The read thread

Blanca Riestra. Professor. IE School of Arts & Humanities

7 September 2010

Raymond Carver, Goethe, and even a popular French turn of phrase all talk about the red thread, a metaphor representing the invisible link between all events, consequences and causes.

My relationship with the red thread started on the sly in 1990 when I read Raymond Carver for the first time. I think it was a pocket edition of his What we talk about when we talk about love. I was 20 years old at the time and, oh dear me, I used to write poetry. When faced with Carver´s nudity, I cottoned on and realised that I was throwing stones to catch what could only ever be caught by cajoling.

Since then, I have upheld the somewhat coarse theory that in the world, like in art, there is a thread that joins things together, a connection you can´t really see but one that relates consequence with cause. Later, while I was living in France, I learned a French expression that was just what I needed: fil rouge (red thread). Since then, I have adopted that literary ´affiliation´ in the same way as you might put on a pair of very comfortable shoes.

Throughout this decade, I have had time to invent an entire theory about the subject and to embellish it with all kinds of flourishes. For example: the writer dances a kind of sardana around an invisible hopscotch, gently brushing it with his bare foot. Another example: writing is the same as using wild dogs to pen in a chalk animal that can hardly be seen or heard. Things like that, not very useful but entertaining.

Recently, I have been rereading poor Goethe’s Elective Affinities. It’s strange but when I think of Goethe, I always imagine him as being very thin with spectacles and a cravat, crying like a baby at the smallest of things. However, while reading that 19th-century story of a change of partner, quite entertaining by the way, I encountered the origin of the French red thread.

Goethe says: "We have heard about one particular custom of the British Navy. All the rope used by the Royal Fleet, from the thickest to the thinnest, is twined in such a way that a red thread runs through all of them; it is impossible to remove the thread without undoing the rope and that means that even the smallest piece of rope can be identified as property of the Crown".

So, reality would be a great tack of interrelated events and details whose full shape is beyond us. Believing in the red thread is like believing in a kind of poetic justice, in a law of causality that justifies even the wildest and strangest of things.

Literature would then be something like looking for tacks and redoing stitches. It´s a pity I don´t know how to sew anything other than the odd button.

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