Once on a trip to Paris, you found an encyclopedia of the spiders of the world at Boubée & Co. She’ll be huge, imposing, monumental, and fragile; you’ll be able to walk between her legs, long iron pieces that narrow, ending at times in a hook. The man raises his candle and lights the spider on fire, and as the glistening body writhes and sizzles on the ground, Nadar hears the spirit of the myriapod – is it a myriapod? But Jupiter’s daughter didn’t punish Arachne for her talent as much as for her insolence in so accurately depicting the turpitudes of the Olympian gods. Copying out the description of a species of spider has become a kind of ritual; it’s a little like tending your mother’s grave. Master’s orders. But you, you love spiders. And around this opulent abdomen, her eight legs radiate, ringed in beige and brown. and honors his spouse. There aren’t many spiders on the forty-second floor of a building on Park Avenue whose windows don’t open. She gave you a salve and told you it would take a month to heal. In the business of maternity, garden spiders are pros. In it, you noted your observations and copied out passages from J. How long has it been since you set foot in this room, Robert’s study? Mother was also a kind of weaver. You find her again in spiders that you draw and those that you observe.
The above is an excerpt from Now, Now, Louison, published by Les Fugitives. You will make a family of them. How we could have used a good herd of spiders! Father lit his pipe, tucked his thumb into his watch-pocket, and verified that the substitution had worked; the crime had been masked over, and his sale was secure. One alone, enormous, stays where it is, on the wall, and stares at him defiantly. As he walks in, he sees an entire nest of spiders scurry away. You think of Mother watching over her brood. Ingrate! Oh, please! It was your job to create the appropriate foliage and then to arrange it to fit the resulting gap. and brought it back. The original published by Éditions P.O.L., Paris, France, 2016
Photograph of ‘Maman’ by Louise Bourgeois © Javier Díaz Barrera Fabre, adding a few ideas and drawings. Meanwhile, Father was planning to marry you off to a dandy with a fancy convertible who’d taken to hanging around, the son of a business associate that he just couldn’t say enough about. Imbecile!!!’
Thursday, September 14, 1932, an Olympian god, a murderer, a coward, being ungrateful, imbecilic, or merely jealous, struck Mother with his decree. Mother, the weaving princess – I see her diadem. At the beginning of the century, the tastes of the New England upper class who bought Father’s tapestries for their neo-gothic apartments on Park Avenue (with paneling imported directly from the Périgord) were rather puritan. Jupiter, Neptune, Phoebus, Saturn, the great, the beautiful, the strong, the wise, the super-duper, all quite happy to disguise or transform themselves into bird or snake in order to take advantage of the first nymph who came along. But you find me ugly, and to reward me for my services, you murder me with impunity – and it’s fully within your rights, you being the stronger. Why did you go and disturb her? Your parents had made you leave school as a teenager, so that you could spend more time drawing for the tapestry restorations. Mother was now too weak to weave, so Father hired seamstresses. Molly, the woman who comes in twice a week to try to restore a little order, just doesn’t understand. Your family. You must have a skill, she said; go to the Sorbonne. But it was only defending itself. She freezes, as if hypnotized, bewitched, and then the musical male gingerly makes his approach… You use your finest handwriting to copy out passages from the Boubée encyclopedia. ‘Well done, Louison,’ was the usual compliment. They’re beautiful, they’re clean, and they manage to be simultaneously both quick and calm. You called them the spinning sisters. The business was going marvelously; this was before the crash. You could have called it The Book of My Mother, but that already existed, so this one had to be The Book of the Spider, or The Spider Book. If spiders aren’t the Devil himself, they’re at least his ambassadors,’ she declares. You never get tired of drawing her; you’re drawing Mother. Mother would then weave it into place. Alternating stripes of yellow, silver, and black cross a belly almost as big as a hazelnut. Terse with compliments; profuse with mockery. In it, we see the narrator going out in the middle of the night, candle in hand, to a shed at the bottom of an old garden. With an animal patience. Women leap onto stools and scream, and men step on them with the self-satisfaction of having done a good deed. You watch, fascinated, careful not to disturb her at her business. People don’t usually like spiders – they’re afraid of them. At the stationers on 7th Avenue, you bought a notebook, a lined one like children use in school, and on the cover, you wrote The Spider Book. You loved the logarithmic spiral obliquely intersecting the vectors radiating out from the center, getting ever closer to it without ever reaching it, endlessly circling in, tighter and tighter, barely discernible. In the large house where you now live alone, they spread out, proliferating from the cellar to the attic. Your dermatologist probably didn’t consider that. You have your favorites – more on that later – you don’t need it all at once; have a little patience, dears. This string serenade seems to diminish the female’s dangerous tendency to devour anything it sees. You identify them and describe their varied behavior. And it must be said that they take good care of their young. Father brought back more and more