Escher’s Ants on a Mobius Strip: Blake’s Moving Image of Eternity, Kafka’s prison, or Dostoevsky’s Spider?

The number “8,” placed upon its side, is the symbol for infinity (as perhaps many of us remember from the Schoolhouse Rock song). And if we think of the Schoolhouse Rock video that accompanies the song, in which a young girl, as day rolls calmly into night, quietly ice skates in quiet “figure eights,” perhaps we associate infinity with a stilling of time into divine wholeness.

But what happens when MC Escher turns the symbol for infinity into a gridded mobius strip, and runs ants over it? What is it now?

For me, it feels not so much like the blissful ice skater of Schoolhouse Rock, or William Blake’s “moving image of eternity,” and more like a symbol of eternal entrapment, as Joseph K. might feel while under arrest in Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial, or as Dosoevsky imagined, in The Brothers Karamazov, of the terror of finding, not God, but a spider at the beginning of creation.

Escher’s image is visually suggestive of why most people, against compelling reason, and the consensus of scientists, instinctively resist belief in evolution. Evolution seems to turn the symbol of infinity away from an anthropomorphic god who sees all things at once, and is in control, and makes existence into a blind mechanism upon which inhuman forces move. Like entering a roach motel, once you crawl into the evolutionary universe, many fear that you can’t crawl out again. Escher’s mobius strip is the mechanism of infinity stripped of its gleam and mystery. It is the Wizard of Oz’s curtain tugged back by Toto. It exposes the realm of the rationalized and the Kafkaesque, where nonhuman-sized bureaucracies, Dostoevskian spiders, and Escher ants make the world go.

If God does not exist, Escher’s mobius strip threatens to become the rack on which the body of humankind is crucified, or to which Prometheus is chained and abandoned.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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10 Responses to Escher’s Ants on a Mobius Strip: Blake’s Moving Image of Eternity, Kafka’s prison, or Dostoevsky’s Spider?

  1. Pingback: Biologist Anthony Cashmore thinks belief in free will is akin to belief in “magic” and we have “free will genes” actively deceiving us into believing that we have free will! « Prometheus Unbound

  2. caryn says:

    i think mobius strip art is kinda gay cuz i live in trona and am in seventh grade art and the teacher sucks very badly

  3. art says:

    fyi, that symbol is called a ‘lemniscate’.

    • math says:

      a ‘lemniscate’ is not a mobius strip. the same way that a square is not a cube. a ‘lemniscate’ is two dimensional and a mobius strip is three dimensional.

  4. santitafarella says:

    Art:

    Thank you for that piece of information. I had never heard of it.

    —Santi

  5. Myram says:

    Deqr CAryn,

    I agreee, teachers suck big ones. do like i did and go out and become a crack whore. you meet a much more interesting array of peopels. a,d you get lots of good drugs too!!!

    Myram

  6. Aruba says:

    I do trust all the ideas you’ve introduced for your post. They’re very convincing and can certainly
    work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for beginners.
    Could you please prolong them a little from next time?
    Thank you for the post.

  7. Pingback: Biologist Anthony Cashmore thinks belief in free will is akin to belief in “magic” and we have “free will genes” actively deceiving us into believing that we have free will! | Prometheus Unbound

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