early memory is of my mother constructing a simple diorama of canoes negotiating rocky rapids, printed on the back of a cereal box. Different planes of images slotted into an arc background. I was fascinated that something could be flat and three dimensional at the same time. Later, my sister’s doll’s house became haunted by my collection of rubber monsters from Hong Kong. (In scenes not unlike the collage work I have been producing of late, now that I think of it.) Dioramas in museums still please me very much. I was recently enchanted by a sheet of moulded paper-mache packing for computer components, more than a meter in diameter, found discarded in a corridor at work. A Martian city I could have played in all summer long. I’d have carried it off, but for the embarrassment of admitting why and just how much I wanted it.
Deborah Stevenson: Dollhouse, dioramas, small environments have always held a positive fascination for me. Easy to feel myself into those spaces, and very safe places. When I was very little, I used to play outside making pathways through the grass, pretending it was a huge landscape to travel in.
Casi Cline: Mentally, I shrink to fit into the required space, with my umbilicus trailing and my purple, anaerobic initiation looming. Emotionally, the space expands to fit my required size, with its incongruities slipping and its swollen, anthropomorphia blooming.
Vittoria Lion: My first impulse, during my childhood and now, has always been to pick up a tiny object and spin it around in my fingers whenever I come across one! Or to place it very close to my eyes (but that could be because I’m extremely nearsighted). I am always looking for new methods of playing, especially ones without rules. I want a dollhouse filled with miniscule Burgess Shale fossils, medieval relics, and statuettes of Mesopotamian and Egyptian gods.
Joël Gayraud: Emotionally, always.
Megan Leach: It is a photoreceptor mosaic I find soothing.
Hermester Barrington: I seek out such experiences on a regular basis. I find that my mind is most expansive when it feels cramped into a small space; my heart beats more and more rapidly as I become smaller and smaller, and soon my thoughts are as vast as the stars above me, which I can no longer perceive, photons being now larger than the orb of my eye.
Juan Carlos Otaño: I sense that there are beings residing on that scale just as they do in the prose poem ‘The Furniture’ (Le Meuble) by Charles Cros:
“But finally I could perceive the clandestine party
listen to the tiny minuets, surprise the complicated,
ongoing intrigue within the furniture.”
The worlds upon which I spy always excite an emotive and intellectual impression in me.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: I like to walk through the miniatures in the Art Institute of Chicago’s design department to see the tiny houses. In miniature, the world seems to have a sense of order, or ma’at. I can breathe.
Claude Cauët: I pull up the ladder in order to fit into this small world and I’m afraid to stay there.
Nita Sembrowich: Miniaturized objects fill me with longing, nostalgia, greed, admiration, joy.
Guy Girard: As a child I was smaller than average height (even today I am not very tall) – this sometimes inconvenient and sometimes advantageous, and which in either case made me feel different in this world of dwarfs enlarged too fast or gigantically, while having stopped their growth. But if the sky is still as high up as before, the sun is nevertheless held in my hand.
Penelope Rosemont: I still feel the same pleasure when I encounter small things but the power of my imagination has dimmed.
Brandon Freels: I remember when I was a child there was a miniature door on the side of my next-door neighbor’s RV. The door was only about a foot tall, but it was the exact dimensions of a regular door. As an adult, I now know the door had a function. It was probably where a sewage line could be attached. Yet, as a child, I used to wonder: who could live behind such a small door? I remember I either dreamt or fantasized that a small puppet-like man lived behind the door. I had trouble walking by the door and would often hurry passed it, fearfully that this little man might spring out. Today, I don’t believe I could ever think that such a door would be hiding something magical or monstrous behind it.
Doug Campbell: I am now a fairly substantial lump of fat and bone. I no longer (consciously) attribute thoughts and feelings to small, inanimate objects. I remember one of my parents describing a toy left in the centre of the floor as lonely, and felt anxiety about that for some time.
Deborah Stevenson: My relation to the world of small has, if anything, deepened since childhood. I think that’s maybe because the worlds we all live in, literally and figuratively, are so incredibly expansive. Again, there is that sense of security that comes from the small, because one can imagine being unseen, snug, safe. And that can be a wonderful way to observe and to contemplate all that we witness around us.
Casi Cline: When I was small, I did not feel small. I was bigger than the others my age, strong and tall, a big body like a Giant Tortoise shell with a tiny, scared mouse hiding inside. I did not feel small, but I liked small spaces, was simultaneously attracted and repulsed by placing myself inside them. The perfect-fit smallness of the nook between the side of the bookshelf and the column at the big, marble library was both the smallness of a trustworthy hug and an entrapping coffin. It was the smallness of aloneness and fitting and it was irresistible. All I had to do was back into that space exactly my width and depth and I was furniture or a fly. But, then, I outgrew the space. I haven’t found many places that I fit so perfectly since. But there are times when there is a perfect little slot or nook and I can fill it with some perfect little object and the thrill of fitting wells up. These things are usually small things. A zine into the receipt slot at the self-checkout. A breath mint into the cigarette burn hole in the car upholstery.
Vittoria Lion: When I was little, my most prized possessions were my buckets of small plastic toy animals, and I would play with them in my dollhouse instead of the actual dolls. My grandmother on my father’s side, who died before my birth, collected the animal figurines in Red Rose Tea boxes, so I think I may have inherited that from her. I have never stopped feeling “small,” both in comparison to other people and the world at large. I was born in 1993, the year Jurassic Park was released, and it was perhaps inevitable that dinosaurs were the first major love of my life. I illustrated my own stories about escaping the family home and running away to exotic regions of the Earth where real dinosaurs still lived. (The thought that I might not last long among them as a puny, defenceless mammal did not really enter my mind.) I’m still inexorably drawn to vast and mysterious places and beings that make me feel overshadowed and insignificant, including dinosaurs. The ocean is definitely a treasure trove of such phenomena, with its massive baleen whales, its colossal squid, and the ten-foot-tall tube worms of the Galápagos Rift Rose Garden.
