L’hippocampe, ou ‘cheval marin’

L’hippocampe, ou ‘cheval marin’

“You alone stand as a competitor to Our Lady of Lourdes, as far as miracles are concerned...”

Sergei Eisenstein1


“Mystery and miracle of secret waters, the seahorse gives its vertical gait, unique among ocean vertebrates, a lofty and rigid sadness, masking the strange suppleness with which, head suspended in the air as though freed of gravity, it winds its way through the algae. A surprising fact: giving birth is the male’s act. In the course of multiple and graceful embraces, the female places about two hundred eggs in a pouch beneath the male’s stomach, which he fertilizes. This pouch is not only protective, the constriction of its blood vessels contributes to the embryos’ nutrition. The male undergoes a real and apparently extremely painful delivery five weeks after the wedding. Everything about this animal, a victim of contradictory forces, suggests that it has disguised itself to escape, and in warding off the fiercest fates, it carries away the most diverse and unexpected possibilities. To those who struggle ardently to improve their everyday luck, to those who wish for a companion who would forgo the usual selfishness in order to share their pains as well as their joys, this symbol of tenacity joins the most virile effort with the most maternal care.”

Jean Painlevé2


“The job has its joys for those who love the sea. (For those, that is, who love the sea to the exclusion of all else.) Wading around in water up to your ankles or navel, day and night, in all kinds of weather, even when there is no hope of finding anything; investigating everything whether it be algae or an octopus; being hypnotized by a sinister pond where everything seems to be watching you even when nothing lives there. This is the ecstasy of an addict, the ecstasy of a hunting dog bounding across a field, crisscrossing it with euphoric expectation, even though each hidden crevice it stumbles over reveals, at most, a rotten potato.”

Jean Painlevé3


“The plasmodium of the Myxomycetes is so sweet;

The eyeless Prorhynchus has the dull color of the born-blind, and its proboscis stuffed with zoochlorellae solicits the oxygen of the Frontoniella antypyretica;

He carries his pharynx in a rosette, a locomotive requirement, horned, stupid, and not at all calcareous.

But Dendrocoelum lacteum and Planaria torva, gonocephalous and olive-greenish, sharpen the pleasure of the hoops;

The little turbellarian knows the embrace of their mouth;

Good for Chironomus plumosus to outline their intestinal arborizations in red lace;

What spherical astonishment: he flees and ruptures the phlegmy threads reserved for the Bythotrephes longimanus, that sacred little crustacean with close-cropped hair;

He would rather be born through parthenogenesis than touch these threads of the ovoviviparous Mesostoma;

He has no choice; soft, elastic, and full of mucus, with neither truncature nor duplicature, he projects himself like Mercator on Nephelis octoculata whose eight eyes are not sufficient to express the fact that she has spent all summer laying eggs;

The laborers produce little bundles;

A Rotifera dries up in a corner;

As it can be sensed that the sexes are separated, the Prorhynchus sucking stops;

Stephanoceros eichorni is better;

What difference does a double on a belvedere make. Stop.

The turbellarians have seized it, penetrate by breaking and entering, pierce and suck;

A horrible cry echoes and joins the lapping of luminous interferences;

The cercaria of distome emerge from their stagnal hymens, cast a glance, and terror encysts them.

The rolling in an S, a bit of zinc the temporarily gelatinous sophistry pffft! Filched.

The spermatogenesis only takes place in the male, says this old marc valve.

Oh, there now!”

Jean Painlevé4

  • 1Sergei Eisenstein in a letter to Jean Painlevé, as mentioned in Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall and Birgitte Berg, Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé, translated by Jeanine Herman (San Francisco: Brico Press, 2000), 5.
  • 2Jean Painlevé, “The seahorse,” in Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall and Birgitte Berg, Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé, translated by Jeanine Herman (San Francisco: Brico Press, 2000), 13.
  • 3Jean Painlevé, “Les Pieds dans l'eau,” originally published in Voilà, 4 May 1935.
  • 4Jean Painlevé, “Drame néo-zoologique,” originally published in Surrealisme, n°1, October 1924.
UPDATED ON 08.01.2019