WHO CARES ABOUT HOLES? MATTER AND ITS ABSENCE IN WOVEN TEXTILES
“Nothingness. The Void. An absence of matter. The blank page. Utter silence. No thing, no thought, no awareness. Complete ontological insensibility” (Barad, 2012). There, nothingness is nothing more than matter in action. In this study, the blank space is considered from the perspective of the hole in weaving as an entity. Drawing on the thinking of Karen Barad and Johnny Golding’s reflections on emergence, this paper explores the reality of the hole (structure unit) in weaving and its role in the reality of the whole (woven cloth). As an absence, a ‘not-something’ as opposed to a ‘nothing’, I interrogate our comprehension and use of this ever-changing site of passage. Can we capture the woven hole? And in so doing, what is our intention? While we might not intelligibly comprehend why and how the hole is inherent to woven cloth’s existence, a reflection behind its role might open new structural potentials.
Woven cloth construction relies on the intertwining of vertical and horizontal threads — respectively known as warp and weft. As such, the practice of weaving might be defined by its organised, hierarchical spatial structuring — one that is mechanically, socially, culturally and politically tense. It is a binary approach to being, in which a perpendicular entanglement of threads allows for the cloth to exist. When creatively thinking and experimenting with elements, weavers solely rely on this dualist way of constructing cloth, resulting in complete dependence on machine specifications. However, holes, those blank spaces and areas of nothingness which neighbour warp and weft are part and a part of the cloth. In the very construction of textiles — although their role seems evident — their inherent presence has been disregarded.
“There can be no knots without the performance of knotting” (Ingold, 2015). Quipu (see Figure 1), an Inca recording instrument made of knotted strands of yarn, could be considered as the first smart textile systems. This Andean apparatus was used to communicate data between people. Worn or carried, the numeral systemic ornament constituted a specific number of knots whose separation and distance conveyed an intended meaning. Spaces in-between knotted matter would mediate a message, from tax calculation to calendrical representation. By changing the trajectory to convey data, the unfolding and refolding of these threads had a sense of becoming. Deleuze and Guattari (2004), writing on the ways in which bended lines emerge, state that: “Always in the middle: one can only get it by the middle. A becoming is neither one nor two, not the relation of the two, it is the in-between.”
To begin, let us contemplate the nature of textiles and more precisely, weaving. In a wonderful way, woven cloth is fundamentally antithetical. It is chaste and erotic, covering and revealing, divine and mundane all at once. Radically, woven cloth embodies a disturbing and unintelligible conflict. Simultaneously rigid and fluid, chaotic and ordered, textile thinker Claire Pajaczkowska (2005) remarks that “it is a grid, a matrix of intersecting verticals and horizontals, as systemic as graph paper, and yet it is soft, curved and can drape itself into a three-dimensional fold.” Continuously chasing “the dream of symmetry” that science and philosophy have desperately clung to ever since the eighteenth century, this binary mode of doing transcends woven textiles’ construction insofar as the duality of their meanings.
Beyond this concerning paradox, the author points out humans’ obscure relationship and experience of textiles as ‘things’ or ‘stuff’. The latter, tightly linked to its French origin ‘étoffe’ (a voluptuous version of ‘cloth’) appears to be a reductive “term for generic “thingness”, unspecified materiality, in a way that eloquently represents [...] the threshold between” (ibid). This “threshold” reflects the space established between human and cloth: an “imaginary-real” (Golding, 2020) liminal site of passage (see Figure 2). Seen as an ‘encounter’ (Heidegger, 1962) woven cloth might represent the “fission and fusion between subject and object”, one that is “at the nuclear core of textiles.” (Pajaczkowska, 2005).
In The Courage to Matter, Golding (2020) reflects on Heidegger’s lectures regarding the ‘logic of technē’, for whom technology would have no association with the machine itself. She writes,
“[...] it was all about (1) the ‘grasp’, both as in comprehending and as in reaching out or being pulled toward ‘the there’ (and vice versa, ‘the there’ being pulled toward being); and (2) the fact that the 20th century (for whatever reasons) named an epoch, not unlike had occurred in ancient Greece when, according to Heidegger, this way of ‘grasping’ (in-)formed the whole of reality and provided its framework.” (ibid)
Stepping back, delving deeper into the ‘technē’ of weaving and the hole as a structure unit I realise that I have conceived it as a hollow entity, an in-between space, a framed void that is bordered by those allowing its existence, warp and weft. Could the hole reflect “channels between visible and invisible realms” that “situates textiles as active mediators”? (Golda, 2019)
THERE IS NO ‘IN-BETWEEN’
Vicky Kirby’s (2017) brutal argument that there is no (blank) space in between things because “there are no ‘things’, no givens”, provides little room for discussion. There is no ‘in-between’. Before blindly agreeing with Kirby’s radical thinking, I wonder, what is the ‘in between’?
