Thursday, March 27

the play of rope

As retainer of things, rope bestows yet another great gift to a sojourner. Within constancy of change, the knotted rope allows one to keep track of days and moons, miles and immeasurable phenomena of the night sky. If not the invention of rope, the count was preserved by it. Tie a knot for each watering place or each sleep. By the end you know how many stops it takes from Damascus to Jerusalem. Being able to keep a tally is a door to the sacred realm of numbers.

To have a count of numbers means fewer things escape the keep. Unless you know how many sheep, a flock may be slowly devoured by wolves. If the weeks are not tallied, you may miss the propitious time for planting. A new kind of measure is given by numbers, quantity. Important devices follow. A measuring rod is just a knotted rope made rigid. A calendar is its tableau. Fields and highways, lunar eclipses and meteor showers, could now be tracked. The count gives new meaning to the sense of a lawful cosmos. What is lawful can be counted, and all that happens is countable. Thus lawfulness of phenomena is precisely what may be counted on.

The discovery of quantity led to the early sciences of Pythagorus: arithmetic, astronomy, music, and philosophy. Here, the count lies behind the workings of stars, song, and thought. An early flowering of knowledge recognizes the count as mediator between heavenly precision (perfect differentiation of strands) and earthly inexactitude (blurred boundaries, overlap, and tangled threads.) A thing's essence, its number, determines its hidden place in reality. Proper study of number, however, enables one "to disregard the eyes and other senses and go on to being itself in company with truth" (Republic 7.537d). To seize a counting rope leads to liberation from murky appearances...

A weaver's rope holds a strategy. Therein lies its beauty, one strand placed over another and drawn under a third, carefully over and over again. A strategy is a way and a map—what Ariadne hands Theseus before he enters the labyrinth. She offers a ball of thread, a rope, she has woven. The underground maze is a tangle of blind alleys, dead ends, pitfalls, and quagmires. It is the life inside himself that he is to penetrate. At its center lives a monster, the Minotaur, half man, half bull, that demands sacrifices to its grotesque appetite. To succeed is to keep track of his journey. Ariadne's thread is guide to Theseus's heroic quest and midwife to his own birth. It is an example of rope's power to unriddle the self.

To every rope is assigned a length. The length—to which corresponds the life of each thing—has been cut from a single unbroken string, the proto-rope, that comprises the manifest universe. So modern physics, with its "string theory" of reality, concurs with ancient thought. The length of a tree's time is a few score years; a moth's, a few hours. For each being, rope stretches only so far. What happens then, at breath's last breath, turns on an understanding gained during the full length of breathing. Total dissolution, nothingness, or continuation in some form or formlessness—it depends on the fidelity with which one has sought one's place and accepted an infinitude of other places...

The ancients tell that lifelines were prepared by the three Fates, braiders of rope. Clotho spins the flax, Atropos twists it into thread, and with her shears, Lachesis snips it at the measured length. They are tireless and never sleep. Their intelligence, finer than the gods', knows the points of the rope's natural divisions. A vast netting of all things, knotted at the joints, forever guides their hands as they cut rope for each place. The net is an image, a luminous energy. It is Indira's net on which hangs all things, past, present, and future. The net alone survives all transformations wrought by the Fates, since it is a template of roping, not rope itself. The Fates themselves also have a lifeline. Like all else, they cannot outlive their day and function. When all rope has been cut to length and the manifest universe ended, spinning wheel and shears dissolve, and they too return to sleep undisturbed by dreams.

Whether the Fates provide material for tragedy, theirs is (as is tragedy) nonetheless a play. "This play was played eternally before all creatures," Eckhart writes. It is pure because, being playful, it desires to secure no particular end, as does a work. Interwoven elements of freeplay—dream, fantasy, apparition, or mirage—move free from any pragmatic, creaturely design.

-- David Appelbaum Everyday Spirits

Everyday Spirits