Joël Gayraud: Yes. when I was a child, I felt very big in front of the little things, and not that small in front of the big ones. It was as I grew up that I became suddenly aware of my essential smallness, not with regards to being small person, but with regards to my simply being a human. I remember the exact circumstances that led to this revelation: I was eight years old, and I was taken to the Natural History Museum of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. There, I discovered the largest marine animals in the world. I had already seen elephants at the zoo, but they still remained in the human order of magnitude. The endless skeleton of the blue whale amazed me.
Megan Leach: There will always be an unwavering affinity for mini marshmallows, but the appeal of certain ideologies rapidly shrank.
Paul McRandle: Children live in an inverted world, seeing things from below. All the adult work surfaces, counters, tabletops loom overhead with their bare wood underpinnings, labels from long defunct manufacturers, and outcrops of drawers. It’s a place where forgotten storage bulges and the seams of things stand out, as if one peered through the interior of a skull. The underside opens a way to contemplating the world above without giving access to it, the reverse of things, like speaking backwards. Shadows proliferate.
Puberty eroticizes the underworld, transforms the pleasurable surgings of inchoate sensations into a grotto of gothic archways from which we never escape.
Hermester Barrington: I was always trying to fit myself into places that I could not hold me—the space between the stones in the wall surrounding our estate, gopher holes, my own nose (leading with my finger); my frustration at not being able to do so led me to spin about until I was quite turngiddy. Now that I have learned to leave my body when while I sleep, I have danced an infinite number of times on the head of a pin, stared back at my friends as they looked at me through my microscope, and played Cosmic Wimpout using subatomic particles as dice. Though I still make myself turngiddy from time to time—and that is another story, for another time—I do not miss the sense of disappointment which shaped my mind in childhood.
Juan Carlos Otaño: Childhood has been left behind although a certain nostalgia and fervent desire to recover it persist. Children possess the innocent charm of turning over a stone in a garden and observing the frenetic universe within which the Dactylopius coccus squirm. They study the habits of each and every worm that wriggles through those diminutive ecosystems. On other occasions they take their toys apart to investigate the mystery of their construction. It is of no consequence whatever if the toys are terminated because they continue to be ‘observed’. No corner of the house whether it be on the rooftop, behind curtains or under furniture escapes this scrutiny.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: Things were never small until I hit adolescence. Since then proportions have been much more mutable. A decade seems like a small step, but a dust mote can seem like a universe.
Claude Cauët: I never felt small, never, except when I was little, and little things are not big, that’s it.
Nita Sembrowich: As a child, I was certainly closer to the ground than I am now. I was therefore much more aware of small things on it—fallen seeds, nuts, shells, pebbles, flowers—and obsessed with collecting them. Like many children, I was also an obsessed collector of insects, lizards, tadpoles, and frogs. Now I am more aware of these creatures as entities with lives and wills of their own and prefer to leave them be, though I am still obsessed. They appear often in my writing, so I suppose I am still “capturing” them, but in a different way.
Guy Girard: I am small when confronting a large tree and this intimidates me when I try to speak to it.
Penelope Rosemont: In the city among the very tall buildings when I walk through narrow spaces and look up, a bit dizzy, I feel like a bug. But in the high mountains I expand to fill the space and the broadness of the spaces and the expansion of my vision makes me feel elated, powerful.
Brandon Freels: Only when around Ron Mueck’s sculptures, like his giant baby, or the large furniture pieces of Robert Therrien.
Doug Campbell: A Ron Mueck sculpture of woman sitting up in bed, hyperrealistic and many times life size, brought back a vivid memory of my sister and I waking my mother on a Saturday morning when we were very small, and adults were giants, possessed of unimaginable powers.
Deborah Stevenson: I have felt “radically dwarfed” in my life, in the most literal way. At night, far from any city, under the bright night sky. I felt it camping in Joshua Tree national monument in the desert, and in New Mexico, among other places. The sky blazed with stars and bright planets, and they seemed to be so incredibly close, almost bearing down on me. I felt it also in the forest of old growth redwood trees – the same feeling of being tiny in the midst of infinite grandeur. It was almost too much to bear, and frightened me.
Vittoria Lion: Before my most recent conference experience, I had an anxiety dream about encountering an enormous toothed whale skeleton in a mine shaft lying far beneath the university building where it was to be held. The skeleton lay in the lowermost gallery of a series of mine shafts sliding deeper and deeper underground, and the atmosphere was very foreboding and oppressive. Several months prior, I had seen the blue whale skeleton at the Royal Ontario Museum, which I was very impressed by, and I knew that this creature was much larger than any living whale. I later learned that there is a tunnel system under Carleton University designed to protect students from the Antarctic temperatures of Ottawa, and that a species of gigantic sperm whale called Livyatan melvillei (named, appropriately, for Herman Melville) lived during the Miocene.
