Meditation on Carpet, Pascal Rousse

Pascal Rousse: Meditation on Carpet

The imagination, which, spreading the audacity of its flight, wanted, full of hope, to extend itself in the eternity, contents itself then with a little space, as soon as she sees all that she dreamed about for happiness to faint in the abyss of time. Goethe, Faust I, « The night ».

Ulla tells me that she and one of her friends liked to dance together geometrically by following the patterns on an oriental carpet, in the lounge. They had to be two to execute rhythmic figures, by listening to Dad’s old 78 tours records. Sweden also knows the custom of carpets colored in irregular strips made with house’s old clothes. So, these old materials are not lost, they still exist in the carpet. They form the inheritance, the memory and the history in the material left by the parents and the forefathers.

I remember the oriental carpets at my uncles and aunts, during some endless afternoons of boredom spent in courtesy visits. I could follow during long minutes, sometimes hours, lines interlaced by these carpets, generally placed in the middle of the dining room or the lounge, and get lost by imagination into an unknown world. The surface, at first opaque, revealed itself little by little to my gaze and revealed depths between the lines, through its dark, often black spaces.

What a medium for desire ! One is also happy just to gaze, sometimes simultaneously, and make of these paths a mysterious airplane runway, like a lounge geoglyph, seeing in these patterns a miniature geography, even a map of tenderness and, why not, an aircraft. In the middle of the petit-bourgeois lounge, this carpet is the site and the means of escape into a wonderful, more internal than domestic confinement : the labyrinthic underground door to an awakened dream.

The oriental carpet is thus a world of geometry, more or less curved, of interlacings evocative of the vegetable concealing hidden depths, sheltering powers of other places. The oriental carpet is already magic in that it offers a passage for imagination, via the gaze, towards other worlds, those Kamtchatkas that Baudelaire dreamed to join.

The carpet is magic because it opens to a complete other space : an heterotopia, says Michel Foucault, which symbolizes the original place of the image. Hétérotopia, the objective world bracketed, an interruption, reduced to the simple fact of being there, in the indeterminate. The Persian carpet or a hanging of « thousand-flowers », such as the enigmatic set of six pieces of The Lady with the Unicorn, is the image of the garden of Paradise, the original place from which being is separated. Every image is established on the experience of the separation and its conversion into self-consciousness, at a distance. Thus, the mirror appears to be the image’s concrete matrix, but also reflection’s instrument and metaphor.

Paradise is the allegory of the irreparable loss, the unique and unrepresentable place of what is lost. But the garden and the carpet return Paradise to us nevertheless by multiplicity, as a new promise of the plenitude, as a milestone (the garden) and a vehicle (the magic carpet) of the quest, wich reminds us the Meaning. Utopia of the beginnings.

The carpet is thus a portable templum : its magic results doubtlessly from this power to make a sacred place, wherever it settles and spreads out at a stopping place. It then assures in any circumstances the possibility of binding earth with heaven. Thus, carpet art, the art of weaving at its highest level, is essentially the expression of nomadic life. The carpet is the nomad’s essential piece of furniture. It is a unterritorialised and mobile place, marking the sacred space of domestic life and hospitality, or one dedicated to prayer.

The magic carpet also refers to the very ancient dream of releasing itself from gravity. According to Eisenstein, it is the dream of gliding bound to the desire of return towards the womb, and, according to Malévitch, it is also the dive into the freed nothing of Suprematism. It is Bagdad’s childish dream of the thief, to free himself from world’s boredom and sorrow by effortless ascent, without asceticism. It is flight, movement absolved in absolute rest. It is the desire of life’s plenitude without tension : the Impossible.

It is moreover what makes Faust vulnerable to Méphistophélès. « Free yourself ! Throw yourself into space ! », he exclaims, swamped by the squalor of his scholar’s office, which suddenly seems like a prison to him, and even a grave. All Goethe’s poem is chanted by these surges of desire. Indeed, the poet of the « Prologue on the theater » states :

« It is far from its sojourn that one must lead me,

In these places where heaven offers me songs of azure,

Where, for my delighted heart, blooms a pure joy,

Where love, friendship, by a celestial breath,

Of my illusions refresh some rest … »

To these impulses answers art, which weaves and re-weaves threads of time :

« Is it not by concordance, of which the victorious charm

Rebuilt the universe deep down in its heart ?

Whereas nature in its reels disentangles

All the threads livened up by its eternal weft ».

