Cleaning the debris–books, papers, paper clips, cds, etc.–off the floor in my study has had its share of delightful revelations, if not the two cross-stitches I seem to have permanently mislaid and was hoping to unearth. I found some notes I took a couple of years ago, some of which overlap with material i've posted earlier on the blog, and thematically of a piece. Forgive the redundancies; I'll try to prune.
(See Derrida, Dissemination…)
"study of organic tissues," 1847, from Gk. histos "warp, web," lit. "that which causes to stand," from histasthai "to stand," from PIE *sta- "to stand" (see stet). Taken by 19c. medical writers as the best Gk. root from which to form terminology for "tissue."
1390, "relation of incidents" (true or false), from O.Fr. historie, from L. historia "narrative, account, tale, story," from Gk. historia "a learning or knowing by inquiry, history, record, narrative," from historein "inquire," from histor "wise man, judge," from PIE *wid-tor-, from base *weid- "to know," lit. "to see" (see vision). Related to Gk. idein "to see," and to eidenai "to know." In M.E., not differentiated from story; sense of "record of past events" probably first attested 1485. Sense of "systematic account (without reference to time) of a set of natural phenomena" (1567) is now obs. except in natural history. What is historic (1669) is noted or celebrated in history; what is historical (1561) deals with history. Historian "writer of history in the higher sense," distinguished from a mere annalist or chronicler, is from 1531. The O.E. word was þeod-wita.
ME lome, AS loma/geloma/gelome, “often-used thing” –(that old familiar thing) orig. used for a plow or a loom, etc. from “frequent”…”tool.”
Loom as a verb, LG lome, loam, SW loma, to come slowly…orig nautical? Or is it possible, as some etymologists propose, that it’s a reference to the slow becoming of the cloth on a loom as it’s loomed, or woven…?
Text/ile: from “texere,” to weave. A very basic connection that’s built into the language. In fact, like the word “texture,” these words have the connotation of a “basic structure,” as in “the texture of society.”
What does it mean to be “basic” in a field where ornamentation and baroque extrapolation on the one hand (i.e. the “riff”), and ever greater deconstructive depth on the other (i.e. deep analysis) hold sway? To be basic is to be thick, stumpy and low; to be at the ground floor, in the abasement, just barely hanging on but also holding the structure for everything else: it’s a sine qua non, what’s essential.
Loom/book: a sort of basic resonance in the gutteral simplicity of the words. But “book” comes from beech tree, a fully organic entity, whereas loom is a tool for changing and ordering an aggregate of things (yarns or threads) into something else: cloth that can be used for a covering.
Warp (to throw).
weft or woof (wefan, to weave), web, and weave all share a root.
from scratch, engrave, tear, wound… like “writhe,” from IE wer- to bend, twist, tear, wound…to cause to twist or contort… wreath too comes from this.
Shuttle shares a root with “shot” –AS scytel (missile) and sceotan, to shoot), which led me to wonder if weapon and web/weaving were related, but not so, or not directly.
Heddle, like needle. From hebban, to raise (heave, heft, heaven???, have, heavy, etc). OHG habig
It appears that if we look deeply enough and broadly enough, every word is related to every other word (though not always directly) every thing is related to all other things, and as Wallace Stevens said, everything is like everything else. There are no two things that cannot be placed into relationship, and that relationship is not random, in fact we are not doing the placing; we are simply uncovering a relationship that has been implicit. Language offers historical evidence for the connection between these different tools, activities, ideas, tendencies; language is, as others have pointed out, an archaeological system but it’s not static, and it’s subject to imaginative interventions. Literary language is suited to this kind of uncovering, though all language does it.
What am I hoping to gain from an experiential stint with textiles in this exploration of the historical linguistic and also heavily metaphoric relationship? The sensory immersion in the smell of unprocessed sheepswool (IE base wel, hair, wool, grass), the sound of the loom clacking and the treadles and beater (batten) thumping, the rhythm required, the necessary listening (music or NPR), the body’s involvement (backbreaking back-threading), is of an hypnotic condition far removed from the alertness required of textual production. In fact until this project swam to the surface of my professional life the two activities–writing and weaving–had complementary but opposing roles in my life; the weaving was a break from the writing, a place to go where creativity was mindless, automatic, untroubled by intellect or the seductive madness of words.
What I had been calling metaphoric, i.e. the obsessive recurrence of textile metaphors in literary criticism and writing about texts, is not really metaphoric after all, because of the etymologically overdetermined connection between the two realms. But in terms of experience, most text workers don’t really use their textile knowledge, being knitting, sewing or other (weaving, embroidering, shopping, wearing clothes, decorating a house, etc) to really lead them in their textual thinking, though they often use a textilic vocabulary as a resource for figurative language to describe this thinking–not only weaving, webs and networking, but knotting, interlacing, etc. So, if there is such profound overlap, why are the modes of textual scholarship so different, and keyed to such a different regime, not to say hierarchy, of knowledge (somewhat like Patricia Smith’s topic of the scientization of craftsmanship; the craftsmen were trying to close a gap that had developed btw Enlightenment style of knowledge –science v art– and the previous understanding of science/art)? But there are many such examples of estrangement from etymological kinship; perhaps one glaring one is the word “labor,” childbirth and industrial factory work; we can see the relationship but the two have such different resonances that women in the early days of second wave feminism claimed a desire for reformed childbirth as the ultimate unalienated experience and a site of deep personal and gender empowerment, etc., blah blah blah. This terrain makes me a bit uncomfortable because of the clear limitations of these kinds of grandiose and utopian desires for proximity with a presumed natural state, and the ways in which this type of feminism, which also turned to crafts like weaving etc., strike us as intellectually dated. Metaphor, too, has gotten a bad name for good reasons (it’s a mystification of relationships rather than a clarification, as is metonymy, etc.), and there is certainly a way in which the use of textile imagery by feminist criticism in the 1970s and 80s displayed what Renato Rosaldo has in a very different context termed “imperialist nostalgia,” so I’m not especially trying to revive an earnest but sentimentally corrupt critical idiom. In fact, I find myself rather defensively trying to define my project against that idiom, to what end I’m not sure, since it’s not an issue in the profession anymore.