Cracking an egg always produces something worth sharing. Sometimes it’s worth eating, sometimes it’s worth serving to others, and sometimes it produces a decayed and grotesque mess of rotten flesh and meat not meant to survive for long.
Eggs sustain life. To Salvador Dali, they signified imagery he saw in the womb, a symbol of desire to return to what he called the “intrauterine paradise.” You can fertilize an egg to create life or you can dwell on eggs plucked from chickens pumped with chemicals—or, if you’re Milo Moiré, you can push paint-filled eggs from your vagina and create a painting as they explode on a canvas beneath you.
In the ancient world, eggs symbolized the potential for life, life itself, fertility, rebirth. Some ancient cultures believed the world itself hatched from an egg. Christians use the egg to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus—rebirth. Some cultures believed breaking an egg could destroy demons while others believed they possessed magical properties that could cure people. In American idiom, ‘to lay an egg’ is to fail while having ‘eggs on your face’ means you’ve in some way made a fool of yourself.2.
As pure symbolism, Salvador Dali used eggs in a variety of ways: to represent rebirth but also to contrast hardness and softness, the shell and the egg, a psychoanalytical reading of unconscious defense mechanisms.For me, eggs symbolize anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and I closely associate them with maggots.
When I was a child, I didn’t like to eat around anyone. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t stand eating in the same room as another human being. To this day, I’d prefer to eat in isolation, but I’ve improved my ability to tolerate eating around other people. Of course, I didn’t possess such tolerance as a kid, especially one Saturday morning when my cousins had stayed over the previous night—and it was time to eat breakfast.
My mother had prepared fried eggs and bacon for us. I took my plate—a paper plate—into my room and sat at a table near a window and faced the wall and took a bite. Then I realized my cousin was behind me. He was eating an egg sandwich, talking to me. Every muscle in my body tensed and my stomach writhed. Nausea threatened to double me over.
I asked him to leave. He kept talking. I asked him to leave again. He asked why. I begged, pleaded with him to leave. Then I cried and yelled and demanded he leave the room. He stared at me blankly, acknowledging my craziness without articulating it, and backed out of the room.
Crying and upset, I stared at my plate. I was hungry five minutes earlier but I had lost my appetite. What a waste. Anger ballooned inside me and I smacked the table and tossed the paper plate to the edge of the desk. A pile of papers fell on it. I stared at the wall for a few minutes then turned on the tv—a portable 9-inch black and white model—and watched TV.
A few days later, my mother was looking for something. I can’t remember the object, but I remember helping her, thinking it was in my room. I moved a few things around in search of the item. Then I lifted a piece of paper and discovered the forgotten paper plate. The eggs looked plastic, fake. I touched one, then lifted it. To my horror, lifting the egg uncovered dozens of maggots writhing around beneath the eggs. In a panic, I opened the window and tossed the plate outside. A combination of shame and nausea overwhelmed me. I leaned out the window and spit up acidic bile—not quite vomit but not spit, either.
I wouldn’t touch eggs for years after that. I eat them now but, on occasion, I retrieve that memory and imagine the maggots under the eggs. Sometimes I lose my appetite. Sometimes I don’t.
In his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, the famed surrealist claimed he remembered life in his mother’s womb. He remembered imagery such as two fried eggs without a frying pan. Such imagery would appear throughout his work for the rest of his life.
In The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, for example, he juxtaposes an image of Narcissus and a rocklike formation holding an egg, symbolizing death, rebirth, and immortality. One transition symbolized by the eternal nature of rocks and the cultural symbolism of eggs.
As a teenager, I obsessed over that painting. I even wrote a play about it. Eggs featured prominently. The meaning of the eggs themselves is where Dali and I differed: where he saw rebirth, I saw death, decay, maggots. Not all eggs hatch. Some are pilfered by scavengers. Others crack and fossilize. Even in rebirth, a sort of spiritual death must occur. One way of being transitions to another, and these stages are rarely without some sort of internal or external revolution or violence.
“You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelette,” the old saying goes. But in breaking the egg, you’re destroying it—and in making an omelette, you’re transforming the egg.
Maggots surrounding an egg, feasting on it, serves as a fitting metaphor for existence, I think. In death, life emerges. It’s the yin and yang of the physical world: meat begets meat, which rots and serves as host to different varieties of meat. That meat, in turn, transforms and dies and enables the rise of more meat.
Maggots feasting on rotten eggs as pure imagery serves the purpose of conveying life, death, the disgusting, the grotesque, and rebirth. As an image, it’s beautiful in a darkly poetic way. But as a memory, it unsettles me. Nausea served as the common denominator between my rejection of the notion of eating around anybody as well as my reaction to uncovering the maggots and the eggs.
If maggots and eggs symbolized life, death, and rebirth, then perhaps the nausea symbolized the space between—the physical sensation to a physical world where meat flourishes then rots. And perhaps my memory serves as a reminder of my lifelong neuroses and understanding that we’re all meat, always on the verge of rotting.
As a writer, I’m bound to such imagery, and I often try to convey that point—as unpleasant as it may seem. I’m as obsessed by it as Dali was by his memories and imagery, I suppose. Such memories, such obsessions, are healthy, I think: they remind us of the fleeting nature of human existence.
Daulton Dickey is a novelist, poet, and content creator currently living in Indiana with his wife and kids. He’s the author of A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things, and other stories, Elegiac Machinations: an experimental novella, and Bastard Virtues, a novel. Rooster Republic Press will publish his latest novel, Flesh Made World, later this year. Contact him at lostitfunhouse [at] gmail [dot] com