On the Arachne Myth: The Writing of Spiders

…her hair, touched by the poison, fell off, and with it both nose and ears; and the head shrank up; her whole body also was small; the slender fingers clung to her side as legs; the rest was belly. Still from this she ever spins a thread; and now, as a spider, she exercises her old-time weaver-art.
Ovid (1971: 299)

The spider produces the symbolic act of writing by turning back on itself in a monstrous coupling.
Catherine Clément (1975: 25)

Minerva[1] descends to confront the famed weaver Arachne, a girl who would contend with the gods. Disguised as an old woman, Minerva implores the mortal to humble herself, to ask for forgiveness and, Arachne, in hubris, refuses. “Let her but strive with me” (Ovid, 1971: 291). In response, throwing aside her disguise, the goddess presents herself to the young weaver, and offended, accepts her challenge. Minerva weaves a tapestry with the twelve heavenly gods adorning its center, royal and full, bordered by a wreath of olive branches—and in the four corners, scenes of mortal failures to challenge the rule of the gods. Arachne’s tapestry depicts, within borders of flowers and ivy, without any one dominant figure, scenes of celestial dishonesty: gods masquerading as mortals and animals, changing their forms, impregnating women, giving false gifts. The goddess’s tapestry is beautiful, but not even Envy himself can find fault with Arachne’s work (Ovid, 1971: 297). Minerva, however, while forced to acknowledge her opponent’s supremacy in weaving, becomes indignant, destroys Arachne’s tapestry, and strikes her. Unable to live in the shadow of such a scattered and empty victory, which comes at the price of losing her work, Arachne hangs herself; but Minerva takes “pity” on her and, rather than let her die, transforms her, with a poison,[2] into a spider. “Live on, indeed, wicked girl, but hang thou still; and let this same doom of punishment (that thou mayst fear for future times as well) be declared upon thy race, even to remote posterity” (Ovid, 1971: 297). Accursed, henceforth Arachne weaves in the dark corners of the world, unable to finish her work, unable to take pride in it, unable to practice her craft save in the service of her basest drives, out of the sight of others. In short, Arachne’s curse is to become unreadable. However, in thus damning her, does not Minerva confirm the prescience of Arachne’s tapestry, bringing its horrible beauty to life?

Minerva’s real loss is not of a simple contest, but of her ontotheological wisdom, and the subsequent spite of the goddess proves that it was always already lost—or perhaps predicated on loss itself (of form, stability, sensibility, meaning)—to begin with. The multiplicity of scenes of deceit in Arachne’s tapestry leave their border of ivy and flowers and are confirmed in the world at the moment that Minerva casts her spell. Correspondingly, Minerva’s magic condemns the presence of the twelve deities on her own tapestry to Arachne’s economy of misrepresentation. They are conceptually unraveled at the moment that Arachne’s tapestry is physically unraveled, and carried over into the curse that she places on this young woman weaver. In this sense, Minerva’s wisdom is rewritten in animality, in spiders’ webs, no longer guaranteed by the heavens but dispersed among the crotches of trees, holes in the ground, catacombs and basements. Though Arachne wins the competition, she loses her self and her representative capacity of weaving; but this loss of representation retroactively infects, like the bite of a spider, the entire economy through which Minerva monopolizes, guarantees, and distributes the wisdom to interpret Truth “as such”.

This myth can therefore be allegorically translated in terms of a displacement of theological preeminence; but further, it can also be seen to function as a commentary on readability—that is, on the implications of the materiality of signification and textuality, or “writing” understood in a specific (deconstructive) mode. And the cipher to such a reading of Arachne’s textual (un)readability is in fact not only metaphorical, but, conveniently enough, etymological. Roland Barthes, in and with regard to his “Théorie du texte”, writes of the image suggested by the same etymology of the word “text”:

 it is a tissue; but while preceding criticism (the only known form, in France, of a literary theory) has unanimously put the accent on a finite “tissue” (the text as a veil behind which it is necessary to look for the truth, the real message, in short the meaning), the actual theory of the text turns over this text-veil and tries to perceive the tissue in its texture, in its tracings of codes, of formulas, of signifiers, within which the subject places itself and unravels itself, like a spider that dissolves itself in its web. The initiate in neologisms could therefore define the theory of the text as a “hyphology” (hyphos, that is to say the tissue, the veil and the spider’s web).[3]