tapestries from his travels, and they all had to be dealt with. It was to defend the family honor that Minerva destroyed Arachne’s work. What could be more comforting than the thought that a pile of slowly ripening crackpot ideas determined to finally shed light on the basis of the human soul would end up giving birth to a generation of one of the most ancient species on the planet, going back long before humanity and probably destined to exist long after. Coward! You keep a catalogue of spiders, a catalogue of mothers. Murderer! H. So, from all the bacchanals in the forests and on Olympus, the corpus delicti – the genitals – had to be removed. Burying yourself in it after a long day’s work gave you the same sense of well-being that a child gets from a stamp collection. The act completed, he beats a hasty retreat and is never heard from again, while Madame seems to wake up from her dream and, little by little, get back to hunting. They’re not all the same. And, as they discovered that you were gifted at drawing, it fell to you to draw the leaves, fruits, and branches that would replace the sexual organs of satyrs and lovers. If you learn mathematics, you won’t have to depend on men. They’ll be clearly visible through a kind of lattice beneath her. The spider couldn’t have chosen a better spot for raising her little family than a stack of abandoned papers, untouched for ages. Could there be anywhere in the world more ideal, more propitious for raising a passel of petite progeny, than an old file full of the beginnings of a general theory of civilizations according to their magical-aesthetic manifestations? The pear-shaped opening is trimmed with lace that extends into lines that anchor the nest to nearby twigs. Translated from the French by Cole Swensen
She’s always been in my drawings, in the form of a spider. Love was OK, but sex, no. And they destroy various things that make life unbearable, such as flies and mosquitoes. And the frolicking Olympian gods, if I know them… Once the tapestries were restored, he sold them in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. Under the armpit, a pustule swollen with venom. ‘Visits’ was the term he used; it seemed apt – and each time, a new affair. Three of them. In the Metamorphoses, Ovid tells us how jealous Minerva was of Arachne, the Lydian, so famed for her skill at weaving. They did nothing but spin. the mosquitoes in Easton! All the while, Mother was hunched over her work, wielding her needle. I’m afraid not, eight legs, that’s not enough – say to him, ‘I ask nothing of you, I cost you nothing, and I serve you like one of your closest friends for nothing, and you hate me, you iniquitous man!’
‘I have taken it upon myself to deliver you from flies and their relatives, which would eat you alive if it weren’t for me; I do whatever I can to make your summer nights peaceful and your warm evenings lovely, and I even at time thwart the horrible bacteria that are about to kill your best-loved child. Beastly creature, it bit me! You live by proxy among the spiders. A friend brought me a copy from Paris. Parturient spider at the bottom of the garden. You’ll give her eggs made of marble. The top is hollowed out into a felted cavern, and the envelope as a whole is a thick, dense, opaque white. One evening, Mother asked you to sit down on the edge of her bed and made you promise to go back to school. The oval body, hanging straight down, is stabilized by a few more strands. Mother cut them out, excising them, censuring them. And the latter, humiliated, tried to hang herself by one of her threads, when Minerva, suddenly magnanimous, saved her, but, because every debt must be repaid, she condemned her to stay suspended at the end of her thread, then sprayed her with a poison, specially got up by Hecate, that ate away at her little by little, shrinking her until she was no more than a belly with eight scrawny legs, which she nonetheless kept working in order to weave the web that would be her refuge from then on. She was in charge of repairing the tapestries that Father bought on his routine visits to castles in the vicinity. You watch them, in the garden, in the attic, on the stairway, in the basement. She’s not allowed to touch a thing, and above all, not the spiders or the spiderwebs. You sat down where he had always sat when he worked, and you moved a pile of old folders, a work in progress that his death had left in place. You watched them work, explaining the drawings to them from time to time. The silky sac in which she keeps her eggs is a marvel. How can you blame her? She pushes the vacuum cleaner vaguely around in the center of the rooms, avoiding the corners. The photographer Nadar wrote a short story titled ‘The Spider’. There she is; you see her in the corner, watchful, on the lookout, ready for sacrifice. Mother kept the woolen sexes she had so artfully removed in a cookie tin, the lid of which was printed with a fête galante à la Fragonard, hinting with delicious euphemism at the censored details that had replaced the original cookies. ‘Raising spiders – good Lord – that’s not Christian. She presumed you were a witch. How you admired her patience, her application. Glory to the universal geometer. Suddenly, the spotlight was focused on their mischief and duplicity. They wait, motionless, in corners, never flustered, never obsessive, never hysterical; they’re serene beings, holding themselves apart, watching. The web, a marvel of design. And in the morning, with the dew on it, what light… Copied from the Boubée encyclopedia:
The male Diadem spider signals to the female by rhythmically vibrating one of the strands that anchor his web. Ah! Petit point.