Losing My Wings

Diptera: Insects with two wings

Flies and humans have had a long and contentious relationship. Each side of this relationship is punctuated by opportunities and threats. From the perspective of many humans, flies are master minglers and they pose a special threat to those who want to keep things separate. All flies belong to the order Diptera along with other two-winged insects like gnats and mosquitoes. Over 90 percent of the flies encountered in human habitations, however, are the common housefly, Musca domestica. The housefly is an especially persistent pest as it lives near humans and can be found in most places around the globe. As Steven Connor acknowledges in his book on the history of attitudes toward the fly, “More than any other creature, the fly has a reputation for hedonism. . . . The fly takes its pleasure promiscuously, restlessly, unswervably, unashamedly.”31 The wanton vitality of the fly is a constant reminder of the difficulty of regulating living things. It is this peskiness that creates the enabling conditions for the disaster that follows.

Flies aren’t just willfully messing up human attempts at regulation; key differences between the physiology of flies and humans encourage the mixing of different types of regulative spaces. As the 1958 Encyclopedia Britannica Film The House Fly warns, “[A fly] can not bite or sting but its physical structure and feeding habits make it a carrier of disease and death.”34 For instance, the fly has hairs on its feet that are sensitive to taste. This means that a fly can taste its food by walking on it. Humans, however, have their organs of taste more closely confined to their alimentary canal, allowing for the separation of the functions of eating and walking. This is a profound set of differences in the two organisms as it implies that humans try very hard to keep production separate from consumption, while flies need to mix these up to live.

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