The word “text” (as well as “texture”, “tectonic”—through the proto-Indo-European root “teks”—and more obviously “textile”, etc.) is derived from texere, the Latin verb for “to weave”. Indeed, as Jacques Derrida notes, the relation of weaving to hyphos (tissue, veil, web) also moves through sewing (Latin suo, suere) to the hymen (Derrida, 1981: 213), an epicenter of sexuality and its readability or lack thereof. So when Barthes compares the text to “the tissue, the veil and the spider’s web”, these are not merely apt concepts or metaphors to describe textuality; these historical chains also inflect quite literally the material possibilities for writing and readability. Arachne and her cursed arachnoid progeny’s webs are thus texts avant la lettre, as well as physically devant la lettre, comme lettre, the letter as web, the writing of spiders.

 

Webs

All these etymological threads, however, are not just academic exercises (though what serious paper involving a poststructural analysis of narrative would be complete without some puns?). They also open up an example of what it means to consider language in its material weave. To take another wordy example, uncoincidentally from Jacques Derrida’s essay in Veils, he writes of

voiles in the masculine [veils] or in the feminine [sails], savoir [knowing] and vouloir [willing], la vérité [truth] and le vrai [the true] of the verdict, la voix [the voice], les voies [the ways], and le voir [seeing], le pouvoir [power] and le devoir [duty], la venue [the coming] or the “viens” [“come”] of the “me voici” [“here I am”] or the  me voila [“there I am”], and I leave you to carry on without end. It’s the same braid, but infinite. All these vocables echo each other in Savoir, these words and many others set each other off endlessly along a chain of echoes, in a beam of light whose power is increased by the mirrors it hits on its way” (2001: 56).

Along a chain of what Saussure calls associations and Jakobson calls paradigms, these V-words, in Derrida’s example, relate through their written and phonetic similarities.[4] However, perhaps the actual importance of such a braiding, or weaving of language is explained well enough in a passage from “Plato’s Pharmacy” wherein Derrida addresses a similar speculative mechanics of language (in Hegel’s writing): “What counts here is not the lexical richness, the semantic infiniteness of a word or concept, its depth or breadth, the sedimentation that has produced inside it two contradictory layers of signification…. What counts here is the formal or syntactical praxis that composes and decomposes it” (1981: 220).[5] This praxis is not merely an abdication of meaning along a never-ending chain of paradigmatic, syntagmatic, etymological and irresponsible linguistic connections. Rather, it spins a web of and between signifiers that transposes and displaces the economy of signification implied in the traditional linguistic dichotomy of signifier and signified.[6] This displacement of the signified onto an interweaving of signifiers characterizes a certain materiality of language, through which supposedly definite meanings of words are relativized in favor a conception of the sign that emphasizes the written and functional aspects of its signifiers, rather than concentrating on the myth of a concept eternally present above and behind the word. Thus the gods’ wisdom, woven into Minerva’s tapestry, gives way to Arachne’s decentered sewing of deceitful representations, for which her work is destroyed and scattered as the bare material that composed it. This material outlives the tapestry and its narrative.

To continue to speak in terms of signification, to the extent that one can: such a materiality is, perhaps ironically, typified in the language of mathematics. As an example of the degree to which signifiers can be (and are) detached from a unitary conception of meaning, and proceed along lines of “a priori necessary infidelity” (Derrida, 1997: 39), mathematics—or more especially theoretical mathematics—operates apart from what it is supposed to ideally signify. In other words, even though mathematics is perhaps the most ideal science, its structures of signification work in such a way that they are not immediately linked with the transmission of any one idea. Rather, they are the material of functions. The signifiers of mathematics only perform in regard to a writing that depends on algebraic equivalences, which, historically, have “never been absolutely linked with a phonetic production” (Derrida, 1997: 10). Like math, then, writing functions as a (re)combinatory system wherein meaning varies on and through its surface characters, exceeding or preceding the ideal limits of the individual elements (signs, numbers) with which it is composed and ultimately communicated—though the precision of mathematical theorems is lost in linguistic constructions, which are open. Writing embodies a material character to language that elides the transcendental, philosophical (Platonic) tendency to ascribe fixity to meaning within clear and distinct forms.