Casi Cline: As myself as a whole, I can’t recall ever feeling dwarfed in any way more meaningful than the smallness experienced in the face of something larger than usually experienced such as a high, rocky mountain or a city with grand proportions. But parts of me have felt very small in proportion to the whole. One night, after I had been having a particularly difficult time with my anxiety and hypochondria and had fallen into an uneasy sleep, I had the strange experience of seeing myself from the perspective of my own right hip or of something sitting on my hip. I could see myself laying on my left side, my face close to Steven’s back and my arms folded against my chest in a sort of nuzzling position. And there I was, some little thing, maybe my hip socket or an insect or nothing. No, something, but some very small thing, observing this very big thing that is my body. A second later, I was looking out of my eyes again and marveling at how natural that other perspective had seemed until I had returned to my usual perspective. I had been like the emperor or eve unaware of my nakedness, until I had been re-clothed. I had been unaware of my smallness until I had expanded back to fill the space in my body.
Joël Gayraud: That day I just mentioned, yes. Then, many years later, by boat, off Cornwall during a violent force 11 storm where we almost sank. And later, in China, in Yunnan, in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Megan Leach: In the presence of a good library.
Paul McRandle: I find a fortune under fig leaves and travel the erogenous zones on safari with my hardy companions. We call ourselves by a host of names—the company of small saints, the pre-piscatarian co-prosperity cube, the lords of microscopy—to prepare the path ahead with a cadence, costumes, and cooperative labor melodies. In my weaker moments I settle by the side of the road and sniff the soil for the goodwill offered by the bacterial host. There’s so much to be grateful for in these tropical lands—the mighty insects whose hives offer shelter and sustenance in return for the knowledge we bring of foreign flowers, the pollen we leave in exchange, and the eggs we carry under our skin. Dumbstruck by the overarching roof of the canopy, lung tissue, and rock wall lit by lava fires, it’s almost impossible at times to leave certain vistas. But the safari has its own will and my companions can be very determined in their drive for novelty. The sultry air undoes our clothing in slow, sliding falls—we keep having to pull pants back on to keep the succubi at bay or we’d truly get nowhere at all. When the eggs hatch from our arms and legs, nymphs float about our heads communicating oedipal strategies before a silent slaughter amongst the tiny flyers leads to the arrival of a revolutionary state and they establish themselves in one or several soviets, working the landscape in their own peculiar utopia. At least it makes for a generous community, if one with certain demands. But I’m hardly one to criticize.
Hermester Barrington: The first time Fayaway and I lay down together, I had been celibate my
entire life. That is a story in itself, but as I neared the pinnacle of pleasure, I felt as if her mouth, which I was kissing passionately, were grown immensely huge and that I was tumbling into it headlong. I lost consciousness then, and when I awoke, Fay had a huge grin on her face, and said, “You say some funny things sometimes!” She never did tell me what I said.
Juan Carlos Otaño: Yes, standing before the Andes Mountains or last summer when I was at the foot of Aconcagua. The citadel of Machu Picchu elicits the same response, staring from the edge of a precipice at the Urubamba River below. A great part of the attraction of the gothic romance comes from the suggestion of its intimidating landscape, from some imminent danger crouching amidst the surrounding beauty, which makes escape or avoidance impossible. And the vertigo that that provokes, according to Benjamin Péret, emanates from nostalgia which seeds terror through the vision of great social upheaval.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: My cardiologist and cardiothoracic surgeon make me feel miniscule and ephemeral like a dandelion seed in a gust of wind. Standing in front of a Rothko stain painting makes me feel smaller yet. The echo of gunfire makes me nearly not exist.
Claude Cauët: See question 2.
Nita Sembrowich: I am a small person, but do not feel overly small for the most part, except on one occasion at night when observing bears at a rubbish disposal area in Maine from the dubious safety of a small car. In my childhood, whenever I visited the enormous dinosaur skeletons at the Museum of Natural History in New York City, my sense of my own smallness was transmuted into ecstasy. The same thing happens now when I gaze into the Grand Canyon or the night sky with its countless stars.
Guy Girard: Some fairly frequent dreams: I observe from very close up fish in pools at the edge of the sea, or in streams—an activity which I eagerly did as a child during summer vacations.
Penelope Rosemont: When I dream, sometimes bugs land on my hand and perform for me.
Brandon Freels: Although I can’t remember them in detail, I have vague memories of dreaming about some very tiny keys.
Doug Campbell: Books, always. Toys and ambiguous magical objects, sometimes. The ‘MacGufffins’ of my dreams, to be lost, found and pursed. When very tired, I have also experienced the Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome of feeling the room grow small around me, so that I might touch the ceiling, or extend an arm through a window into the cool night air.
Deborah Stevenson: I’ve kept dream journals for decades, because I remember them so well. Nothing small, but sometimes very big, such as waves.
Casi Cline: Do I ever! For the sake of not-as-long-as-it-could-be-ness, I will just tell you about three small dreams. First – the Multiplication Dream. I am walking across the living room of one of my childhood homes, when I see a paperclip on the floor. I bend to pick it up, but as soon as my finger touches it, it begins to multiply exponentially and very rapidly so that before I can really react, the paperclips have already covered my head and filled up the room. This dream makes me feel very overwhelmed. I have had this dream many times since, but the setting changes and the small object changes. Sometimes it is a ring or a coin, etc. Second – the Shoebox Dream. I am walking through rows of shelves like the ones in shoe stores that stretch all the way to the horizon in every direction. All the shelves are full of shoe boxes, but they don’t have shoes in them. They all have different things in them that are small enough to fit in a shoe box. I open one and it has a lizard inside. I open lots of other boxes, but I can’t remember what was in them. Third – the Forest of Lost Things. I am walking through a forest looking for my grandmother’s ring that my mother lost in her backyard as a teenager. The forest floor is thickly layered with rings, which I know have all been lost by people. I sift through the rings looking for my grandmother’s, but I wake up with no resolution. I have had this dream again, but with different small items like pocket knives or lighters.
