In which are explored the matrices of text, textile, and exile through metaphor, networks, poetics, etymologies, etc., with an occasional subplot relating these elements to Iggy and the Stooges.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Shawl of Recognition

In 2007, I gave Maria Zavialova, one of our doctoral students and a brilliant, award-winning translator of American novels (Toni Morrison's Jazz and Alice Walker's The Color Purple) into Russian, a shawl I wove of blue and brown wool and cotton, in recognition of her devoted volunteer labor for the website VG: Voices from the Gaps, a database devoted to the work of women writers and artists of color and housed in the UMN's English Department. When I was in Riga and asked recipients of textile events/items from me to respond in some way (see my earlier entry on Christopher Funkhouser's essay, Masha wrote this short essay, which is rich in meta-commentary on text and textile, memory and narrative. I don't have a photo of the woven piece but hope to add it later:

Texture of the shawl of recognition, by Maria Lvovna Zavialova

The VG shawl of recognition is made of strips of differently colored and textured yarn, probably the left-overs of wool and cotton thread that Maria used for other things she was making at the time, or else made from her old knitted things that she turned back into yarn and re-used (a usual procedure for my Russian female relatives more gifted than me in handicrafts whose hands, as the Russian saying goes, were not growing from their asses as were mine, or so I was lead to believe). For me who have not made the shawl, these various shades of purple, brown, and (what I would call) unbleached linen white are pure colors rather than context-bound excerpts from past LIFE. They do not remind me of a favorite woolen sock -- a grandma’s gift, a sweater made for a sister, or an unexpected call from a long-gone friend that interrupted the weaving of this particular purple pattern. For the producer of the shawl, the memories are probably woven into its texture; and hence she is not a producer but an author. And here we arrive at the definition of an author as someone whose memories as well as bits and pieces of her life, are woven into the texture of the product. I can imagine working at a factory and making shawls a dozen items a minute that would not have any memories of mine woven into them, or probably just a little. Which makes authorship a matter of degrees.

I have received the shawl already all of a piece, a single whole unit that does not have a beginning and an end. It is just here. It emerged one moment from nowhere as do things given or bought. It is here for me, to keep me warm on a cold night and to impart beauty to my environment whatever it is, be it my bedroom in a house recently moved into, or an office chair at workplace, or a back seat of somebody’s car. I see it as a single totality, without roots that go deep into the soil. The shawl is not grounded in my soil, a favorite theme with Dostoevsky and other Slavophiles of the late 19th century Russia. It is like a foreign language, not learnt at a mother’s knee and not hardwired into the heart, brain and muscles whose words come and go and you don’t know whence they come or whither they go.

Sometimes I look at its various patterns that never repeat themselves, and see it as a chain of words in a sentence or a kind of speech that has its unique start in the here and now that is gone, inviting a reply that will mark its end and will be a completely different here and now that has not started yet. The shawl unfolds its patterns as I do my casual conversation: I say something that can never ever be repeated in exactly the same way and the words I say cause other words to appear and connect with the previous ones into a pattern that will be impossible to break. This pattern is sealed by Time.

But then again, I turn the shawl upside down and now its beginning is its end and vice versa. It is wonderfully reversible and dyslexic like me – I often type letters in words in a reverse order.

The shawl’s pattern is flowing from one end to the other without that maddening repetitive rhythm that sometimes pops up in nightmares or on Gilman’s yellow wallpaper. Its ends are open-ended and un-culminated, that is, unfinalized. As this short essay will be.

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