With a similar, and perhaps more explicit, concern for the materiality of language,[7] Jacques Lacan deliberately employs pseudo-mathematical symbols[8] in his psychoanalytic explication of the unconscious in (or as) language.[9] For Lacan, the Cartesian cogito, who thinks—through language—in order to guarantee his—the white male philosopher’s—“being”, existence, certitude, is lost in language. He thinks and speaks, in short, in order to remind himself that he is signified and signifiable, and therefore “real” (as if these terms were not all already signifiers caught in a system of referential differences), but by doing so he forfeits his self-subsistence. In other words, Lacan questions whether or not the subject that speaks and thinks is able to do so without dispersing himself again in the language that he uses. The question therefore becomes whether or not there can be a direct correspondence between the subject that speaks and the subject that is spoken,[10] that is through speaking. In Lacan’s words, ““[i]s the place that I occupy as subject of the signifier concentric or eccentric in relation to the place I occupy as subject of the signified? The point is not to know whether I speak of myself in a way that conforms to what I am, but rather to know whether, when I speak of myself, I am the same as the self of whom I speak” (2006: 430). Again, then, there is a question of the presence of speech and signification. Lacan’s answer to this question is mathematical: the subject is eccentric—or in Derrida’s words, exorbitant (1997: 161-162)—in relation to itself. It is a subject “split” between signifiers, which finds itself only through an impossible crossing of and return across a linguistic weave, which necessarily requires constant traversal, always spinning out of what would confine it into a subject (whether of sentence or soul).[11] And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Lacan discusses the spider’s web as an analogy of his decision to speak of language and the subject in such a material math:

can’t the formalization of mathematical logic, which is based only on writing (l’écrit), serve us in the analytic process, in that what invisibly holds (retient) bodies is designated therein?

If I were allowed to give an image for this, I would easily take that which, in nature, seems to most closely approximate the reduction to the dimensions of the surface [that] writing (l’écrit) requires, at which Spinoza himself marveled—the textual work that comes out of the spider’s belly, its web. It is a truly miraculous function to see, on the very surface emerging from an opaque point of this strange being, the trace of these writings taking form, in which one can grasp the limits, impasses, and dead ends that show the real acceding to the symbolic (Lacan, 1998: 93).

Thus all this talk between signifier and signifier of signifier finds its justification in a strange analogy, which, in this case, is not merely didactic. This is to say that the point here is not so much to show how language is like the weave of a spider’s web, which is already in some ways apparent to most who use it, but rather how the spider’s web is already language, and thus how language is not just an ideal construction against which those in the know make ideal comparisons. It is a question of preventing Arachne from again being submitted to Minerva.

If, then, one is to talk about the “materiality of the signifier”, how can one do so without again falling into the trap of singing materialism’s praises on the stage of idealism? How can one talk about web-weaving without anthropomorphizing the spider? How is it possible to talk about Arachne’s metamorphosis and to discuss her fate without forgetting her tapestries in lieu of those of Minerva or the Moirai? It must, in short, be possible to move beyond the categorical imperatives of the residue of the signified, within language, to find the venom and the life of it—that is, if it is to count for anything but cobwebs.