Vittoria Lion: Insects, worms, spiders, and eggs tend to be recurring themes in my automatic writing and occasionally in dreams. I recall having an unsettling dream several years ago about tiny worms laying eggs and being divided into smaller and smaller animalcules. A comparatively recent example is a nightmare I had this past winter about a cocoon being implanted within the tissue of my brain. However, more memorable to me are the enormous animals and ominous, ruined landscapes, almost of a Lovecraftian sort, that feature prominently in my favourite dreams and remind me of my own smallness and vulnerability.
Joël Gayraud: Yes sometimes. As in this dream for example, where the small elements multiply:
I walk in Paris in search of an object, a kind of small piece of furniture with drawers, but on this point my memory is very defective. Arriving on a courtyard near the Beaux-Arts, I see a junk sale like an outdoor flea market, held by a woman. Among the objects on display, I notice a sort of planter where a triple black velvet thought is planted; around the flower extend three flexible stems ending with a tiny figure representing a witch. I think of the three witches from Macbeth. Examining the object more closely, I see that what I had taken for a casing in fine translucent, fabric was in fact a spidery light gray veil, attached to the hair of a fourth witch, much larger than the other three, the size of a doll, and with long glass legs stuck to the ground where the thought was planted. I decide to buy the item and then wake up. (Dream of February 13, 2010 in the morning).
Megan Leach: I dreamt I fell cocooned in a raindrop.
Paul McRandle: At a party a woman asked me to kick out a large, obnoxious guest, so riding on one of her friend’s shoulders, I approached him, ordering him to leave and kicking at him without touching him when he tried to evade us. When he got out the door, he took off his hat, dreadlocked wig, bulky sweatshirt, and other items to reveal a woman in a blue-and-red 1970s era disco outfit. The descendent of a people who selected women for their height, as she stood close I only reached her waist. We walked outside together past a doorman in a maroon cloak and uniform, who like all the passersby were just as tall as she. At a vendor’s stall on the street she picked up a small relief image a death’s head in red plasticine. Gluing it to her cheek at an angle, she painted her face a dark color and pulled a cowl over her head so that as her features vanished only the death’s head shown. So disguised, we continued down the street, drawing attention as we proceeded in this funhouse atmosphere.
Hermester Barrington: I sometimes dream that I am becoming smaller and smaller and somehow get caught by the sundew in my protozoarium. It is not at all unpleasant as the plant wraps its droplets of digestive juice laden mucilage around my body—but then, I always wake up before I am completely devoured.
Juan Carlos Otaño: Everything is relative when dreaming. Sometimes the very large is made small and the very small, large.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: I dream often of my tungsten wedding band, sometimes of a mustard seed caught in my teeth or white blood cells staving off infection. Once in mefloquine-induced night terrors, tiny mice swarmed me. These dreams taught me to live with my musophobia.
Claude Cauët: I do not believe so. Unless they were so small…
Nita Sembrowich: I would say generally no. I do, however, have a vivid recollection of a dream I had many years ago in which I was gazing down at a cluster of Lithops as my mother’s voice intoned, “These are living stones.”
Guy Girard: No, the experience of my childhood was enough.
Penelope Rosemont: I have enjoyed movies about people shrinking until a lawn becomes a jungle and bugs are the size of dinosaurs. I have always thought there was more to bugs than we imagine….size matters! There would be many revelations if we met insects on the same scale…and survived to tell about it. I found a water bear, now called a tardigrade, hunting with my microscope as a child. It was a mirror light-source scope and you could see through the critter…there was a lot of motion going on sylla moving, stomach churning…a whole unexplored and inaccessible world that I could only look at, like the distant stars and consider their at an unbridgeable distance. I let the tardigrade go back into its swamp. New studies find it a very tough, almost immortal creature.
Brandon Freels: As a child, I always feared I would grow up to be short like Danny DeVito. Because of this I never really wished to be shrunk. In fact, if I fantasized about anything it was the opposite: gigantism. The idea of growing to the size of Godzilla or Galactus intrigued me greatly.
Doug Campbell: I remember one of the music papers of my teens describing a brash and superficial young rockstar as like a plastic action figure that another singer, far deeper and more mysterious, might perhaps purchase and amuse herself by playing perverse games with. It seemed to me then that there could be worse fates than that, and I have no doubt that the critic had reached and reflected on similar conclusions.
Deborah Stevenson: When I saw how octopuses can squeeze through tiny openings, I wished I could be free to move around like that – nothing would be an obstacle to my freedom.
Casi Cline: Anytime I am having a particularly intense moment of anxiety, I have the strong desire to not be seen by anyone. This could be accomplished by becoming translucent or by becoming inconspicuously small like a little pebble. Though shrinking could clearly also be for recreational purposes. It might be very nice to shrink down to about an inch so that I can snuggle in Steven’s Beard or shirt pocket and go to sleep and shirk my duties.
Vittoria Lion: I think that being shrunk would be very practical in terms of enabling me to inconspicuously eavesdrop on people responsible for poisoning our atmosphere and making the lives of other human beings and animals miserable and thwart their plans. Moreover, on some level, I think everyone feels nostalgia for existence as that primordial protoplasmic globule that Breton and Soupault recalled when they referred to themselves as “prisoners of drops of water.”
