Once peeled from its native habitat, a stag beetle is uncurled, cut open and pinned down, set against rulers and pulled inside out. The specimen is now ready for its photographer, who closes in, snapping his camera such that each braided muscle glistens against his flash. Most pressing for the physiologist’s eye, however, is his tracing paper. With tentative marks he suppresses messy entrails while limning the creature’s contours, finding a note-worthy oval segment at its tail end, and then letting the rest of the blob shimmer through a yellowing translucent scrim.
Unlike so many other illustrations in the Zeitschrift, Erich Sasse’s examination of his beetle’s nervous system offers up defiguration in medias res. The inky outline is incomplete; any preceding anatomical parts — letters A through E — have been left to the imagination; the thing is still being measured; and abstraction is far from inevitable. Here is an acknowledgement that distillation is no straightforward act. Instead, the object of study is made multiple, its representations numerous rather than singular. And, most importantly, nature’s stuff stubbornly resists the simplest of lines of thought.