I’m not necessarily the biggest Eve Peyser fan but I read her latest piece for the Vice “Power and Privilege Issue” and actually related to it a lot. At still under 2,000 followers I don’t come close to approaching the public attention she gets, and I haven’t been published across all the magazines in the Condé Nast portfolio—but the basic mechanisms defining the “contemporary writer” are all the same. Dissemination of a personal authorial brand through social media, a digital platform for the text, knowing how to make people mad in just the right way to increase followers, and a looming, horrifying death-paranoia fundamentally bound to writing itself.
When I think of writing-in-itself, I always think about the myth of Arachne from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Arachne was a shepherd’s daughter who boasted that her skill in weaving was greater than that of Minerva. Of course, in the world of myth such a contradiction between the mortals and the gods demands an immediate resolution, so Minerva and Arachne agree to a weaving contest. Minerva weaves a beautiful image that depicts the gods in all their splendor and majesty, whereas Arachne weaves a savage, iconoclastic depiction of the multitudinous deceptions and crimes of the gods—and wins. But this victory is short lasted, as Minerva transforms Arachne into a spider, weaving her webs forever.
The weaver metaphor is particularly apt because it makes material and substantial the tools that the writer uses. The text is actually raw matter, which the writer “weaves” together in an elaborate, systematic process. The text is not just told, it is shown. The image is concrete. It is not abstract, but actual, present.
Arachne depicts the gods as they really are, which is to say, behind their endless masks. This is the unspeakable, forbidden true form: the gods come to us not as refined humans but as ferociously horny beasts! Their truth is that they are always in flux, transforming, becoming something else in the world. Minerva’s depiction is one in which “the gods all look like their own images”—“how regal Jove seems!” In other words, the view of superficial appearance, of PR clichés, of the banal and uncritical acceptance of the surface, of gloss and dross. Arachne is the better writer because she is the penetrating critic, the philosopher. This is her hubris: that she takes it upon herself to show the gods their own truth. And while Arachne’s text depicts the truth of flux, of eternal becoming, it is itself, once complete, static and dead.
And with the world wide web are we not all like Arachne, helpless spiders “mercifully” hanging from our own threads of our ever-growing texts? The webs we weave are the artifacts of our demise—each is evidence of our transgressions against the gods, the unwoke and the all-too-woke, the forbidden knowledge. We are not allowed to die, or to be forgotten, but we live through a first death from writing and are denied a second. Cursed with immortality we wander about the banks of the river Thames by Rotherhithe, pitying ourselves, grasping at Christlike innocence…
This is why I relate to the Peyser piece. I am horrified of writing, of attention, of the web of text I’m hanging from right now, growing. At first I was flattered but now I’m horrified by all the haters who incessantly send the strangest threats in weird digital whispers—there is mythic truth in being called a “bugman”—they’re the real scholars, accumulating and categorizing an archive of utterances, hideous and unpoetic, like lawyers. And yet I’ll keep doing that shit, as the ancient wisdom goes, there’s no point in trying to trick fate.