Joël Gayraud: Yes, the first time pathologically, after the birth of my brother, when I was six and a half years old. I then had a crisis of anorexia for almost a year in the hope – unconscious, of course – to shrink down and sleep, too, in a cradle. Later, at the age of ten, after I was offered a rudimentary microscope, I wanted to shrink to the size of a red blood cell to be able to circulate in the human body. I have since learned that a film was made on the same subject, a film I have never seen and whose title I do not know.
Megan Leach: No. 3 inches tall is such a wretched height.
Hermester Barrington: Fayaway once made a Klein bottle in which she placed a Rebis composed
of the two of us; it stood about half a foot high, but I would like to be in a Klein bottle pendant that existed in two places at once, so that Fay & I could wear each other around our necks—and I would sit perpetually between her breasts, a very pleasant place indeed.
Juan Carlos Otaño: As a child I never had that fantasy (of course, I was already small enough, which eliminated the need). But later on it occurred to me to go back and visit places that I’d know as a child; places that had seemed enormous or unbounded were reduced to narrow, constrictive and disappointing spaces. When I did that I wanted to get back to where I’d been before and that still is a fervent desire but also at times ones of anguish.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: I wanted to be small to explore the plastic spaceships of my childhood to see worlds molded from plastic to emulate movie sets. I never realized that I wanted to dwell in simulations of worlds that were mere simulations.
Claude Cauët: Yes, when I was seven (see my story: When I Was Little). Then never again. I am not voyeur.
Nita Sembrowich: Most of the time I feel restricted and wish to expand. The idea of being shrunk makes me feel vulnerable and a bit frightened. Yet on those occasions when I have wanted to shrink, it was out of a desire to escape or become invisible and hence less vulnerable.
Guy Girard: Feeling of malaise when I come across dwarfs, onto whom I project a worrying behaviour. Are they trolls?
Penelope Rosemont: Am not frightened by small things. Or big things either…people are the worry.
Brandon Freels: I am definitely fearful of little people. I don’t mean people with dwarfism. The best example of what I mean is the elderly couple at the end of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. I think they appear as stand-ins for some kind of horrible anxiety. I was watching The Three Worlds of Gulliver recently and in the film the large Brobdingnagians accuse Gulliver of being a witch simply because of his size. How else can someone get so small but through sorcery? There seems to be this common fear that little people are sinister manipulators, or that they carry tremendous supernatural powers. There are other types of little people, of course. Doctor Pretorius’s collection of little people in The Bride of Frankenstein comes to mind. In this case, they are disturbing and fascinating because they are artificial, almost like automatons.
Doug Campbell: Babies and small animals. I am scared for them because of their vulnerability.
Deborah Stevenson: Small things that scare me: crawling insects that are deadly. And can hide unseen in unexpected places, like one’s shoe, or under a flower pot…
Casi Cline: There are certainly small things that scare me (slugs, malignant tumors), but nothing that scares me because of its smallness.
Vittoria Lion: Yes, the entirety of what I know. And the solar system, microscopic black holes (“Flying anuses, speeding vaginas!”), the width of passages in the Paris catacombs, undiscovered parasites that gradually turn your body inside out, letters of the alphabet, and tiny surviving fragments of precious manuscripts that have otherwise been completely destroyed.
Joël Gayraud: No, I don’t think so.
Megan Leach: Thumbtacks.
Hermester Barrington: Yes—the cry of the killdeer frightens me, because it is so plaintive and
yet so short.
Juan Carlos Otaño: Yes, I always fear the imminence of a viral epidemic that would leave millions dead.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: Hope is a latent toxin; the less there is the more devastating the effects.
Claude Cauët: A microbe, like everyone else I guess.
Nita Sembrowich: I think fear comes mostly when there is an unexpected change in scale—when something that is invariably small appears very large, or vice versa. I would be terrified (and perhaps enchanted) at the sight of an elephant the size of an ant, for example, or an ant the size of an elephant. At the same time, upon further consideration, I would have to say that tiny things often stir my sense of tragedy, evoking pity and terror. To see the structures of material reality repeated at smaller and smaller and smaller scales ad infinitum is dizzying and overwhelming. At such times, what is small becomes enormous, swallowing self and soul. It is also scary when something very small, such as a spider, gazes intelligently back.
Guy Girard: I love to watch grains of dust dancing in a ray of sun, which are the spermatozoids of lights.
Penelope Rosemont: Birds or motion sometimes surprise me from the corner of my eye and I am attracted by it.
Brandon Freels: When I lived in New Orleans, I used to see mice and palmetto bugs out of the corner of my eye. Of course, living alone in a quiet apartment, I surprised them as much as they surprised me. Once, a small mouse jumped about two feet in the air at the sight of me. I wonder what their world was like inside the walls of my apartment. How did they perceive me? These days, whenever I see a dark spot out of the corner of my eye, I almost always assume it’s a palmetto bug, but since I left New Orleans it never has been.
Doug Campbell: I am quite severely myopic. Everything in the corner (or centre) of my eye is large and blurry. I do, however, constantly lose small objects: phone, books, beverages, rings, cufflinks . . I am always surprised by where I’ve put them. A friend observed the superstition of formally asking the fairies to return such a lost object. It usually worked.
Deborah Stevenson: I can’t say that I frequently notice small things out of the corner of my eye – I can say I notice things around me that other people don’t, but that’s not the same thing. Maybe I will begin to, now that the question has activated my attention!
Casi Cline: I don’t see small things out of the corner of my eye, but I hear small things moving about outside of my range of vision. I remember taking a hike and swearing that I heard tiny little footsteps on the leaves alongside the path.
