Does the silkworm expend her yellow labours
For thee? For thee does she undo herself?(Cyril Tourneur, The Revenger's Tragedie)
It is extraordinary how far we humans have travelled in remaking the world in our image and filling it with our artefacts; how we have transformed our needs, and the appetites that correspond to them, into desires that are subject to endless elaboration; how in us alone has organic life become the lives of selves in worlds; how, unlike any other creature, we lead our lives as a multitude of interwoven narratives rather than merely suffer them organically. I have tried to describe this in many different ways in the books I have published over the past several decades. Here is a rather different approach from my usual, rather abstract, talk about “explicitness” and “cognitive handshakes”: I want to talk about silk stockings.
Justice demands that I should begin with the creatures themselves, our unwitting beneficiaries, those silkworms who only 4,500 years ago started weaving for us rather than for their own future and became the involuntary servants of the incomparable beauty of the adorned human body.
The silkworm, to be factual and prosaic, even a little didactic for a moment, is the caterpillar phase in the life of the silkworm moth. It may seem odd, perhaps, to refer to the moth as a “worm”, to name it according to its immaturity – like calling mankind “childkind” – but this is not merely the product of a human-centred vision.