Spiders

Perhaps this question, which now turns to the spider, can be recast in terms of Julia Kristeva’s development on the Lacanian subject.[12] In short, to what Lacan calls the “symbolic”—i.e. the web of signifiers that generate meaning, through which the subject both emerges and recedes—Kristeva opposes a “semiotic” aspect of language, a “distinctive mark” (1984: 25)[13] that permeates its symbolic function. This distinctive mark of language amplifies another side of its materiality, which in poetic language can be seen in prosody and meter, and can especially be heard in the sound and rhythm of music, or latently in verbal expression (without necessarily taking on meaning). It is a semiotics that can perhaps best be heard in the speechless (infans) cry of the infant, for whom, in Kristeva’s view, the mother functions as principle of symbolic organization (Kristeva, 1984: 27). Therefore, if in Lacan a symbolic order conditions desire, which, because of the elusiveness of language can never be fully understood or fulfilled, the non-signifying semiotic mark of language in Kristeva is correlated to the more primordial Freudian conception of drive (Trieb). But without getting too far into Kristeva’s theories of language, this semiotic site of drives is enough to begin to read the other half of an arachnoid[14] writing: Arachne, the spider herself. Not only caught in the web of the mathematical-material aspect of writing, which weaves, diminishes[15] and interweaves meaning along chains of signifiers, she moves along its semiotic threads in filiation, eroticism and hunger. Arachne the spider, no longer weaver of representations, becomes a spinner of drives that burst and move through meaning and symbolically communicated desires. This is therefore to speak of opening within language its own force,[16] but also of opening it to the forces that it mediates, to let them infect it and devour it.[17]

In Veils, Derrida implicitly discusses a similar weaving of drives, in relation to Freud’s lecture, “Femininity”.[18] In this lecture, Freud assumes a naturalistic connection between women’s pubic hair and her historical relation to the practice of weaving.[19] “Nature herself would seem to have given the model which this achievement imitates by causing the growth at maturity of the pubic hair that conceals the genitals. The step that remained to be taken lay in making the threads adhere to one another, while on the body they stick into the skin and are only matted together” (Freud, 1963: 132). Derrida reads this Freudian connection in terms of a relation between animality and woman, writing that this technique—weaving—is, for Freud,

less a break with physis than an imitative extension of it, thus confirming, perhaps, a certain animality of woman even in her artifices (and what if a tekhnè never broke radically with a physis, if it only ever deferred it in differing from it, why reserve this animal naturality to woman?) A woman would weave like a body secretes for itself its own textile, like a worm, but this time like a worm without worm, a worm primarily concerned to hide in itself its non-being (Derrida, 2001: 60).

Woman’s Freudian relation to weaving—which it should go without saying is no more than Freud’s own infantile dependence on an idée fixe—thus parallels her exclusion from a masculine, symbolic transcendentalism as well as psychoanalytic discourse (itself founded on the inability of woman (the hysteric) to articulate herself within the former), placing her (body) in the liminal space between nature and culture, between animality and language and—perhaps—between writing and speech. Even when “woman”, on Freud’s view, contributes to culture, she does so from an inextricable relation to nature that prevents her from entering entirely into its symbolic economy. However, what Derrida acknowledges is that it is precisely this uncertain position that unsettles the distinction which naturally excludes the feminine from language and culture in the first place.[20] To thus conceive of a tekhnè that cannot remove itself from physis implies a question of teleology that places the telos of technique within the technique itself (of weaving or writing, for instance), rather than outside of it in relation to another good or to another present. Such an introversion of teleology thereby ruptures, or generalizes, the economy in which a technical language might operate as a means of transmission, of signification—perhaps resembling something of the semiotic praxis[21] that Derrida emphasizes elsewhere (1981: 220). And so this ambiguity between physis and tekhnè that appears in Freud’s reading of woman creates an animal that would “weave like a body secretes for itself its own textile”. This weaving is already of a text,[22] but by making this text into a textile—between soi (self) and soie (silk) (Derrida, 2001:58)— Derrida’s reading of Freud replaces the body directly within the signifying process (signifiance).[23] He then locates this embodied writing in the spinning of a silkworm; yet this weave might just as easily be made of spider-silk. Arachne’s threads thus issue directly from her, driven and created by her “nature”, no longer for the sake of beautiful representation, but for a base and erotic activity (killing, feeding and reproducing) that engulfs the godly forms of signification that had previously regulated her weaving. As a spider, her writing and her drives are no longer separate.[24] She is no longer the bearer of ideal forms, constructed wisely on a loom; as a spider, the materiality of her textual work prevents her from even maintaining a separation between her self and the silk that she spins,[25] moving with it and across it as the site of her drives, her own matter.[26]

However, to discuss Arachne in these terms is again not merely to set up a teachable metaphor or an allegory (in the traditional sense). One can in fact find preliminary examples of this embodied textual praxis in recalling Derrida’s alliterative proclivities quoted earlier, about all those V-words: voiles, voir, voila, savoir, etc. He writes:

One can scarcely count the V’s of Savoir, but the lips do what they say in it. They weave by secretion an irreplaceable tunic of consonants…all these labial consonants, all these lip movements—it is not enough merely to count them, not enough merely to accumulate their statistics, you have to give yourself over to the very necessity of the written at the very place where it falls silent again (read it twice, with your eyes, then aloud, and several times, as here, like this, in different tones) (2001: 57).

