When Jeffrey asked me about an impossible word last year, I went with what was making me impossibly happy right then and there: the feeling, two Sidecars into the evening, that we were all safeguarded in this invisible but palpable frame, that (figuratively, mind you) beautiful, silken threads could frame the night, suspended and strange. Gossamer in that moment for me meant the marvelous impossibility of realizing your own frame. The surety that you can touch something, but its lying just beneath tactile sensation. That place of solid certitude, the OED, yields up a greater lightness of touch than with most entries: “a fine, filmy substance, floating in the air in calm weather” – “Of things,” it specifies, “both material and immaterial” (you can’t narrow down gossamer) – there’s an alternative spelling: “gossamour” – it turns out you can be gossamered if you’re ever overlaid with what you can’t really take a hold off. I’m gossamered by so many things.
Gossamer is sought on at least three scales: there are the tiny spiders who spin a special kind of thread specifically meant for “ballooning,” for hopping on and letting the wind take you. There is the fabric, light and sheer which you can only ever feel slip between your fingers. That’s the stuff that seizes your haptic imagination, cool and intertwines between your fingers. That’s what we can feel by looking. If you uncover your first image, you’ll see the angel with black wings pressed against Christ in the Man of Sorrows by Meister Francke holding Christ through gossamer fabric. Your fingers sliding in a widening arc over the screen to make the picture bigger can almost touch it. How light Christ’s body becomes when it is gossamered! Next image down, Veronica holds the veil that Christ pressed his face into, that now holds his image: divinity suspended in gossamer. The third image is a detail, so we can marvel at gossamer’s that been folder, a neat fabric to unfold carefully to reveal Christ, an impossibly thin application of paint on panel to make us desire touch. Gossamer’s third scale weighs the same as the spiders as the fabric: the planet Jupiter has two gossamer rings, both named for nymphs, Amalthea and Thebe, taken by Jupiter, now fated to frame him. They have a thickness of 2300 km - gossamer depths and textures that are impossible to the touch, but never to the haptic imagination.