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Article as part of the project “Mutatis Mutandis. The leap second of waiting” (2020), carried out together with Eugenia Galeano, for the Special Projects Commission of the Cuajimalpa Metropolitan Autonomous University, as part of the Metamorphologies program, CPE-UAM3, aspi (2020) DOI: 40.210720/cpe.uam0003  (Photographs by David Flores Rubio)

Abstract

 

During the SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) 's confinement in Mexico City (from March 23 to March 30, 2020), it was detected an unusual increase in the sightings reports of red snappers (Lutjanus campechanus, and similars) in this district, through the citizen science iNaturalist platform. This work reviews the phenomena in an exploratory form, stopping in one single case that was successfully identified, and developing the hypothesis of a metamorphosis process with no precedent for modern science.

INTRODUCTION

On March 23, 2020, the "Jornada Nacional de Sana Distancia" was decreed by the Council of General Health to mitigate the dispersal and transmission of the SARS-CoV2 virus (COVID-19) in Mexico, which consisted of the suspension of activities not essential to the population residing in the national territory [1]. Despite efforts to study the pandemic, the scientific community is still far from understanding its consequences, including the population's response to permanent isolation [2]. Preliminary studies point to traumatic effects resulting from stress and confinement [3] and prescribe the need for further studies, which in turn allow us to understand our and other species' responses to this condition comparatively [4]. It is undeniable that the global confinement has had a significant impact on human relationships with other living organisms. But talking about the valuation of this situation, its effects, the contagions and contingencies between each other, the assessments are the most diverse. The phenomenon has been given the name of "anthropause" [5]. It has also been given other names [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15].

During this same period, an uptick in sightings of "snappers" (family Lutjanus) –popularly known as huachinangos or guachinangos [16] (Figure 1)– has been reported in Mexico City at the iNaturalist platform. Such reef fish, whose family is popular for human consumption[17], is typically distributed in ocean environments, which makes their observation in urban centers uncommon, but not impossible, generally being limited to those specimens directed in controlled temperature supply chain for been eaten [8]. Before the SARS-CoV2 contingency, the snapper reports in Mexico City were 1 in 2018 and 8 in 2019, peaked in 2020 with 18 sightings in the first half of the year alone, which gives us a growth rate (r) of 0.57807 per semester [whereinP(t)=P0ert ,P0=1,&P(t)=18](Figure2).

 

Although we do not discard that this atypical distribution might be attributable to a sample error typical of the platform from which it has been extracted [19], observing the trend of sightings raises unfounded concerns. At first instance, we suspect a particular emphasis on the socialization of its iconography, the summit of which coincided with SARS-CoV2, for reasons rather fortuitous or perhaps causal. However, if we take into account that the onset of growth precedes the contingency, we will conclude that it is not necessarily conditioned by it (although it could coincide with the pandemic in future treatments). We will then face a projection that, extrapolated to future scenarios (9,103 cases accumulated in 2025), it makes necessary an immediate review of the consequences and scope of this phenomenon (Figure 3).

 

Our statistic at the moment is meager, and so are our projections. However, it allows us to realize not only the usual record of lifeless specimens in their commercial display environments but their preparation for ritual purposes before their consumption as food, as well as the expression in these humanoid forms (Figure 4). This characterization, usually associated in anthropology with hybridization and metamorphosis practices [20], forces us to review this behavior in the light of our evidence, its possible motivations, and the review of the context in which they occur.

 

Little attention has been paid for the scientific literature to the study of metamorphic practices, limiting its revision to the field of cultural studies, or biologicist explanations [21]. As the newest development of our anthropology demonstrates, reducing behavioral analysis to fields such as "nature" or "culture" is but a symptom of methodological and conceptual reductionisms [22].

METAMORPHOSIS: A BRIEF HISTORY AND EVIDENCE

Countless are the testimonies and references of metamorphosis in human culture. We will review only a shortlist illustrating the observed case.

 

Classical literature is abundant in examples, notably Ovid, whose compendium is insuperable. His Metamorphosis incorporates anecdotes ranging from the creation of the world to the coronation of Julius Caesar Emperor. As part of this trajectory –whose distinction of degree between myth and history his author does not assume– the poet tries to talk about 'forms that change in new entities' (In nova fert animus mutatas dicere forms / corpora") [23]: humans turned into animate objects, constellations, and animals; animals and plants turned into humans; changes in color and sex; among an extensive list [24]. In the end, confusions between the distinction and the experience. What is a metamorphosis but an incarnate doubt?