The question is one of reading and writing like a spider, of fabricating from textual relations textural ones (for which these phonetics are an example). It is not so much a question of speaking or singing, but of a material relationship of language that gestures elsewhere, not merely toward “what” can be said. It is a question of weaving a textu(r)al fabric, a web, a hymen made of silk between language and its necessarily possible insignificance: “the confusion between the present and the nonpresent, along with all the indifferences it entails within the whole series of opposites (perception/nonperception, memory/image, memory/desire, etc.), produces the effect of a medium (a medium as element enveloping both terms at once; a medium located between the two terms). It is an operation that both sows confusion between opposites and stands between the opposites ‘at once’” (Derrida, 1981: 212). Text becomes textile, tissue, threads woven between the matter of the word and the matter of the world, pronounced without distinction. It sounds Arachne’s curse—a destroyed tapestry, no longer representation of the gods, but a diminished writing, a dispersion of indeterminate bodies among signs, indecipherable signs among bodies, in an arachnoid writing that moves through the vibrations of the web of signification, which otherwise trap the self (soi) in its silk (soie). In the latter case, one would probably prefer to be a spider.

 

 

Bibliography:

Barthes, Roland. (1974). S/Z. Richard Miller (Trans.). London, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Barthes, Roland. (1998). “Théorie du texte”, in Oeuvres Completes, Tome II (1966-1973). Paris, France: Éditions du Seuil.

Clément, Catherine and Cixous, Hélène. (1975). The Newly Born Woman. Betsy Wing (Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Derrida, Jacques. (1997). Of Grammatology. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Trans.). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. (1981). “Plato’s Pharmacy”, in Dissemination. Barbara Johnson (Trans.). London, UK: The Athlone Press.

Derrida, Jacques and Hélène Cixous. (2001). Veils. Geoffrey Bennington (Trans.). Standford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Freud, Sigmund. (1963). “Femininity”, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXII. James Strachey (Trans.). London, UK: The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis.

Lacan, Jacques. (2006). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. Bruce Fink (Trans.). London, UK: W.W. Norton and Company.

Lacan, Jacques. (1998). On Feminine Sexuality: The Limits of Love and Knowledge. Bruce Fink (Trans.). New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

Kristeva, Julia. (1984). Revolution in Poetic Language. Margaret Walker (Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Kruger, Katherine Sullivan. (2001). Weaving the Word: The Metaphorics of Weaving and Femaile Textual Production. London, UK: Rosemont Publishing and Printing Corporation.

Ovid. (1971). The Loeb Classics Library: Ovid III: Metamorphoses I. Frank Justus Miller (Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. (2011). Course in General Linguistics. Wade Basking (Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.


[1] Ovid names the goddess “Pallas”. The use of “Minerva” here, however, is to implicate more directly the Hegelian and post-Hegelian philosophical tradition, with reference to Hegel’s owl of Minerva, which flies at twilight. This metaphor illustrates that knowledge only arises after the fact, in a kind of Nacht-räglichkeit that ensures the development of wisdom, but always too late (for political use, for example). What would be the implications of replacing Hegel’s owl of Minerva with Minerva’s spider (Arachne), also a creature of dusk?

[2] Perhaps this poison is a pharmakeia: the Latin is tristi medicamine (Ovid, 1971: 298).