Vittoria Lion: Once, the letter A, dancing bright white behind the curtain of my eyelid, when I was on the verge of falling asleep. I felt very surprised. It reminded me of the glowing, animated miscellanea of Man Ray’s rayographs and the diminutive newborn galaxies in photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Joël Gayraud: Yes, especially insects. But also paint chips falling from the ceiling, for example. The appearance of a small thing that we do not expect always makes it look bigger.
Megan Leach: The guile darting of squirrels is particularly unsettling.
Hermester Barrington: In an effort to reject empiricism—which is accurate enough most of the
time, which unfortunately causes us to place our faith in it all the time—I have turned my eyes entirely inward. Now only my own thoughts cross my field of vision, and I am constantly delighted, shocked, and irritated by the contents of my mind.
Juan Carlos Otaño: Like elves or goblins, you mean? No, I’ve never made it that far. But if you have patience and perseverance and you press your eyeballs with your fingertips you’ll see little magenta coloured darts.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: I live in Chicago, the rattiest city in the US. So out of the corner of my eye do I see rats, or mice, or paper blowing in the wind, mushishi, or mercurial fay waiting to reward the faithful and punish the unjust? Each and all. Each and all, contained in the reflection from the inside of Hot Cheetos bag discarded by a kid on their way to school.
Claude Cauët: Little things in terms of size, no. Little things in terms of their conventional importance they are given, yes. And always surprised.
Nita Sembrowich: I am startled when out of the corner of my eye I glimpse movement and turn to see a centipede that has emerged from a crack in a wall galloping around the room on its multitudinous legs.
Guy Girard: The Seven Dwarfs from Snow White (famous perverts worthy of appearing in a novel by the Marquis de Sade) revealed to me the black magic of cinema. And the Smurfs prompted me to think about utopia.
Penelope Rosemont: The character Tubby from Little Lulu comics had a long running relationship with tiny Martians, they would shrink him and take him around in their flying saucer….it was great, I loved it. Likewise the one-time Scrooge McDuck story “Microducks from Outer Space.”
Brandon Freels: There is a scene towards the end of The Incredible Shrinking Woman that I’ve been somewhat haunted by since I was a child. Lily Tomlin’s character, who has been shrunk down to around three inches, slips and falls into the kitchen sink’s garbage disposal. This goes unnoticed by her family who continues to put foodstuff down the drain. There is a looming threat that they will accidentally turn on the motor to the disposal drain. It’s frightening that a shift such as this, a derangement in size, can turn ordinary appliances into deadly obstacles.
Doug Campbell: King Kong and Fay Wray, obviously. Science fiction films and narratives: The Incredible Shrinking Man. Fantastic Voyage. Land of the Giants. The Green Man of Kilsona. (a pulp adventure of The Ape Man of the Electron World passed on by my Dad). A Jack Kirby comic in which his heroes were projected into a subatomic world. I don’t remember which characters, but I clearly remember the psychedelic visuals.
I discovered the concept of infinity in the caption to an illustration of the milky way in a book on space exploration when I was five. The idea that space could be endlessly vast was so vertiginously terrifying I tried to suppress and avoid it. Discussing this with my Dad he introduced the idea that space could also be endlessly subdivided. This had the effect of removing the floor of my universe as well as the ceiling. After the initial shock, we both laughed, tumbling through infinite space together.
Deborah Stevenson: Yes, to this question, most definitely. The book by E.B. White, Stuart Little, is a great favorite of mine. Stuart, the mouse child of human parents, lives a life of adventure, sailing on a boat in the lake in Central Park, wearing tiny clothes, sleeping in a tiny bed… and setting out on an adventure away from the city where he meets Harriet Ames, who is his same size, but looks like a human girl. A truly wonderful tale. As is another children’s book series I still love: The Borrowers. Both these tales involve being small and making a life in and amongst the bigger world, and being sometimes seen, sometimes completely unobserved. What a way to see the world… Oh and of course the movie from the ’60’s Fantastic Voyage with, among others, Rachel Welch, all scientists shrunk to microscopic size and injected into a human body… blew my mind.
Casi Cline: Not that obsessed me or radically changed my life. There were some shrinkages I enjoyed.
Vittoria Lion: When I was about twelve years old, I became quite obsessed with Roald Dahl’s The Witches; particularly, the scene in which the protagonist undergoes transformation into a mouse. (This is possibly because I unconsciously recognized the erotic connotations of the squeezing and shrinkage, as is often the case with the pleasure stimulated by deep pressure, although I also feel sympathetic toward mice and other urban animals stereotyped as pestilential. According to Freud, Ernst Lanzer, the “Ratman,” identified his childhood suffering at the hands of adults with the extreme cruelty shown toward mice and rats by humans.) Franz Kafka’s Odradek, from “The Cares of a Family Man,” and the neurotic mole in “The Burrow” are among my favourites today. Albeit not a fictional character, I am also fascinated by Hallucigenia, the tiny Burgess Shale organism with a body plan so unusual that paleoartists first drew it upside down.
Joël Gayraud: Reading Gulliver’s Travels impressed me deeply. I would have liked to be a Lilliputian. I envied the animals, like foxes, who could live in burrows. But it’s mostly Alice’s descent into the rabbit hole that has delighted me, and I had to reread this passage dozens of times. I shared her desperation when she started to grow immoderately, and her relief when she shrank to the size of a mouse. To want to shrink, of course, is not to want to age, it is to try to escape degradation and death. On the other hand, the child who wants to be a giant may be old before they age.