Anthropologist Tim Ingold differentiates ‘between’ from ‘in-between’. Of the latter, he states:
“[it] is a movement of generation and dissolution in a world of becom-ing where things are not yet given — such as they might then be joined up — but on the way to being given”. [...] It is an interstitial differentiation, a fission/fusion reaction, a winding and unwinding, inhalation and exhalation.” (Ingold, 2015)
Ingold’s idea of a fission/fusion (re)actions occurring at specific interstitial sites — much like the one of Pajaczkowska — clearly stems from Barad’s neologism ‘intra-action’. The latter proposes that the presence of entities precedes their relations. ‘Intra-actions’ are dynamic shifts that, as opposed to interactions, are not dependent on anything exterior or interior to the actions themselves.
To understand the idea of the in/existent in-between, I turn again to poet-philosopher Johnny Golding’s writings. She exposes the notion of ‘sticky cohesion’ which, extremely simplified, is the essence of anything we want to call matter. Any entity, however its size, is constituted of two sides, the A and the not A. These can always and only be cohered “together-forever” (Golding, 2020), in such ways that their apartness is maintained whilst their unity is preserved. This ‘sticky cohesion’, referring to our fission/fusion actions, occurs in what is known as the ‘excluded-middle’.
As opposed to being a dividing void, our interwoven hole could be seen as an area of ‘intra-actions’. It is an ever-evolving site of change and exchange insofar as being an intricate limitless limit. The A and not A of our absence, constantly reconfiguring both apart and together their chaotic order, “forms their own cohesive, sticky, hell or unified contradiction” (ibid).
Paradox preserved, the idea of a limitless limit mentioned above needs attention. Thomas Nail (2018) in his study of Lucretius’s poetry states:
“The limit is produced by active processes of limiting or bordering which, in the very act of demarcation, produce an extension beyond the limit. Every limit thus presupposes a division on either side. On one side of the limit, for example, things are included, on the other they are excluded. Each limitation therefore presupposes both that which is limited and that which it is limited by.” (ibid)
Not exactly endless and going in every direction all at once — from the infinitesimally small to the immensely big — the hole and its porous edges cannot be an in-between. Additionally, Barad argues that there can never be rigid and static boundaries. This is taken further by Gamble, Hanan and Nail (2019) who state, “humans can therefore never observe the universe as though from outside of it. [...] As such, humans (like everything else) always partly constitute and are partly constituted by that which they observe.” Which leads me to wonder, how can one discern and capture the woven hole?
CAPTURING THE W/HOLE
Barad expresses that in order to measure a ‘thing’ (assuming that there is a ‘thing’), one “require specific measurement apparatuses” (2005). A probe, for her, is an “agential” tool that allows for the performative practice of measuring.
I embrace my measuring tool, my pen, as the apparatus with which I attempt to grasp the intent of the hole. Surrounding and surrounded by ‘something’ else, it seems to constantly change its own tangible border-limits. Without much thought, I connect pen with paper through the hole (see Figure 3). Only able to re-perforate it where my pen fits, I join with the edges (those shape-changing borders), leaving “the trace of an action rather than its aim” (Sampson, 2017). Disturbing the ongoing open-ended reconfiguration of matter occurring within that space, I become part of the movements of change. In so doing, I also unite with the boundaries of that space, its depth, emptiness and physical limits. Here and now, I realise that “to textile” (Mitchell, 1997) is to entwine nothingness into the whole.
But how can we define the boundaries of nothingness in which its limits are limitless? In the context of weave geometry creation, I question why I care about these interstices of ‘not-something’. Afterall, the aim of constructing new weave architectures is to produce a cloth usable for a myriad of applications. Yet this seems highly reductive of woven textiles' mechanical and un-mechanical history, attributes and meanings. To understand new meanings and use of the blank space in weaving, I begin with what is already at hand.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘hole’ as “a hollow space in something solid or in the surface of something” or “a space or opening that goes all the way through something”. Following this rationale, I realise the emptiness and rigidity, and therefore invariability of its assumed boundaries. It is seen as a surface — or at least part of it — which will eventually find an endpoint, a limit to its depth. As such, hole as nothingness might be a contradiction in itself.