We see it in Murnau’s film, as in Goethe’s text : as soon as the pact is signed with his blood, the devil fulfills Faust’s wish, taking him on his cape to a fly around the world. It is in the episode of « The cellar of Auerbach, in Leipzig », that Mephistopheles says to Faust : « Let us spread this coat, it will carry us through the airs : for such an audacious race, do not take a heavy package ; a little inflammable air which I am going to prepare will soon deliver us from gravity, and if we are light, we will go fast. I congratulate you on the new way of life you have just embraced. » It gives one of the most beautiful dreamlike scenes of cinema’s history, which haunts me since I saw it by leaving childhood.

The myth of Faust tells us that magic is what gives access, for certain technical processes, to powers and to spiritual goods normally reserved for exceptional people : gods, heroes and saints. Magic is a short and democratic path, an ease of the processes, difficult by definition, to emancipate from human condition’s limits. As well as the image is intended for reproducibility, the carpet is a reproducible and transportable shape of the templum or thetemenos, the sacred wood, the pardes which synthetizes primarly the sanctuary and the garden of Paradise.

It is also the image of the image, the metaphor of the separation process and the return to the beginning of life. Phenomenologically it is even the meaning of the templum to show spatially the process that the image presents as surface : the dialectics of separation and relation, the becoming and the being. Carpet is magic in as much as it is between image and architecture, face and enclosure, horizontal and vertical, and also offers a protective membrane for knees to ground’s hardness. The softness of the woolen carpet recalls the primal envelope to which no return is allowed. That is why, as Stig Dagerman says, our need for consolation is impossible to satisfy.

Any magic carpet is centred and at the same time unterritorialised. Its geometrical weft can repeat infinitely and we can see it as a portion of an « all over ». Its center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere. Like every sacred space, it is thus an opening to infinity. The pattern of the carpet reveals, through the filter of its interlacings, the groundlessness of being. Nietzsche stated that we have art so as not to die from truth. We generally understand it as the need for a comforting illusion which would hide nothingness from us. But groundlessness is not nothingness, it is the indetermination of the being which art can also allow us to glimpse through its network.

The relationship of form and background, bringed down to the same surface in arabesque ornamentation, plays completely in the carpet, in that it is, precisely, intended to be put on the ground. More still, as a prayer carpet, the position is that of kneeling and the forehead has to touch it. The believer is thus allowed there to contemplate the abyss on which everything is. Provided he is attentive to it, he experiences and indures the trial of groundlessness and of its determination as absolute nothingness or as infinite withdrawal of the being, above and beyond him, above of whom paradoxically he is held, because it is what enveloppes and supports him, as water does to fish and air to birds. The prayer carpet is as well a flying carpet and an image, magic, a media which allows release from oneself, attachments and entertainments, for a time, to face the indeterminate.

The carpet is, spatially, the support where the art of plaiting and weaving shows itself completely, the play of the weft where from wich all shapes emerge. It is the decorative coding of the phenomena that shows as such. The skeleton of the rhythm. Plaiting gives the paradoxical experience of the relationship of shape and background brought down to a surface. At the same time, it reveals another, infinite depth, in this tension between the net and ornamentation which organizes lines and colors. Reciprocally, this pulsation livens up the surface, which radically opposes the spatiality of the world, opens another space and thus constitutes a heterotopia.

This paradoxical space is aroused magically by the carpet, activating and captivating the power of the glance, thus revealing perception’s and image’s animation processes. The carpet thus practices its heterotopic power, all the more marked as it is placed on the ground. It’s a dissociating power from the environment of immediate experience and its links : it allows, in particular as a prayer carpet, a recentering on oneself wich is a return to the center in itself, where the diverse levels and the spheres of being usually separate and hierarchical, communicate.

The spirit which refocuses thus enters in connection with the Whole or the infinite. It can move in itself and be nowhere and everywhere at once, summon the whole world from this image which, as reduction of the cosmos and its weft, forms the carpet where the spirit stands and by which it isolates itself to reach the root of its own being to the world. Indeed, as image of the ideal garden, which is, at the same time, a microcosm and the image of Paradise, the oriental carpet so reproduces the navel of the world, like the Greeksomphalos, a stone wraped by a net, which is also the highest summit, the « roof of the world ». The magic carpet is connected to the highest point of the world and he who takes place on it is led to it.

Plaiting and weaving form a powerful metaphor of time too, by the play and the movement of the shuttle interlacing the weft in the loom’s chain. According to Nietzsche, Maya’s veil passes in front of our eyes, enchants us, by producing ceaselessly changeable reflections in its moiré effect which we take for reality, images which give themselves as the shapes of the world and hide from us the reality of unlimited and groundless indétermination. Existence navigates on it, subjected at once to the becoming and the eternal return of the same.