Megan Leach: Alice, for remaining logically illogical under duress.
“How are your eyes, sir?” Leeuwenhoek finally asked, turning a shiny object over in his hands.
“I have excellent vision.”
“Very good. Tell me, then, if you have ever in your life been able to see anything of the sort you see in this.” He handed Peter a flat, brass plate with a tiny, pebble-like drop of glass embedded in the center of it. Peter turned the small instrument over in his hands. A hook at the bottom lifted a fine glass tube before the bead.
This tired-eyed doctor rested a hand on Peter’s shoulder to move him into position, then told him to hold the metal plate up to the light and peer through the lens as if it were a telescope.
All Peter saw was a blur in a fog of light. “I can make out nothing.”
“Sir, clap a hand over your other eye!” Leeuwenhoek instructed.
He did so, then maneuvered the lens slightly closer, slightly further until he caught a glimpse of something, a sharp movement which he immediately lost. Leeuwenhoek leaned against his shoulder
to rest his arm upon Peter’s own and bring the lens back out then in until a dot appeared and shivered into focus as if shot from the horizon to within reach. It was a round thing. It had tiny black spots all over it and it rolled about in nothing. It seemed as if it just might have something inside it, other small spheres tumbling over one another. His hand shook over his free eye, the tension of the box still unwinding within his cheek.
“Do you see them?” Leeuwenhoek asked, leaning in so closely he breathed on Peter’s cheek.
“What?” the harbormaster asked.
His ride in the box receded; Peter stared further into the glass, sighting a lurching oval shape attached to a fine, thrashing thread; it skittered under his eye. “They’re alive,” he said, wonderingly.
It was a world bathed in light where transparent creatures lashed and rolled about, spinning in their paths. He seemed to be peering through a peephole bored into eternity and watching the sport of angels.
He pulled himself from the glass. The quivering of his face had subsided. “What is this thing? What does it do?”
Leeuwenhoek removed his hand and stepped away. “It is like a telescope. It makes small things big.”
Hermester Barrington: In Grant Morrison’s version of Doom Patrol, the team visits a circus,
where they encounter a man bulging with muscles and carrying heavy equipment. When he refers himself to as a dwarf and Cliff Steele challenges him, he defends himself thus: “Dwarfs can be any size, as long as they’re small inside.” I have tried to reproduce his mental state, with moderate success, since I first read that scene.
Juan Carlos Otaño: They’ve all had an impact to some degree: Alice in her pool of tears reduced to the size of a mouse; Dr. Gulliver transported in a tiny cabinet in his stay at the castle of Brobdingnag; the Brave Little Taylor after killing seven flies in a single blow taking on a giant fool; Count Zaroff preserved in a bottle as homunculus by the sinister Dr. Pretorius; the miniature men from ‘The Devil Doll’ kidnapped to satiate the desire for revenge of an ex-convict obsessed with transvestism; the four hostages of ‘Dr. Cyclops’ escaping to a garden in the jungles of Peru after trying to shoot their captor the myopic Dr. Thorkel with a rifle (modern version of Ulysses attacking the cyclops Polyphemus); the Incredible Shrinking Man facing a giant tarantula with a hairpin and on other occasions living in a doll’s house and being reduced to the size of an atom or stalked by an enormous cat.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: Not per se, but the admonishment “time limit: 12 hours” from the Fantastic Voyage cartoon has long echoed through my memory.
Claude Cauët: No, I don’t see.
Nita Sembrowich: I would not say they have changed my life, but I am fascinated by two lesser-known stories written by Mark Twain as he was growing old, after the death of his daughter Susy from meningitis: “The Great Dark,” and “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes.” In “The Great Dark,” a family is accidentally shrunk while playing with a microscope. They find themselves passengers on a ship traveling through a now ocean-sized drop of water they had been examining on a slide, and engage in battle with formerly microscopic creatures that have become formidable monsters . “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes” is narrated from the point of view of a microbe that had previously been a man. Through a failed experiment, he has been transformed into a cholera germ inhabiting the body of a tramp. This story grew out of an idea Twain expressed as early as 1894: “I think we are only the microscopic trichina concealed in the blood of some vast creature’s veins, and it is that vast creature whom God concerns Himself about and not us.”
Guy Girard: To observe with a microscope a small piece of the Philosopher’s Stone or a hair from the beard of Merlin the Wizard? Expecting the internal rainbow to thereby tie itself into knots.
Penelope Rosemont: I would like to move through all the stages of smallness, visit and study each stage from the cities that bacteria build, the chains of attraction that make dna, stand on the nucleus of the atom, but especially I would like to see a Muon to be the first to realize that perhaps it is an entire new universe that we will have to explore…
Brandon Freels: I feel like we must always be putting the world itself under a microscope. I expect to find unimaginable horrors, and occasionally, something marvelous.
Doug Campbell: I’d like to enlarge scenes from a favorite film, repeatedly, peering into the shadows of shots, ransacking the personal effects of heroes and villains. One might discover doorways to other locations nested within locations, bookshelves loaded with dubious and apocryphal works, flocks of Maltese Falcons, celluloid succubi and incubi cavorting through dance routines, new and unexplored sub plots twisting away into infinity.
Deborah Stevenson: What would I put under a microscope….? I have many books that contain microscopic photography of many different things: blood cells, all the parts of the body, the natural world, and so on. With the advances of photography, there is almost nothing in the material world so small we cannot see – I even saw a photo of two atoms in an article recently. But to look that closely at the ‘invisible’ things, ah then I would like to observe what it is the great masters see when they are deep in their meditations.
