Friday, September 23, 2022

The Shock Show: Schiaparelli at the Musée des Arts decoratifs.


So I, too, a belated bellweatherer or maybe not one at all, made it to the Shocking show at the Musée des Arts decoratifs. Others went there – the young and the old, the models (there is always a fashion happening somewhere in Paris) and the wannabes – to see, perhaps, Dali. The surrealism is the emphasis of the show’s program, and was the vibe the reviewers picked up. Myself, I was in search of one of Schiaparelli’s biggest clients and supporters, Daisy Fellowes. Much to my surprise, even the famous shoe hat – which Daisy was the first and more notable fashion figure in the international smart set to wear – was purged of her presence. Instead, we have a photo of Dali’s wife, Gala, wearing a shoe on her head.

I was the more surprised at this as the Rezeptionsraum in fashion, which is a very Darwinian space – if you don’t sell to the uberwealthy and this isn’t the punky 1970s, you are done – is so imbricated with the design space that Fellowes, for instance, was offered, and accepted, a job as the editor of Harper’s Bazaar in Paris. There are few magazine editors out there with a 300 foot yacht, a magnificent villa on Cap Martin, another in Neuilly-sur-Seine, and a vast mansion in England – but there you go. That was Daisy Fellowes.

This show was clearly structured around a case of art envy. That means that the robes, hats, shoes makeup and perfume were treated solely in connection to the designer-artist. Meret Oppenheim’s fur bracelet or the lobster pendant for the odious Duchess of Windsor were treated as autonomous objects, while the genius of wearting clothes was barely touched on. This isn’t to say that there were no oblique glances at buyers. The house of Schiapareli proper shut down in 1954, but it was revived recently by Diego Della Valle. Schiaparelli found her shock in pink, whereas the new Schiaparelli folks find their shock in designing clothes influenced by strippers. Strippers are clever people – never underestimate the sex worker, and tip, people! – but the new Schiaparelli people are not clever enough to see that the stripper imaginary has to do with taking off the clothes. Thus, the bare and bump on the videos in the show miss the point,

The point, for a dress, a hat, shoes, is to be worn. The body is the soul of clothing. And just as the corpse’s decay from skin and bone to bone destroys the body’s living identity, the problem with clothing is that it is never the same on a dummy. Its aura is altered, radically. And fashion is aura, industrialized. It is a paradox worthy of a metaphysical poet that as the body is to the soul, so the clothes are to the body. In place of the real life of the gown or gloves, we have this closeted, this mausoleum life, where the ensemble becomes not a work of art, but the ghost of a work of art.

And thus I found the exit, after being pointed to it by several of the museum guards, and went out in the street and walked around – past the big Balanciaga boutique on 6 Rue Saint-Honoré – entertaining very Auden-in-19399sh thoughts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

hard hearts


“Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?” King Lear asks about his daughter, Regan.

The phrase goes back to the Bible, of course. Kabad is the term in Hebrew for the canonical instance of a hardened heart. The heart in question is the pharaoh’s, and its hardening is, in part, the work of the Lord, not nature. In Exodus 9:12, it is written” And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” Franz Rosenzweig, the great Jewish philosopher, found an interpretation of the verse in a popular Yiddish religious book: “… whereever a person wishes to go, God helps him. If he wishes to be good, God helps him. If he wishes to be bad, God also helps him.” In the latter case, by hardening – making heavy – the heart.

There is something wonderful and terrifying in Rosenzweig’s trouvaille. It is akin to Leibniz’s theory that this is the best of all possible worlds, for that transforms evil in the world into a quality as necessary as the good for the world’s perfection. I can grasp this intellectually, looking down, as much as I am able, at the world, but from within the world, I can never accept this.

That the Lord helps the wicked is a disconcerting thought, but there are hints in the Bible that the Lord and the Good and Evil are in separate metaphysical compartments. When, in the first chapter of Genesis, God creates light, there is this comment: “And God saw that the light was good.” That seems to be a way of saying that when God created light, he did not know, beforehand, that it would be good. That light was good – and I’m in total agreement with the deity here – in this story gives us a glimpse into a certain experimental neutrality, there at the beginning.
This is an idea to play with, as Rosenzweig must have seen it. The idea that my desire to follow good is independent of God, just as my desire to follow bad is independent of God, deserves some consideration. Donne considers that the case that God might not forbid sin in his sermon on God’s “patience”, and gives his response, which is wonderful rhetoric but not such wonderful argument: “for every book of the Bible, every chapter, every verse almost, is a particular Duteronomy, a particular renewing of the law from God’s mouth, Morte morieris, Thou shalt die the death; and of that sentence from Moses’ mouth, pereundo peribitis, You shall surely perish; and of that sentence from the prophet’s mouth, There is no peace to the wicked. And if this obdurant sinner could be such a Goth and Vandal as to destroy all records, all written laws; if he would evacuate and exterminate the whole Bible, yet he would find this law in his own heart; this sentence pronounjced by his own conscience, Stipendium peccati mors est, Treason is death, and sin is treason.”
You can’t get away from the sentence, in Donne. The sentence runs after you; the sentence is written within you. And by sentences you die.

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

    When Charles Lamb, a scholarship boy at Christ’s Hospital, was fifteen, one of his patrons, Thomas Coventry, had a discussion with a...