Looking at the organisation of the letters composing ‘whole’ and ‘hole’, one can wonder how one letter i.e., ‘w’, can entirely alter the meaning of its contrary. We confront an issue of contradictory lexical semantics, in which a word absorbed by its opposite could alter the dualistic mode of doing, thinking and being.
The word ‘hole’ takes its root from the Old English hol, meaning 'perforation, orifice’. ‘Whole’, on the other hand, stems from hal, ‘uninjured, entire (body)’. Then, the woven cloth (geometric whole) might be revealed by the piercing other (hole). The very first move of the making of cloth might then be an incision. Golding (2020) speaks of otherness as “a kind of safe non-place where one could possibly ‘exist’ as neither as an x [thesis] nor as a y [anti-thesis]”. We have now, it seems a paradox within a paradox. Hole and whole are both, neither here nor there, neither thesis
nor antithesis, neither emerging from an x nor y axis. This now dramatically disturbs the Euclidean, mathematical and logical construction of woven textiles.
ZERO IN ONE
With this troubling discovery, I move towards the notion of emergence and Golding’s eye-opening interpretation of Heidegger’s idea of A=A (Parmenides): that which encapsulates the belonging of A to A (mentioned above). Heidegger takes a step beyond his Greek companion in referring to ‘=’ as “a belonging that ‘sticks together’” (Golding, 2020), simultaneously letting the A(s) attract and repel each other. Golding continues:
“This encounter is a non-intentional moment of cohesion that enables meaning to take shape and to take place. [...] The first step of identity, [...] is for Heidegger, belonging, one that articulates the fundamental importance of ‘being-apart-together.’” (ibid)
Once again, we encounter a binary leitmotif that seemingly suggests how matter comes into being. However, tying itself into the equation, ‘with’, breaks away the binary to install the beginning, i.e., the first move of the making of a ‘no/thing’. Entering the indecisive unknown, the grey complex area of which we cannot comprehend, the hole inside and outside the whole might be the “moment of the being-with-apart-together grasp and the ‘=’ of the that which ‘belonged-together’” (Golding, 2020).
This encounter, allowing matter to be or, to follow Barad’s words, do, questions the relationship between the not-one, the one and the multiple. Technically speaking, a woven cloth is composed of a multitude of holes and a multitude of threads. As the cloth is being formed, warp and weft interweaving instantly produces holes. However, this implies that Lacan’s idea that there is Oneness is true. Alain Badiou (2005) writes “For if being is one, then one must posit that what is not one, the multiple, is not”. He admits that “this is unacceptable for thought” and asks, “what could there be, which is not?” (ibid). Seeing ‘not-one’ as an ‘operation’ he declares that there is only a “count-as-one” (ibid).
Let us go back a few steps and explore the status of the hole as a (structure) unit. Golding’s reflections reveal that we could compare this blank space to the universe and think of it as a zero. This space, neither nothing nor something, able to stretch and shape/size-shift infinitely everywhere all at once is unintelligible to us (see Figure 4). Following the meaning of ‘=’ she explains that “supposing this stretch bends at the moment of an encounter [...] when the attraction ‘holds’ [...] it could be [...] denoted/marked in its entirety as 1” (Golding, 2020). Therefore, I can posit that the emerging hole at the moment of woven cloth construction can either be a zero or a one and in addition, a zero or a one in one. This might be true in a lexical sense. By this I mean that ‘w’ sometimes captures its opposite ‘hole’ to become a whole (one).
When the first weavers started to create cloth, the space in-between threads was both un- and intentionally left blank. But intentional or unintentional, this space is presently here. Why have we not paid attention to it sooner? The words ‘intention’ and ‘attention’ share the same Latin root tendere, to stretch. Their differentiation lies in that the former stretches out whereas the latter stretches towards. Might the attention to the intention of an absence in fact relate to a space that “always-already” emerges and therefore stretches in all directions, everywhere, all at once; and be the first encounter of the becoming of woven cloth? In so doing, the knowability of the hole is infinite, yet incomprehensible. However, by paying attention to it and “supposing this stretch bends at the moment of an encounter” (Golding, 2020), we might open ‘infinite’ new structural potentials.