Earlier this month, I wrote about unsubscribing from Elle. In the meantime, I have wondered why I don't just subscribe to something consistently amazing like Encens instead.
With magazines like Elle, I had to ignore so much bullshit to isolate those few kernels of goodness that are wholesome and nutritious for my mind. Encens, on the other hand, is so near to perfection. And yet...
I suppose this ambivalence is related to how I negotiate conventionality versus that something-like-originality that many who strive for something else strive toward. I guess that might be one way to think about "style." I am OK with the fact that's it's all process and nothing so totalizing as Achieving Good Style will ever be realized (at least not by me). I quite enjoy the process and learning new things along the way. But the question of what I am becoming never leaves my mind. Not that the future is a thing in whose names we should all shape our lives,* but I cannot resist wondering if I should work to become the type of matured woman who one day decides that from some specific moment on I'll mark myself a permanent outsider, possibly with, oh, I don't know, a gigantic avant-garde all black beehive and veil.
Ms. Diane Pernet is a remarkable woman who I respect and admire, but is this "not me"? Most likely, it is not. I can't imagine, for example, spending my time with a prepubescent boy who wears Rick Owens.
In some book I have because I went to college, Peter Bürger writes:
"The avant-garde not only negates the category of individual production but also that of individual reception. The reactions of the public during a dada manifestation where it has been mobilized by provocation, and which can range from shouting to fisticuffs, are certainly collective in nature. True, these remain reactions, responses to a preceding provocation. Producer and recipient remain clearly distinct, however active the public may become. Given the avant-gardiste intention to do away with art as a sphere that is separate from the praxis of life, it is logical to eliminate the antithesis between producer and recipient."
Bürger characterizes the avant-garde as interested in a couple of things: challenging bourgeois culture's premises and ideologies, and creating the space of a liberating life praxis in which a producer-recipient dichotomy is overcome... Only, this leads him to point out that this dangerously leads toward individualist solipsism.
His warning is important because those "couple of things" can easily translate into the basic formula for becoming every art school douchebag ever.
But the big long quote above is still really interesting for thinking about avant-garde-ism in fashion-as-consumer-product. And I think the tension in this book relates to my ambivalence of both loving such fashion and being resistant to a wholesale embrace of it as my lifestyle brand.
What is the fashion avant-garde when such creations become objects of fetishistic desire? And what do people really mean when they use the avant-word to talk about such unattainable designer creations? If there is an interest in something more than tapping consumer desire, if designers might also be reaching for that space where creativity broaches bourgeois norms, what do we as active recipients do to close the gap between the designers as producers and our life praxis, to move toward that space in between art and reality? And is this even a worthy goal?
I sometimes wonder if challenging "norms" just for the sake of it makes you an asshole if you are over the age of 21, and also think that believing in Individuality is foolish. I'm just really interested in this bit about collective reactions to things and sublating the producer-recipient relationship. In Bürger's book, he echoes most critical thought of the late 20th century by making sure to distinguish between a "real" sublation, and a "false" one. The false one happens when things become commodities. According to that definition, fashion would be cast aside immediately. But I don't think that's right.
I think there are a couple ways around this. First, we can say that it doesn't actually matter whether or not things are commodities. Things are things, all things are seen to have certain values, or not. It's not just the economy, stupid! (A Clinton joke should really not be allowed.) Or, we can say that the creations in this case are never "real" to us anyhow, since like, no one can afford that shit. So it's just a fantasy image through which we hatch our own plans.
That way, we are imagining for ourselves, placing ourselves on the same platform of creative possibility as our favorite art star designers.
John and Yoko asked us to "Imagine." That resonated with so many, even moreso than George Michael's "Freedom." Our politics in the West is obsessed with this notion of freedom, which is different than imagination. What if our politics were premised on imagination? Thinking and doing differently? Is this what we can embody in dress?
All the way back in 1984, a year before I was born and long before I was forced to buy this particular book for my college class, Peter Bürger asked "whether the distance between art and the praxis of life is not requisite for that free space within which alternatives to what exists become conceivable."
Maybe they were onto something with that Comme des Garcons for H&M, afterall. Any maybe I should just order myself a few back issues of Encens.
*Seriously, that link is a pretty good read. The recent "Declaration on the Notion of "The Future" is basically where my thinking is at right now regard "time" ("temporality" when I'm being an asshole).
Book quotes from Theory of the Avant-Garde by Peter Bürger.
Note: The images after Diane were top results in a google search for "avant-garde fashion."
Ugh, I'm sorry for how gross this looks in google reader. It's prettier on the actual site...