Pénélope, also, weaves and unweaves her hanging to keep in suspense her pretenders desires : their claims and their unlimited trust in the right of their strength, and their expectations shall know their end and their truth only when time’s arrow will reach them by Ulysses’s hands. He is Dædalus cousin, man of Greek mètis, that is of guile and technical intelligence, a man of multiple tricks and skills, master in expedients and decoys, the big illusionist capable of contriving, of knotting, of interlacing multiple links to trap strength and return it against itself.

Similarly, Queen Mathilde’s Bayeux Tapestry fascinates because it develops the story of a conquest on a long weaved strip. Six hundred and twenty six characters, two hundred and two horses and mules, five hundred and five animals of all kinds, thirty seven buildings, forty nine trees populate it, witness the adventure, fight there, die or survive. This tapestry opens and unfolds a world in front of us and transports us from the Duchy of Normandy to England, beyond The English Channel. The linen weft fixes and restores by imagination a time which allies our sight to magically resume life every time.

In itself, weaving is magical. Magic is technique’s first state, that is to say human capacity to transform the world. The magic expresses the power of technique and, at the same time, witnesses its original metaphoric character, that is imagination’s power to move, transfer, separate, attribute and reattribute the function and the sense of things. « The metaphor, states Aristotle, is the transport to a thing of a name which indicates another (…). » (Poetics, 1457 b 6-9).

This technical capacity of transformation is based on a capacity to exceed metabolic transformations to remote transformations. However, weaving is a native form of technique of which the first gesture, that of plaiting, engenders at once bowls, clothes and shelters. This primal technique makes possible transport and displacement, the exploration of unknown environments, the transgression from the limits of the given, wrenching from site. But it is already, as any technique, the transportation from the qualities of matter, the vegetable, to another one, the artefact in this particular case. The metaphor is the artefact of artefacts.

The magic carpet is thus a real metaphoric matrix. Since internet, it is possible to rethink it dialectically via the analogy between the program’s translation system by display in pixels and weaving by loom. The digital image is the mode of appearance by pixels, converting code’s linearity in the non-linear weft of the electronic screen. But it is also the translation of the phenomenon in code via the pixel’s analytical power. It is, like the carpet, an interface. This surface-making is the principle of the machine, which can go right up to the spatializing of time in architecture.

We come across the invention of the punched paper tape, then the punched card by Basile Bouchon and Jean-Baptiste Falcon to command looms, enhanced by Jacquard’s loom, resumed by Babbage as model of the analytical machine, conceptualized by Ada Lovelace who invented digital programming.

The development and the expansion of internet is bound, indeed, in the powers conferred on the network by electronic screen’s display and the invention of a virtual space. The interface of the personal computer, interconnected with others, and the more and more sophisticated and fine means of display have made possible the construction of a vast heterotopia, capable of summoning other heterotopias and even in principle all heterotopias.

From the beginning, « virtual communities » appeared, which are visually translated in virtual spaces fitted out to welcome the avatars of their members. These « virtual communities » have quickly passed from a « cosmic » image where avatars floated in an uncluttered virtual landscape to images of urban spaces, as in Second Life. On the other hand, access to flows of information towards databases, was named « navigation », understood at once in a maritime and air meaning, and probably more air than maritime because of the quest and conquest of a cruising speed and increasing comfort, with least possible friction.

Consequently, the digital space built by internet constitutes not only a complex heterotopia, but also a magical means, because it is based on the image, with its powers to show and persuade. It is the ultimate form of the flying carpet, the weft of pixels which have the power to take us around the world, on one hand, and, on the other, into unknown, secret, worlds out of the ordinary and common time and space : heterotopias. The magic carpet, gives evidence to the ancient dream of the conquest of ubiquity.


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Sammanfattning översatt till svenska av Ulla West. Korta delar ur texten presenterades på bildskärm vid Pascal Rousse:s uppläsning inför publik på Dktus 5 november 2011:

Meditation på matta
n, essä av Pascal Rousse

Funderingar och tankar kring mattan

Faust av Goethe
Sorgespelets första del. Natten:

”Förr mätte fantasin i dristig flykt

oändlighetens krets i hoppfull spänning;

nu har hon i en vrå sitt näste byggt,

då fröjd på fröjd förgås i tidens bränning”


Mattans magi ligger i att den öppnar sig mot andra sfärer: en heterotopi, som symboliserar bildens utsprungsplats, säger Michel Faucault. Heterotopia sätter den objektiva världen inom parentes, ett  konkret avbrott, ett ögonblick reducerat till absolut närvaro, ett besök i det okända / det obestämbara.

