From the porthole of your bathyscaphe, you see a pair of crabs scuttling across the floor of a silent sea. They are discussing the poetry of T S Eliot. It may be thought that critical analysis of modernist verse requires higher cognitive functions than those possessed by crabs, whose brains are tiny. Indeed, they are about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. But you might be surprised. The difficulty, for you, is one of translation. Crabs have fairly rudimentary communication skills, but they do communicate with each other, and sometimes the subject of those communications might be The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. But you would not know this, behind the reinforced glass of your bathyscaphe porthole. You would just see a pair of scuttling crabs and have no idea what was going on in their strange little heads. What you would need is some sort of manual, clearly-written, to enable you to decipher the signals being passed from crab to crab. At time of writing, no such manual exists.
But there you are, at the bottom of the silent sea, with a perfect view. Perhaps fate has decreed that you are the person to write that manual, to learn to communicate with crabs in their own language! It will probably take months, if not years, of study, and of course you do not have that much time, because before long your oxygen supply will be exhausted and you will have to return to the surface of the silent sea and return the bathyscaphe to the chandler from whom you hired it. So before surfacing, it will be a good idea to point your camera at the pair of crabs and film their discussion of T S Eliot for several minutes. You will then be able to study the film, oh so brow-furrowingly, in the comfort of your permanently-oxygenated seaside redoubt.
We shall all look forward to the publisher’s announcement of A Clearly-Written Manual Of Rudimentary Crab Communication, including several chapters of crab-exegesis of the poetry of T S Eliot, translated into human.
That word, ‘Crab-exegesis’, always makes me think of Excise Barges.