Bertrand the Spider

Steve Devos

I used to have a pet spider called Bertrand. She lived in the downstairs shower room adjacent to my (our) ground floor bedroom, her nest was between the shower tray and the hole the waste pipe made in the wall. Every three to four days she would emerge to explore the shower room and I would capture a fly or a wasp and drop it onto the floor close to her web. She would tentatively edge her way out from the safety of her home and take the offering back to the food store to eat then or later. This was probably necessary because the web was spun between the shower tray and the wall, everyday water droplets would strike and break the strands, sometimes it would be worse than that and entire segments of the web would be broken. I think the frequency of her having to spin web caused her to get hungrier than the average spider. I always wondered why she did not move to the other side of the bedroom and share the front wall with Osvaldo the snail, where the food was more plentiful, but she never did. Seeming to prefer the dark and dank corner that existed between the wall and the wet place. I presume that what I thought of as a more pleasant wall is just another example of my anthropomorphisation of the universe. Instead of moving she would scurry around the floor tentatively moving around behind the toilet, up the white tiles, along the waste pipe and down again.

I fixed a one shot digital camera to the wall and netcasted shots at 15 second intervals over the internet (the URL published on the arachnophiles anonymous website). I would sit between meetings musing on the absurdity of the previous two hours which were filled with non-actionable moments and stupidity, sometimes when possible even during if they were excessively boring, watching Bertrand run freely around the floor whilst talking on the phone, answering and composing email and cursing other senior managers. Daydreaming of solitude and sipping espresso and reading Blanchot, Butor or Ponge in a quiet bar to the west of here and vaguely wondering what the woman at the next desk but one looked like naked. (The kind of thoughts which in this world can get you fired or worse locked up). But like the hero of Bernhard's recit 'Yes' I confess that I did not have the energy or sense to seduce instead I talk about work, philosophy, sad jokes and backed away from her like (a true hero of desire) the lost Bernhard hero. It remains to be seen how far this rationale could be taken, as far as suicide? (Well yes indeed) (yes) or more reasonably to the brief smile of a change. Then as my pen squeaks the ball scratching its way across and through the cream paper and between and over the redlines on the page…

So as the days get shorter and I get older, sometimes, just sometimes I stop working. At these moments I wander over tarmac pavements and eventually go into one bar or another, one type of shop or another, perhaps a bookshop, music shop or something else, but most often into a bar. An obscure observer of the events of a small town and smile briefly with the Polish woman behind the bar who sells me a lunchtime pierogi or two, alternatively a smoked ham sandwich.

Anyway it is time that I introduced you to the spider who is a kind of luxuriant seashell on wheels, it was my memories of Bertrand the Spider that forced me to name B… who is a metallic silver Alpha-Romeo Spider with black velcro, cd player with an auto changer loaded with Jazz and Cuba son , beige leather seats, books on the back shelf and power sockets for my mobile phone and laptop (how to survive without it ?). ?), a truly marvellous spider that growls evocatively and corners with desire and passion. This originates ultimately from a long term desire to subvert the naming of things. Constraining us with the labelling (naming) of elements, objects and even on occasion events… Such as the collection of objects which when arranged in a particular way constitutes the B2 bomber (pace Latour). This assemblage when pulled apart requires half a million names from quark to joystick to pentagon. The named object, the B2, does not fly but the argument goes that the complete assemblage does and is the result in its flying configuration of thousands of days of human action and effort. Actually, I wonder if the same logic would work for the assemblage - Bertrand the Spider. At what point does the sadistic scientist cutting the legs off spiders or chimpanzees, experimenting on the masses, criminals and servicemen. Succeed in reducing the assemblage back to its component parts 1-1-1 (rather than the 1+1+1 of the theorisation of the assemblage) and at some point achieving a non-spider status. When did the gradual death of my father reduce his body to a non-father state as he died ever so slowly?

This is reflected in my everyday life… I don't understand why we have to put up with the strong labels that arrive so heavily packaged with its baggage of history, the past and the imaginary. So I give many slippery and discontinuous names to those I like and perhaps even love, names, addresses, references to the encounters between self and others, even strangers as 'K' said. So animals have many names, women become both diminutives and maximised. There was a friend who became involved in what was effectively a systems lifecycle from strategy to maintenance, but it never became normalised, madness and bank-clerkdom beckoned. A man became an ape, the ape a monkey, the monkey a genteel black cloaked monk, the monk a man and so on. The pale eyed woman was a cloud, an 'oid, a mother, a cat and finally an analysand. So anyway let's return to our consideration of the spider. When earlier this year I collected him from the Alpha garage in Ame…, gleaming silver, low fine distinctive face and the look of desire for speed, a residual memory emerged and I recognised the similarity between the old Bertrand in the bathroom and the spider on the forecourt. Why this spider and not some other? Because Bertrand had been the quintessential non-heroic guardian of a place, always likely to suffer the fate of being in the same space and time as some neo or micro fascist hero who would act as brutally as all heroes do, at least in legend and event as defined by the worshippers of heroism such as Ford, Huston, Hemingway and K.. Personally I feel great sympathy for the Bertrands' of this world who cannot avoid struggling against the odds of culture. A victim of the heroic figure from Beowulf's Grendal to the Predator character in the movie of the same name, who cannot feel sympathy for the doomed Ubermensch? Unable to see that they are lost from the moment they meet the over steroided underarmed hero in battered armour or its modern equivalent the dirty tee shirt. Why the addiction to heroic behaviour? What chance the poor Ubermensch who endlessly struggles for mythical completeness and is doomed because it is the hero who is always exceptional, always besides themselves with righteous fervour from Beowulf to Dutch and Richard. It's not possible to forgive the heroes who do this kind of thing, it is the equivalent to sending Bessie Smith the cat into a large cage populated with mice (Cat 10 mice 0). When I first read about Judas and Jesus I felt angry at Jesus for allowing Judas to die miserably rather than in clover. What's so good about freewill if it's only there to inflict pain and suffering on some poor sap like Judas? Who can't see the hero for looking, heros may die but they are always resurrected.

On the afternoon I collected the Spider I was much to busy with the problems I was going to have with driving it. Changing gears and manoeuvring it around other cars going backwards along A and B roads - he was lower, wider and growled as he accelerated which was very different from my old VW, assuming you wish to think about such things. Now it seems to me that I was only obeying the desire and the drive that always leads me to protect those the established order regards as monsters, for it aims to exterminate them as quickly as possible. As we drove around the first roundabout I told him that he was no longer just an object of consumption but my friend. As I drove home he showed me how delighted he was by almost killing a horsewoman and terrifying a cyclist.

It was the resultant screams of fear and rage which reminded me of Bertrand in the bathroom, most notably the occasion when she ran across a woman's naked foot. The event began as it always did with the spider becoming aware of the presence of the woman and padding six footedly across the floor out of the shadows. The woman and the spider could then stare at one another across the floor and eventually the woman would invariably retreat in a dishevelled arachnophobic state. For Bertrand it was a game between the short sighted arachnid who would stand upright peering up quite hopefully at the long legged biped, whilst the biped would look down mistakenly thinking that the spider was in some sense threatening. The game lasted for years until one tragic day when the woman, who shall remain nameless, reached out with an elegantly shod foot and heroically stamped Bertrand to death.

Steve de Vos - London December 00