Almost a week ago we moved up into the hill of the Croix-Rousse. The weaver’s hill. It’s a lively place that has underlying it a dour feel and a sadness. Several hundred years of intense cottage weaving industry have shaped the architecture and its urban design where people have an almost mole-like existence burrowing in layered thoroughfares (traboules) beneath and between buildings, living and working in austerely tall and narrow rooms, the ceilings go up to accommodate the looms, and down to weigh upon the private lives of its inhabitants.
A visit to the weaving workshop a few blocks from here threw up associations between technology and psychology. In the workshop itself both working and living were done, a very interior space, of concentration on the looms and their requirements, and a cranial sense of the interior of the individual where personal issues revolve under the influence of the looms mechanical clatter.
Prior to Jacquard’s system loom programmes were set either by a drawboy setting individual hooks and lines, or by using a series of frames through which the warp was threaded, each of these frames contained a coded set of uptakes and drops. When activated by the loom workers foot a frame configures the warps above or below the shuttle that flies through with its filament. Each frame set the pattern for the whole line of the cloth. In this setup the lines dropping through the warp bed are all in a single plane vertically set.
On looms with the Jacquard system operating, the dropping lines are bunched and twisted, diagonally pulled and vertically oriented all at once across the warp bed. They all emanate from the position of the overhead card whose binary code of holes and solids across a grid form the basis for each part of the design.
This is where the development can be seen, for each formation of lines dropping from the card transfer the code in a different way to the wires that raise and lower the warp threads. For example those lines which twist over themselves completely transfer the code in reverse, there are then a multiplicity of variations in between these two extreme expressions of the card’s instructions.
“The walking should be like a metronome ” was Beckett’s instruction to the character of May in the play Footfalls. May paces back and forth over the boards of a darkened room, talking fretfully to herself or to her mother who isn’t seen but heard, at one point her mother is heard asking : “Will you never have done … revolving it all … In your poor mind?”
Beckett was very precise that the progress of each pacing movement should last exactly 9 seconds, what he called “these lifelong stretches of walking”. We also find out from her mother that May needs to hear her footsteps on the boards, the carpet long ago had to be pulled up. The inference is that she could be a ghost, or even an unborn “thing”, and Beckett’s craft centres here, as it often does, on movement, rhythm and musicality- existence depends upon it.
What’s looming is a projection between the weaver’s production of a pattern that comprises a statement and response in its forward and reverse sequencing, and that of the interior commentary revolving its issue. Motifs of different types are generated this way then that, along a line. A readable pattern over time is woven into the warp threads by the linear movements of the shuttle flying back and forth.
Later developments in computing initiated by Babbage lean heavily on the principle of the Jacquard carding system. The big difference with the computer’s use of the binaries was in the programming of information rather than real physical actions.
The point I propose here has to do with the real world activity in the binaries of the Jacquard loom: the weight pressures needed to effectively raise and lower the warp threads in its continuous clattering actions. Beckett’s May stepping out the precise nine second walk can be seen as a figure over which a strange state of recapitulation takes place winding back and forth, always experiencing that momentary edge. Attempting to construct a fabric out of this experience because no narrative space is available other than this.