 

Alluding to the marine fauna Ovid is reminiscent of the fisherman Glaucus, who, after ingesting a weed from the island of Euboean, was transformed into a fish. Forced to inhabit the sea currents, the gods sang to purify him from his former nature. Already acquired the marine form, still resided in him a human consciousness that suffered from the loving rejection of the nymph Scylla ("what for this aspect that please the sea gods is [...], if you don't get moved to love me by these things?") [25]. Victim of his contempt, he will produce on her a hybridization as a vendetta, which shows that the affinities in the form are barely coincidental with those of the spirit. The persistence of his melancholic temperament makes Glaucus the guardian of the seas. Other sources attribute to him the assistance to navigators during the storms [26]; he is therefore considered a deity. His is the gift of prophecy.

 

To Ovid will follow Shakespeare, and to Shakespeare, Kafka, speaking about the Western canon [27]. The English writer composed heartbreaking iambic verses inspired by Venus and Adonis during the plague period, when theatres closed in England. In her anecdote, on the young man's death, the goddess decrees love as mourning ("They that love best their loves shall not enjoy")[28], while the corpse becomes an exuberant seasonal flower that has given name to an entire taxonomic genre [29]. Not a few are surprised by the obscenity of the goddess, in whom desire and animality oppose duty and death [30]. In Kafka, the previous do not appear at all: The Metamorphosis of Gregory Samsa is a symptom rather than a process developing. From the beginning ("fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer verwandelt"), its transformation is presented to us as an irremediable fact [31]. While the creature in which he transformed and the new characteristics he has acquired are unclear [32], for Kafka, the form-shifting implies a consciousness in transition. Therefore, a subtler change will be gradually expressed from the impulses and needs of the animality, which makes its way into the consciousness of the former cloth merchant. Contrary to haunts –magical acts that would temporarily modify externalities but preserving the interiors intact–, we know that the metamorphosis is definitive.

Sources and examples are inexhaustible. Despite this, it does not surprise us the discredit attributed to them by our modern epistemology. Notwithstanding the universality of these experiences and the abundance of their testimonies, their redoubt as mere folklore is typical and extends to scientific practice. Without going any further, it is sufficient to return to our case study to appreciate that observations of humanized red snappers in Mexico City have been removed by the iNaturalist platform (Figure 5) (Figure 6) [33] under arguments demonstrating this conceptual bias ("Things that have nothing to do with nature will be removed")(Figure 7) [34].

 

For the old-fashioned naturalism, hybridization between humans and animals is unknowable, because of what the anthropologist Philippe Descola has called the "dualist veil" between nature and culture ("which the evolution of industrialized societies has partly rendered outmoded and which has been the cause of many distortions in our apprehension of cosmologies very different from our own. These were reputed to be enigmatic and therefore deserving of scholarly attention, given that, in them, the demarcations between humans beings and "natural objects" seemed blurred or even nonexistent. That was a logical scandal that had to be brought to an end") [35]. This prevents the understanding of processes of reality in which a single subject can show two natures: human and some other (vegetal, animal, climatic, etc.). In turn, it prevents the approval of interspecies (cultural or biological) interactions under common theoretical frameworks. However, the failure of modern Westerners to understand and discover these processes is unable to do not mean that understanding them is impossible for us. Descola himself describes how skillfully animist cultures [36] understand the relationship between humans and the rest of living subjects thanks to their cognitive framework that homologates the common interactions. In the first term, this implies the participation of animals, plants and countless entities in all the processes of human life: they do so in food as well as in the designation of leadership, in the transit of souls of those who are born and die, as well as in family unions. There is not territorial transit without the veto of the creatures, as well as all trade, and all art concerns them. The second dimension of this gnosiology is in the continuity of their souls and ours: different are the stimuli and needs that afflict them, but their affliction is identical. Limited, together with them, we are in the form that contains us, but we are not disabled from their experience. [37]

There are few animist cultures of which our understanding has a current record, already because of curiosity, already because of the gradual disposing of their territories and destruction of their ways of life [38]. Eskimos are listed in the Arctic Circle, whose rites of hunting-propitiation are as important as the funeral given to the food source [39]. Also, the Achuars of the Amazon, who arrange marriages with other species or sections of the forest, and whose music seduces birds [40]. In both (non-exclusive) cases, the ambiguity with which they treat their shelters and the intermittency of their displacements have led moderns to classify them apart from sedentarism, a term that would seem incomprehensible to them. Fiction and science seem to them to be urban degradations, although the theatre is for them an acceptable extravagance. They testify innumerable cases of metamorphosis, a process they describe with neatness and to which they attribute high prestige. Their assessments are not discordant with the literature mentioned above –that is why it has been recorded here–, since their stories would involve us capacities for which writing is not empowered.

Samples of this thought survive in the figures of the shamans, inescapable masters of the metamorphic arts, and antipodes of every naturalism [41].