Seamless Web

Thu 02/16/06 at 1:41 pm

When I finally decided to get off the dime regarding my work in progress, The First Voice, I made a list of the Walking Raven entries I wanted to write “as a way for me to marshal my thoughts and research about a character or other aspect of the narrative.” August 11, 2005 Post. I have finally gotten to the point where I can see the light at the end of that tunnel (only four entries remain on the initial list). As I began my final round of research for topic number 4, one Google link led to another, and I soon found myself mired once again in either synchronistic or apophenic, (depending on how you slice it) research results. August 12, 2005 Post. The experience led me to conclude it was time to step back and paint, at least in broad strokes, the big picture of The First Voice. Unfortunately, my artistic limitations prevent me from actually painting such a picture, so you’ll simply have to settle for words, and it just may be a thousand of them. Hopefully, when I’m done we’ll all be on the same page.

But first things first. Shortly after I wrote the poem “We’re All Alone” I read somewhere that the phrase “seamless web” is considered, by some at least, to be a cliché. As is often the case with me, my shame at using the phrase turned to defensive indignation as I said to myself, “Self, what other word or words could I have used to express it?” “It” being my experience that everything I decide to write about in The First Voice ends up being somehow related to everything else I decide to write about in The First Voice.

I first heard the phrase in law school when someone used the expression “the law is a seamless web.” Shortly thereafter, I wove my first seamless web in preparation for the moot court competition. I can still remember the exhilaration I experienced when I realized I had put together an argument whereby I could answer any question a judge asked me in such a way that no matter what, I won, hands down. The only problem was that I could also construct an argument for the other side wherein no matter what, I also won, hands down. This ability to weave a seamless web out of the facts and law of any given file served me in good stead throughout my legal career, and I hope the same will someday be said of my efforts with The First Voice.

But I digress. My indignation at the possible cliché status of “seamless web” led me to conduct a search of the World Wide Web and other resource materials either to vindicate my use of the phrase or to provide me with an acceptable, non-cliché alternative. In this endeavor, I left no stone unturned. According to several Google hits, Frederic William Maitland first used the phrase in 1898 in an article entitled “Prologue to History of English Law,” wherein he stated, “Such is the unity of all history that anyone who endeavors to tell a piece of it must feel that his first sentence tears a seamless web.” I found no dictionary that actually includes the phrase as a stand-alone entry. The Oxford English Dictionary (hereinafter “OED”) showcases the expression by identifying it as a “fig. spec.” and includes it, without additional definition, as the number 2 entry under “seamless.” (According to the list of abbreviations, “fig. spec.” means “figurative, –ly specifically.”) The thesauri I consulted list no synonyms for either “seamless web” or “seamless.”) I even went so far as to purchase Visual Thesaurus 3 (which itself resembles a seamless web) in the hope it might shed some light on the subject. It at least links to another word but it classifies the term “seamless” as only “similar to” the term “coherent.” By the same token, the only antonym listed, if any was even offered by the reference works, proved equally unhelpful; i.e., “seamed.”

One search led me to a site that identified what is in all likelihood the earliest example of a seamless web, Indra’s net. As explained by the entry in Wikipedia:

Hinduism and Buddhism give life to the idea of Indra’s Net. In the heaven of Indra, a vast net or web of silken strands, spans across space indefinitely in every direction. Every intersection of gossamer thread hosts a shining luminous pearl or multifaceted jewel. The surface of every jewel, completely reflects every other, and the net as a whole. Likewise, each reflected jewel in itself reflects every other, that reflects every other, that reflects every other, without end, as mirrors to infinity.

Say what you will, the best my research could do was equate “seamless web” as a metaphor/analogy representing “the interconnectedness of all things.” This explanation however fails to convey what is one of the most integral aspects of a “seamless web,” i.e., the sense of creation. The existence of a web (or net) by definition intimates that something or someone wove it in the first place. Moreover, Indra’s net fails as an acceptable alternative metaphor because Indra’s net is static. In contrast, even if one envisions an already existing seamless web, others can be woven. The ability to take threads from one seamless web and weave them together into another seamless web suggests the fractal-like quality important also to my sense of the concept. Fractals not only mirror entire images, they also mirror parts of images – hence, “frac” as in fractured.

Bottom line, I submit the phrase “seamless web” is used as often as it is because there is simply no other word or phrase that accurately communicates the meaning meant. Indeed, “seamless web” is so perfect it is almost onomatopoetic (in a metaphorical sort of way) — if you catch my drift.

In closing, before this latest round of research, I applied a narrow definition to the term “web.” In my mind a web was like a spider’s web, loosely knit with holes between the threads, if you will. Both the Encarta and OED definitions, however, presented other definitions, one of which I found of particular interest. The OED’s number 1 definition for “web” is “a whole piece of cloth in the process of being woven or after it comes from the loom.” Why am I telling you this? Because one of my greatest pleasures was the discovery, some years ago, of the luxury of sleeping between 280-thread count sheets. (I know, now 600- or 1000-count is not unusal.) Since then, however, one objective in writing The First Voice has been to weave a seamless web and present it between the covers of, to coin a phrase, a “280 thread-count novel.” It seems without knowing it I had already made up my own synomym for seamless web. The problem is, I don’t mind saying that this one strikes me as cliché material out of the gate. Bresides, say what you will, ending “We’re All Alone” with the line “It is you who will miss the 280 thread-count sheet” just doesn’t cut it.

Well, I think I’ve milked this for about all it’s worth, and I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I did want to run my thoughts on this subject up a flagpole to see if anyone salutes.

next post: The First Quotation
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