Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ideas and quotes and a shout-out to Benjamin.

Sometimes when reading, I come upon a sentence that coalesces seamlessly with an idea I've been toying with. It will overlay itself on my fledgling thoughts and cast a depth, an insight that propels me further. So to reflect this process and in the spirit of my department's Desert Island Discs* discussion last week, I will take up the manner and method of my main man Walter Benjamin to offer you a convolute of where my head has been lately. It may be useful to note that I am a reader who grazes through a number of books at a time, so these will be somewhat jumbled- welcome to the inside of my head.

Image by Patrick Demarchelier for Vogue India

'Feuerbach observes about "our era" that it 'prefers the image to the thing, the copy to the original, the representation to the reality, appearance to being.'- Susan Sontag (On Photography, p. 153)

'To experience a thing as beautiful means: to experience it necessarily wrongly.'- Nietzsche (p. 184)

Sontag writes that photography beautifies everything it captures by framing it and presenting it as something to be seen and appreciated. 'Even the most compassionate photojournalism is under pressure to satisfy simultaneously two sorts of expectations, those arising from our largely surrealist way of looking at all photographs, and those created by our belief that some photographs give real and important information about the world.' She refers to W. Eugene Smith's 1960s photoseries of the inhabitants of the Japanese fishing village of Minamata who were slowly dying of mercury poisoning: '[the photos] move us because they document a suffering which arouses our indignation- and distance us because they are superb photographs of Agony, conforming to surrealist standards of beauty.' (p.105)

So true, this: 'many people are anxious when they're about to be photographed: not because they fear, as primitives do, being violated but because they fear the camera's disapproval. People want the idealised image: a photograph of themselves looking their best.' (Sontag p.85)

The idea of becoming symbolic of yourself- an image of yourself that is taken to be representative of your entirety as a person. I'm thinking of social media profiles, blogs- the representation of who you are as reduced to what you can transmit about yourself, your tastes, your life. 

'Immensity is within ourselves. It is attached to a sort of expansion of being that life curbs and caution arrests, but which starts again when we are alone. As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming in a world that is immense. Indeed, immensity is the movement of motionless man. It is one of the dynamic characteristics of quiet daydreaming'.- Gaston Bachelard
Have I blogged this before? Incredibly lovely to contemplate.

I've been thinking about what it means to be a self in the world, lately. Always a compelling consideration but changed and challenged recently by a friend whose thoughts are propelling me into foreign territory almost despite myself. Trenchant ideas like that the self can be expressed- that we can know ourselves- are up in the air. Can we ever truly know ourselves? Is it worth trying, is it important? What kind of expression is it, to express the self through our personal style? How do we do that? I mean, I think we do, but what aspects of ourselves are we expressing, and what aspects can we never know or would never wish to express? 

I think I need to challenge my own adoption of the idea that 'dressing expresses the self'- not because there's not an element of truth to it, but because it's not as straightforward as that. This development is a bit intimidating- I've thought through these ideas for two years, coming up through the tradition of fashion theorists before me. I think their nuanced ideas have been adopted in general and are now just a pat statement of intentionality- implicating myself in this, you just have to watch the 'Fashademic' video to hear me all over town. I watched it again recently and marvelled at how my thinking has shifted. It's not a bad thing, it's just a process- an ever-changing process of re-evaluating, of thinking 'what do I think? what ideas most accurately cast light upon this aspect of human experience?' It's immense.

*In our first departmental seminar of the semester last week, our discussion required us to each introduce ourselves by sharing of what theorist, book and album we would take to a desert island with us (with a nod to the BBC's Desert Island Discs radio program.) I am heartily ashamed to admit that I have never actually listened to this program but I want to! It's on my 'to-do' list right under watching 'Hunger' and a few notches above 'learn how to make cheese soufflĂ©'. Anyway, apparently it involves the presenter and a guest talking about the guest's desert island selections- what book they would take, what luxury, what film etc. The assumption is that you get to take a Bible/religious/philosophical text of their choice so that's a given. 

It was really hard to narrow it down- I mean, how to choose?!  And then as soon as you've given your answer, a million other alternatives crowd howling around your ears. But I said that my theorist would be Benjamin because I love cities and if I was stuck on a desert island I'd want a work that reminds me of them- namely Paris, which is an extraordinarily interesting and beautiful place. Also, his writing is boss. So 'The Arcades Project', done. Book? I said a really good compendium of fairytales. Before you judge, think about it- I'm talking about the good stuff, the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, George Macdonald. These aren't Disney stories, but muscular, hard and fantastical folktales that reveal so much about fear, love, loyalty and bravery. Very inspiring to me; and they remind me of childhood, and there's a comfort in that which I think I'd need on a desert island. As for music... well, I got a bit cheeky. I said because I didn't choose to take Benjamin in person  (we could either take our theorist in person or one of their books) I would take my musician in person instead- Sufjan Stevens. For two reasons, one being the two times I've seen him in concert are two of the most wonderful live music experiences I've ever had and I would want that every day if possible; and two, the man's a babe, so... What would you have said?

1 comment:

  1. Such a lovely post to read, it's got my head spinning off in all kinds of directions! Dressing to express the self is something which I have slight problem with, as I cannot participate in dressing to express exactly how I want to be seen. Due to size, expense, access limitations. I have to put up with a 'near enough' kind of approach. No wonder I never have my picture taken! How I imagine myself dressing, is an ocean apart from how I really dress.

    Now, with Desert Island Discs, begin with the Morrissey one! It's so good and was voted people's choice as the best.