[3] My translation [l’image suggérée par l’étymologie meme du mot «texte»: c’est un tissu; mais alors que précédemment la critique (seule forme connue en France d’une théorie de la littérature) mettait unanimement l’accent sur le «tissue» fini (le texte étant un «voile» derrière lequel il fallait aller chercher la vérité, le message réel, bref le sens), la théorie actuelle du texte se détourne du texte-voile et cherche à percevoir le tissu dans sa texture, dans l’entrelacs des codes, des formules, des signifiants, au sein duquel le sujet se place et se défait, telle une araignée qui se dissoudrait elle-même dans sa toile. L’amateur de neologismes pourrait donc definer la théorie du texte comme une «hyphologie» (hyphos, c’est le tissue, le voile et la toile d’araignée) (Barthes, 1998: 1683-1684).].

[4] It is important that Derrida gives a phonetic as well as a written example here, which will be discussed in more detail in the second section of this essay.

[5] Praxis, or action, as Aristotle describes it in the sixth chapter of the Nichomachean Ethics, moves through and exceeds the calculative reasoning that is associated with tekhnè without being submitted to it. This is to say that praxis, action, is not associated with an end outside of itself, but is only concerned with an immediacy that performs its ends within its means—at least on a certain reading. Later in this essay, this praxis will be again discussed in terms of the Aristotelian concepts of teknè and physis, as a possible intermediary between them.

[6] In Saussurean linguistics (2011), the word—the sign—is understood as a combination of a “signified”, which functions as the concept that supposedly stands behind—substantiates—and allows for the possibility of meaning in language, and a “signifier”, or the “acoustic image” through which the sign and its concept are (verbally) communicated—since Saussure presupposes that linguistics begins with the phonic, i.e. spoken word. However, as Derrida observes in Of Grammatology (1997), Saussure characterizes writing as the merely external clothing of the phonic signifier—a signifier of a signifier (Derrida, 1997: 7)—and then proceeds to quite virulently expel it (see Saussure (2011), chapter six) from his structural linguistics in order to ground a prejudice toward a full presence of meaning and intention supposedly carried by speech. Against this tendency, Derrida pits Saussure’s own differential conception of language, whereby signs are constituted as meaningful only through a series of differences in which the seeming positivity of a sign is the result of how it differs from the other signifiers in a given language (before taking on anything like a positive “definition”). Extrapolating these differences as primary, the primacy of the signified drops out of Saussure’s system of signifers, since each signifier only then refers negatively to other signifiers to constitute its meanings. In other words, Derrida shows that there is no signified prior to the play between signifiers: “the signified is…always already in the position of the signifier” (Derrida, 1997: 73). The result of such a radicalization of these differential relations—to oversimplify it for argument’s sake—Derrida calls the “trace”: the trace left on language by the differences that each sign recalls in establishing itself as significant: the presence of absent signifiers against which something—to be tentatively interpreted as “meaning”—stands out in relief. In this trace between absence and presence, the sign is neither fully present nor fully absent, but always reconstituted by its relations, strung out like a web through chains of signifiers. Derrida discusses this play in terms of writing, since writing, as Saussure already argues, is traditionally understood as a signifier of a signifier.

[7] Lacan—among others—explicitly speaks of the “materiality of the signifier”: “my aim is not to confuse letter with spirit [esprit], even when we receive the former by pneumatic dispatch, and that I readily admit that one kills if the other gives life, insofar as the signifier—you are perhaps beginning got catch my drift—materializes the instance of death. But whereas it is first of all the materiality of the signifier that I have emphasized, that materiality is singular in many ways, the first of which is not to allow of partition. Cut a letter into small pieces, and it remains the letter that it is” (Lacan, 2006: 16). “By ‘letter’ I designate the material medium [support] that concrete discourse borrows from language” (Lacan, 2006: 413).

[8] For example: S,s,$, a, A, A, $, ∃, ∀, +, —, etc.

[9] These are then developed into complex equations, algorithms and tables. Consider his equation for metonymy: f(S…S’)S S(—)s. Or that for metaphor: f(S’/S)S ≅ S(+)s.

[10] Lacan implicitly borrows Emile Benveniste’s linguistic distinction between a sujet d’énonciation and a sujet d’énoncé.

[11] It is in this gap between signifier and subject, or rather between signifier and signifier of a signifier, that Lacan locates the unconscious in language, since what is said is always at a remove from what (“who”) is saying it, and is therefore in a sense unknown to the speaker.