Casi Cline: I would put truth under the microscope to know once and for all whether it exists. However, that might be too banal, so maybe I would rather just break the microscope.
Vittoria Lion: This is maybe not the most original answer for this kind of questionnaire, but my own unconscious and those of other people. I would expect to find an inexhaustible encyclopedia of underground and deep-sea life.
Joël Gayraud: I will pass the concept of megalomania under the microscope, to discover the tiny reasons that lead to such a vast neurosis.
Megan Leach: Avicenna’s thesis on soul essence. It appears as a whisper.
Dr. Ruysch coughed, raised his hand to wipe his lips and spoke again. “I have just drained the cadaver and I thought you might want to look at some of his blood.” He stepped towards Leeuwenhoek. “Perhaps, you could tell us if there was anything different about the bodies in it.”
Leeuwenhoek nodded in his sleepy way. He opened the jar to sniff the thick blood inside., “It may take time to prepare. Please, look through some of my lenses.”
The microscopist was particularly fond of a thin slice of cork which neatly demonstrated why this bark floated on water. What Peter saw, holding the lens to the light, was a honey comb of tiny spaces, all empty, no life, just a well-arranged absence like the penis on Ruysch’s wall, sliced in half lengthwise, and inflated as by one of the doctor’s pipettes. Spreading empty seed to barren wombs—a windy generation. Could that odd child have been born inside some Indian seedpod? Carried rattling about within a gourd in the hold of Bastiaan’s ship?
Hermester Barrington: This question frightens me, because a colleague of mine once put a
fractal under an electron microscope and they never found him.
Juan Carlos Otaño: To put Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in synthetic resin or a paraffin solution so that they can fight it out between themselves and leave everybody else out of it.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: I would like to see the awesome and awful empires on a mote of dust. I would expect to see the chthonian dust mites ancient and terrible in their domains struggle with the very forces of creation. Lovecraftian deities who stand on sullen worlds adrift in chaos, adrift on a greater death than they could imagine.
Claude Cauët: A special microscope, then. I would place myself in front of the lens while looking into the eyepiece. We must be able to invent that. What do I expect to see? I don’t dare think about it.
Nita Sembrowich: I would be interested in putting almost anything under a microscope. I would expect to be surprised. Perhaps I would most like to examine some of the fantastic entities of the distant cosmos—red dwarfs, comets, asteroids, distant planets, black holes—or UFOs.
Guy Girard: In my left pocket, my keys. In my right pocket, a hole (of memory) or vice versa. And in my vest pocket, these days, Walden; or Life in the Woods by H.D. Thoreau.
Penelope Rosemont: I just returned from Machu Picchu and Galapagos, in my pocket I discovered a tiny pebble the size of a pea, shaped like a pyramid, made of dark rock, I suspect it is from a nearby town, also in my wallet among my IDs a picture of my Blue Jay. When one considers the trip into smallness, it is a trip into our own unrecalled evolution. From star-dust to one cell, from one cell to ocean creature…..all unrecalled. So discovery in some ways is the recovery of our own evolutionary history…and what a beautiful story it is.
Brandon Freels: A few quarters and a MetroCard.
Doug Campbell: Keys and a bottle opener on a demon head keyring, large red and white spotted bandana, loose change (left trouser pocket). Wallet, phone (right trouser pocket.)
Deborah Stevenson: I have some business cards, spare change, half a stick of gum, crumpled tissue, lipstick, and an expired Metrocard in my pockets, just not all in the same one.
Casi Cline: I have no pockets. Inside my no-pockets, is the High Priestess card, a band-aid, a sharp knife, a mini water purifier straw, a 7-11 lighter, some waterproof strike-anywhere matches, anti-diarrheal medicine, a miniature portrait of Leonora Carrington, and a lock of Steven’s Beard.
Vittoria Lion: Zooplankton and krill. I’m sailing to Antarctica to feed the whales later today.
Joël Gayraud: Today, in my jacket’s left pocket, I find a two-cent euro – which I will not slip into the mouth of a dead person to allow him to pass the Styx, but just now, at the post office, in the slot of a stamp machine -, a sales receipt rolled on itself, a horse chestnut picked up at Buttes-Chaumont that for six months I mechanically knead in my hand in the idea that it will prevent rheumatism (an old family superstition); in my right pocket, the little notebook on which I take notes on the fly when I’m in the street or the subway, my dumbphone, and a little dust where there hides a people teeming with microbes. In my left inside pocket, my transport card, my credit card, a black ballpoint pen; right inside pocket, my agenda with my address book. No dust in the inside pockets. From my right pants pocket, I pull out a packet of tissues and my keychain. From the left pocket, a small chamois skin to wipe my glasses cohabitating with residues of fluffy tissue, inhabited by an amiable colony of dustmites.
Megan Leach: A fortune, a telephone, a Rumi poem, Parle-G biscuit crumbs, a leaky pen.
Hermester Barrington: This haiku, on a scrap of paper:
a rectangle of dry weed
and future fire
Juan Carlos Otaño: A comb, a pencil and four globes of the world.
Nicholas Alexander Hayes: Lint and wadded receipts. A coffee-stained handkerchief.
Claude Cauët: Two aging hippopotamuses (one on each side, in my trouser pockets), a life-size reproduction of Niagara Falls (in my gluteal pocket), coins (almost everywhere) and some inhabited planets (in my breast pockets).
Nita Sembrowich: Lint. Paper scraps. Tissues. Shells. Coins. A hickory nut.