Webs of intrigue

So much of our life is based and depends on stories all connected to our grand life narrative. Perhaps without realizing it, we often view the writing process and story-telling generally in terms of weaving. We can lose the thread when we veer from the plot, or, like inferior fabric or artisanship, find holes in the story that is being told. We spin a tale or recount a yarn. When an author weaves a complicated web or depicts a web of intrigue, this has nothing to do with spiders but rather the fabric on a loom. Thus, we find it in Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott:

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

It is a rich trope since, as in Waterhouse’s painting below, the fabric can depict visual stories.
The Greeks had many goddesses and figures who weaved, notably the Fates (also found in Slavic and Roman lore). In fact, spiders are created when Athena punishes Arachne’s hubris in thinking she can weave better than her by transforming her into the creature. We need only think of the worldwide web to appreciate how tenacious and universal this metaphor is.
These themes are very much my companions at the moment, since I am working on an article about the seventeenth-century priest François-Timoléon de Choisy (1644-1724). He achieved much in his life, participating in a papal conclave, being the abbot of an abbey, historian, diplomat to Siam, and active member of the Académie française, but what he is most remembered for is the incredible tale narrated in the manuscript fragments found by his nephew among his papers following his death. These depict the cleric’s wayward youth living under three different female guises for at least two years when in his twenties, seducing various women along the way, some of whom he dressed as boys and not all of whom realized that he was actually a man.
The standard modern edition of these cross-dressed memoirs edited in 1966 by the French academic Georges Mongrédien might have been destined for relative obscurity were it not for the fact that the famous intellectual Jacques Lacan highlighted the case in a seminar a few months later, urging people to read the text and to familiarize themselves with the Abbé de Choisy. For Lacan, the figure was an amazing example of someone completely at ease with their perversion. Except that the memoirs are patently a fantasy. There is no contemporary evidence whatsoever, not one piece or scrap at all, to back up Choisy’s claims of public cross-dressing, compounded by anachronisms, contradictions, repetitions, and blatant implausibility all through the thread of the story. My article will detail this but it is an uncomfortable endeavour since I am implicitly criticizing those who have accepted the authenticity of Choisy’s account at face value. I think that it is only explained by our gullibility in so wanting the adventures to be true, our delight in the quirky and the bizarre. What an elaborate web did this sneaky priest weave for us!
Today’s cufflinks were made by the Copenhagen-based silversmith Hermann Siersbøl. They are sterling silver and look like they date from the first half of the 1970s. I have three pairs of Siersbøl cufflinks and they are all very different in appearance; it is to the point that it would be difficult to guess that the same designer had manufactured them. What they do have in common is an organic underpinning and they also leave much room to the imagination of the person looking at them, a form of creative flattery to the audience. I see these as the close-up of a weaved fabric, echoing the fabric of our life narrative. After all, does not the similar pattern of the DNA’s double helix constitute the very essence of our physical being?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s