Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Weaving the Word & Architecture and the Text

Weaving the Word book coverArch and Text book cover


Weaving the Word: The Metaphorics of Weaving and Female Textual Production (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press and London: Associated University Press, 2001) by Kathryn Sullivan Kruger.

Architecture and the Text: The (S)crypts of Joyce and Piranesi (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993) by Jennifer Bloomer.

Apart from pockets of thinking that consider the crafts theoretically impenetrable because of their foundation in tactile rather than intellectual knowledge, interdisciplinary research is paying increasing attention to the comparative opportunities textiles offer. In particular, analysis of the similarities between texts and textiles is one of the many areas expanding under this broadened field of vision. Writing and woven textiles, in particular, lend themselves to comparison on many levels, from the linguistic roots the two words share, to the structural similarities found in networks of words and threads. Kathryn Sullivan Kruger’s Weaving the Word: The Metaphorics of Weaving and Female Textual Production (2001) and Jennifer Bloomer’s Architecture and the Text: The (S)crypts of Joyce and Piranesi (1993) address this particular interdisciplinary comparison through two distinct styles.

Kruger frames her study by arguing that the communicative role textiles have long played warrants their addition to the literary lexicon as examples of some of the earliest “texts”. Kruger believes that initially storytelling and weaving were analogous acts. Departing from these tangible examples, Kruger then moves to develop Kristeva’s concept of the Maternal Mother (textile) from which the infant (text) issues forth. From this framework, she analyses four Greek myths, William Blake’s The Four Zoas and paintings that depict Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott. Kristeva’s early theory is explained to be the “metaphoric net” through which these subsequent examples are captured although there are moments when the theory is less engaged. Nonetheless, the variety of early sources Kruger draws upon does support her assertion that textiles have carried the honour, and burden, of storytelling long before woman or man put pen to paper.

A further interdisciplinary twist is presented in chapter five when Kruger compares depictions of literature’s Lady of Shallot rendered in paint. Ironically this step draws Kruger back into more concrete territory with analysis settling around the manner in which the transition from paper to pain altered initial authorial intent. What Kruger does not construct herself, and it is a tempting possibility, is an overtly “woven” text. This structural technique can build a literal example of the comparison at hand although there is a risk that the results will feel as though they are slavishly reliant on a formula. Jennifer Bloomer’s Architecture and the Text: The (S)crypts of Joyce and Piranesi (1993) avoids these pitfalls through its ability to present a woven text that addresses her observations, both literal and metaphoric, on the nature of writing and architecture. For her sources she draws on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and the drawings of Piranesi, two artists she explains have haunted and, one must assume, inspired her to embark on the task of delineating the connections that make a simultaneous study of the two valuable.

Bloomer’s text takes on a far more experimental form, with a series of key words such as “mapping” and “weaving” set in brackets throughout the text. In the introduction, Bloomer encourages alternative readings of the text determined by markers other than sequential turning of numbered pages. The system of brackets offers one such opportunity by visually linking passages that incorporate like terms. The “threads” that result can be followed from beginning to end, and across the knots and frays that inevitably arise. As a result, Bloomer’s study looks less at the metaphors weaving and writing share than in inherent structural commonalities.

The works of Kruger and Bloomer, like all interdisciplinary studies, can be read on two levels. One level is for those of us unfamiliar with the specific examples who must instead satisfy ourselves with a reading of the manner in which the comparison came about. The other is for the well read, or the lucky, who find themselves familiar with the specific examples at hand and are able to enjoy both the manner of comparison and are able to address the examples in detail. While interdisciplinary comparisons of textiles and texts will inevitably draw reference from sources of enormous cultural and chronological breadth this should certainly not be seen as a deterrent for future scholars and readers. For what makes these studies ring true in so many ears is the breadth of connections under investigation as well as the infinite comparisons still waiting to be assembled.

Textile: the Journal of Cloth & Culture volume 1, issue 1, 2003: 107-109.