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In anticipation of Week 4’s focus on texture and touch, we may locate some of these threads (an apt, but unintentional pun) in the Timaeus and Berssenbrugge’s Hello, the Roses. We ended last class thinking about the “fabric” of Lucretius’ universe, and the ways that it is, even at the most fundamental level, uncannily textured. It is the texture of Lucretius’ atoms that determine the character of our sensations, and the threat of their separation is figured as an unweaving: “There would be no need of any force to separate its parts and loosen their links…a force that shatters it with a blow creeps into chinks and unknits it” (Lucretius 15). It seems, in the first, as if this textile quality will be lost in Plato’s cosmology, as the fundamental bodies of his universe are so different from Lucretius’; these are not hooked atoms whose configuration is determined by texture, but divinely precise triangles, “fitted together…in due proportion” (Plato 50). Their art is not tapestry, but architecture: they seem to fit together by force and shape, without needing to be sewn into place.

And yet, there is a kind of slippage in Plato’s language, which endues the universe with a fibrous character, despite its crystalline regularity. This may be accounted for by Plato’s figuration of divine the creator as a craftsman working from a model, which encourages analogies to handicraft. Even in his precise categorization of the universe’s component geometry, Plato includes on offhand mention to “a fifth construction, which the god used for embroidering the constellations on the whole heaven” (48). Though this explicit figure is of embroidery is not picked up again (save for a footnote explaining that “The Greek word (diazôgraphô) means embroidering or drawing figures of living creatures,” as in the constellations) it allows us to see the creation of Plato’s universe as a fabrication, one determining and determined by texture. One sees this also in the divine creation of the “soul” of the universe: the creator “put a soul in the centre and stretched it throughout the whole and covered the body within it” (23). The soul thereby becomes a garment, woven and worn by the body. This is, as Plato’s word choice reminds us, a universe that has been “fashioned” from a model—not unlike the way a dressmaker may work from a pattern (20).

For more than this “feminine” analogy, the receptacle, or chōra, may be the site of such fibrous elasticity. “A matrix for everything, which is moved and refigured by the things which enter it,” the chōra seems to function as fabric itself, onto which images are “imprinted” like a kind of dye or ornament. Though the chōra has been figured in many ways—both by Plato himself, and in the extensive catalogue provided by Bianchi—I am most interested by Liddell and Scott’s reading of the ekmageion as “napkin or wiping cloth: something that instead of creating marks rather removes them” (Bianchi 91). One may think of the process of Batik dyeing, which is a negative imprint: patterns are made precisely where dye is deterred by wax from staining the fabric. However, Bianchi’s reading of Liddell and Scott takes on (perhaps unintentionally) an divine valence in its ambiguity: “The verb from which ekmageion is derived, ekmassō, means to wipe clean; in the middle voice to wipe away one’s tears. It also means to mold or model in wax or plaster, to take an impression of or imprint an image” (91). These contradictory actions, of erasure and creation, converge in the Christian figure of the Mandylion: particularly, in the legendary veil given by Veronica to Jesus before his crucifixion. Meant to wipe away his tears, it was believed to have been imprinted by the image of Christ. It is hard to think, too, that Berssenbrugge’s “Verdant Heart” does not refer to this transfer: “I can transfer this color imprint / onto the healing of others, like a symbol that can be experienced without my presence or / veronica’s” (Berssenbrugge 56). The chōra may be, in this way, a kind of miraculous shroud, an agential power constituted no less by its ability to remove marks, than to make them.

Fabric is an explicit concern also of Mei-Mei’s “A Placebo,” which explicitly engages fashion as a mode of self-expression and even self-creation: “My dress is a visual image of unconscious affirmative processes, the way spontaneity / expresses its order, as I create a world, stocking it with small dogs on the runway, / handbags, a bouillonne of rose tulle at the waist of a jacket” (13). This must be more than a simple observation on the performativity of identity, as she repeatedly invokes a garment’s ability to act on the wearer through both its textured material and its network of associations, as “the intent of a dress” (17). Fashion, too, becomes atmospheric: people are woven together as “a surface, alive and redolent, half unseen, like iridescent cloth” (13), while the speaker’s friend Kiki both recedes into and emerges from the background of the scene, in “a blue silk coat embroidered with gold” (not unlike the constellations of Plato’s universe) that seems equally as active and as textured as the room’s “Ming wallpaper” (17). I am fascinate by such moments, in which Berssenbrugge prompts us in turn, to look through and at a fabric, as a piece of vibrant material both for wearers and in itself. At this nexus, Berssenbrugge offers her own fascinating definition of the chōra: “Style, soul, is power through which matter is formed” (16).

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