Unreal Nature

July 18, 2015

The Erotics of Intelligence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… What is exposed — and disguised — with fashion is not, in the first place, the attractions of the body …

This is from Fashion Zeitgeist: Trends and Cycles in the Fashion System by Barbara Vinken, translated by Mark Hewson (2005):

Fashion has rarely enjoyed a very good reputation. Despite its undeniable success as a social and commercial phenomenon, it remains the very exemplum of superficiality, frivolity and vanity. The discourse on fashion assumes the philosophical form of a critique of mere appearances, the cultural-theoretical form of a critique of the market economy, or the traditional form of a critique of sexual morality; but there seems to be no possibility of a serious concern with the subject that would proceed otherwise than in the mode of critique.

Glittering and blinding, fashion draws attention away from the substance of things. It is the very personification of the individual alienated in the rush of consumption, of the self lost in the brilliant world of commodities. Irrational, capricious, fickle, unpredictable, fashion makes its entrance every season anew, with all the power of seduction of a moody sovereign, certain of conquering. The incarnation of all vanity in the world, it carries with it the odor di femmina, of which Don Giovanni sings. The philosophers and the sociologists take it up only in order to denounce it or, at best, contemplate it with a wry and distanced amusement.

[ … ]

… Fashion has become what art had wanted to be: the Zeitgeist expressing itself in visible form. Its stage is no longer the aristocratic salon or the gatherings of select society at the theater, opera or racecourse. Fashion is now made, worn and displayed, not by the bourgeoisie or the aristocracy, but on the street. The great cities — London, Berlin, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Rome — are the theatrum mundi on which it makes its entrance. Baudelaire’s irresistible passerby, carried by the crowd, with a flourish of seam and frill, past the spectator-poet, his red-haired beggar woman, craving cheap costume jewelry, are early symptoms of this change in scene. They indicate a new relation of beauty and ideal, one which continues to exercise a latent effect until the end of the following century.

Walter Benjamin remarks somewhat offhandedly in one of the entries in his Arcades Project that the eternal is far more the ruffle on a dress than some idea.

… What is exposed — and disguised — with fashion is not, in the first place, the attractions of the body, but rather the erotics of intelligence, a play of Geist und Kleid. To learn fashion as this subtle play is equivalent to learning the art of reading literature, an art which, as Baudelaire and MallarmĂ© openly avowed, had brought them to the best part of their understanding and their production. The topos of this ‘knowledge’ is the difference which is known as ‘femininity.’




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