Paradiset – den ursprungliga platsen från vilken varat är separerat. Varje bild härstammar ur upplevelsen av separation och ur dess omvandling till självförståelse, till distansering.

Paradiset  är en allegori för den oåterkalleliga förlusten, den unika och icke representabla platsen för det som gått förlorat. Men trädgården och mattan ger oss möjligheterna till ett löfte om fullbordan. Trädgården är anhalt och mattan ett färdmedel i sökandet efter ursprungsutopin.

Mattan, en helig plats

Mattan är ett mobilt bärbart tempel, dess magi kommer från möjligheten att skapa en helig plats, varhelst man placerar den och breder ut den, en rastplats. Den försäkrar oss om att i alla lägen kunna förbinda himmel och jord. (dröm och verklighet!)

Mattkonsten och vävandet är det nomadiska livets främsta uttrycksmedel. Mattan är nomadens viktigaste möbel. En mobil plats utan ett territorium, som visar på vardagslivets och gästfrihetens helighet.

Den magiska mattan refererar  också till den uråldriga drömmen om frigörelse från gravitation. Enligt Eisenstein är drömmen om att sväva bunden till drömmen om att återvända till livmodern, och enligt Malevitch, är det också neddykandet till det befriande ingenting som Suprematismen står för. Det är Bagdads barnsliga dröm om tjuven, som befriar sig själv från världens tråkighet och sorg genom att overksamt lyfta, utan att vara asketisk, en rörelse frikopplad i absolut vila.

Det är vad som gör Faust sårbar för Mephistopheles: “Gör dig fri! Kasta dig ut i rymden!” , utropar han, översvämmad av snusket på sitt kontor, lärlingskontoret som plötsligt framstår för honom som ett fängelse, eller till och med som en grav.

”Nej, för mig till den stilla himmelsängden, där skalden rena fröjder blomma ser, där kärlek, vänskap, hjärtats gudamakter, kring sällhet, som de skapat, stå som vakter”

Faust, Goethe

Konsten svarar med att väva och väva om tidens trådar.


Faustmyten visar oss att magin är det som ger oss tillträde till spirituella krafter som vanligtvis är reserverade gudar, hjältar och helgon. Magin är en demokratisk genväg, en förenkling av vägen till människans frigörelse. Precis som bilder är predestinerade att reproduceras är mattan en form av reproducerbart templum eller temenos.

Mattan är mitt emellan

Mattan är magisk på så sätt att den befinner sig mitt emellan bild och arkitektur, ansikte och avskärmning, horisontalt och vertikalt. Den erbjuder dessutom ett skyddande membran för knän mot markens hårdhet.

Den magiska mattan är centrerad och på samma gång icke territorialiserad. Dess geometriska väv kan upprepa sig i oändlighet och vi kan läsa det som en del av alltet. Centrum är överallt och dess omkrets ingenstans. Liksom med alla heliga platser är det öppningen till evigheten. Mattans mönster avslöjar, genom sina filter av sammanflätningar, varats grundlöshet. Nietzsche hävdade att vi har konsten för att undkomma att dö av sanningen. Vi förstår det generellt som ett behov av tröstande illusion för att gömma tomheten för oss. Men grundlöshet är inte tomhet, det är varats obestämbarhet som konsten också kan tillåta oss att se en glimt av genom sitt nätverk.

Spelet mellan form och innehåll, som sammanlänkas på ytan i ornamenteringen kommer till sitt fulla uttryck i mattan eftersom intentionen är att placera den på ett golv.

Rumsligt är mattan grunden för vävnings- och flätningskonsten som där kommer till sitt fulla uttryck, stommen från vilken alla former skapas. En ornamental kodning av de fenomen som blir synliga, rytmens skelett.

Flätning och vävning är en kraftfull metafor för tiden, om vi följer skyttelns rörelser genom varpen…

Vävandet per se är magiskt. Det är den ursprungliga teknikens magi, människans förmåga att transformera världen. Magin uttrycker teknikens möjlighet och påvisar samtidigt om sin metaforiska karaktär.

Den magiska mattan är alltså en mall, en form, för metaforen.

Väven av pixlar har kraft att förflytta oss runt världen och till det okända, hemliga, världar utanför det vanliga och utanför överenskommen tid och rymd: heterotopias.