[12] Kathryn Sullivan Kruger’s impressive study of weaving and textuality (2001), which deals with Arachne at points, also uses Kristeva’s work as a model: “I propose that Kristeva’s theories provide a working metaphor for the separation between text and textile: the text is likened to the infant, undifferentiated at first from the Mother, whereas the textile constitutes the body from which texts issue, from which texts are born. Because the textile depends on a weaver who has already entered into the Symbolic, the textile incarnates the weaver’s desire to represent the loss of the pre-oedipal Mother with a maternal-material body to warm and protect it” (Kruger, 2001: 36). Kruger seems to conceive of weaving metaphorically as a sort of sublimation of the infant’s separation from the Mother; however, as she notes, this “abjected text (as with all texts since) still retains traces of the textile, of this maternal body” (ibid.). Such a distinct separation is never complete for Kristeva either. Weaving, within the context of this essay, serves precisely to reinstall (in Kristevan terms) the “chora”, the materiality that is exemplified by the mother, within the symbolic order, but not merely by “representing” it (and thus not merely within the symbolic order).

[13] “[D]istinctive mark, trace, index, precursory sign, proof, engraved or written sign, imprint, trace, figuration…a distinctiveness, [which] allows us to connect it to a precise modality in the signifying process” (Kristeva, 1984:25). This listing of descriptions shows well enough that this mark of the semiotic is not one that merely signifies.

[14] This adjective is an attempt to connote both the myth of Arachne and spiders in general, which is to say at once the mythopoeic, historical, and material aspects of language, articulability, and readability

[15] Derrida writes of diminishment, or diminution, as a part of the weaving process, at the beginning of his essay in Veils: “Not undo, I guess, but diminish, i.e., though I had no idea what the word meant then but I was all the more intrigued by it, even in love with it, that they needed to diminish the stitches or reduce the knit of what they were working on. And for this diminution, needles and hands had to work with two loops at once, or at least play with more than one.—Which has nothing to do, if I understand aright, with the mastery of a Royal Weaver or with Penelope’s ruse, with the metis of weaving-unweaving” (2001: 21-22).

[16] One might find parallels to be made here with J.L. Austen’s conception of performativity.

[17] In this sense, Barthes (writing of Kristeva in the same essay as spiders) describes a theory of a text that becomes erotic (1998: 1682) (though not in a necessarily sexual way).

[18] Barthes also discusses this in S/Z (1974: 160).

[19] He credits women with inventing, or rather discovering, weaving as a way in which to conceal their lack of the phallus.

[20] Hélène Cixous, with whom Derrida co-wrote Veils, has, in a very similar way, much to say about reclaiming the position of the hysteric (cf. “The Laugh of Medusa”).

[21] Consider how Aristotle characterizes deliberative versus calculative logics of praxis and tekhnè in chapter six of his Nichomachean Ethics.

[22] Freud’s text, for example.

[23] This writing of the body is, again, to be considered along the same lines as Cixous’s idea of an écriture féminine.

[24] In The Newly Born Woman, co-written with Hélène Cixous, Catherine Clément (1975: 25) briefly writes in a similar way of the spider and the fly in chapter five of Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as one of Hugo’s drawings (of a spider). The spider turns its writing back on itself, confusing and confounding the symbolic act, bringing it into itself, making it monstrous.

[25] Hegel gives the example of the spider’s web in his Philosophy of Nature as an example of what he calls the “constructive instinct”, which, it can be argued, is a prefiguration of Spirit; thus, even in Hegel it is possible to construe the spider’s web as at least a proto-linguistic phenomenon (though it might be more productive to consider the web as another language altogether, rather than anthropomorphizing the spider in an underdeveloped “constructive instinct”).

[26] To speak of an interweaving of text and materiality, to speak of a text’s relation to the body, and so on, is not the same as speaking of author’s intention, nor is it to speak of the identity of the speaker, or of any form of an originary, transcendental selfhood. To speak of bodies in this way is in fact to string the body outside of itself, as the spider “dissolves itself in its web” (Barthes, 1998: 1685)—which is a distinction that is of course itself entangled in all sorts of historical and philosophical nuances, but one that must be insisted upon.