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MONDAY, JULY 11, 2016
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” -- Coco Chanel

Like Chanel -- one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century -- I'm beginning to believe fashion is in everything. Clothes, music, film, design, and philosophical postures all go in and out of style. Trends oscillate between excess and minimalism. If the product isn't sexy it doesn't sell, no matter how well it functions. The impetuous of modern times is to escape boredom and don a new hope of fulfillment. We are all apart of the fashion industry because we make our decisions based on beauty -- and fashion is beauty.



I think our generation has a tendency to hold off on value judgements, motivated by some vague, relativistic sense of Western self-hatred and guilt. Therefore we often hear people say, "Well, what's art for you might not be art for me", "That's just your opinion, I have mine", "Aren't you just imposing your way of life/thining on everyone else by saying that", etc., etc. We just throw our arms up and say "It's all just fashion", or "It's all just opinion", or whatever.

You are right, though, Ryan. Trends come and go in every part of life, philosophy included. But isn't thre a lot more to say? Is, for example, democracy just a passing fad, no better and no worse than, say, theocracy, fascism, tribalism, nationalism, anarchism, etc.? Are there no comparisons or value judgements or appropiate, larger contexts to talk about? And if fashion simply equals beauty, then is only the unpopular capable of being ugly? And if so, isn't the ugly as important - if not more important - than trendy, faddish beauty? Don't we need to confront the ugly, the difficult, the uncomfortable, and horrible things in the world, instead of distracting ourselves with fashion, making us forget about the real problems in the world? Isn't "beauty", in fashion form, merely a passing thing, therefore not really a Form (in the Platonic sense) of beauty at all? Truth is unchanging, not passing and trendy. What we think of truth and beauty is usually, like the shadows on the cave's wall, flickering, temporary illusions of permanence, not the "real" thing. And didn't Oscar Wilde (who I have to quote, as matter of principle now), say, "A fine painting of an ugly face is still a beautiful thing."?

Maybe if, as you say, "fashion is in everything", we should then distinguish between fashion and worthwhileness. Not, I should point out, utility, but worthwhileness. Is something that is fashionable worthwhile? Its transitory nature seems to suggest that it isn't, since it so quickly slips away, and we shouldn't let something that is worthshile just slip away to be replaced by something (apparently) interchangeable with it. On the other hand, we let worthwhile things slip away all the time, like progressive social policies. Then again may what we call "progressive" and "right" and "just" might just be fads, fashions, and trends, too. I really hope they're not.

Incidentally, if "fashion is in everything" and "fashion is beauty" as well, then it follows, stricly by logic, that everything is beautiful, or that there is beauty in everything. Maybe this is like Keats's "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all. Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.", or, anitcipating the obvious objection that the horrible things in the world cannot be considered beautiful, such as genocide, we might also cite the title of Roberto Benignito's film about the Holocaust: "Life is Beautiful".

In my opinion, fashion is about convention, and convention, as I'm sure you know, Ryan, is something that needs to be constantly dug up and rooted out, not for the sake of just getting to the next, new trend, but to expose all fashion trends for what they are: superficial, changing, incomplete, not-very-worthwhile, fun-but-not-important. And by extension we get a clearer picture of what actually is worthwhile, such as educating one's self and challenging others to do the same.

But that sounds all very boring, doesn't it? We all need to have fun, all need to go out and dance and veg-out and not think, buy clothes and listen to the latest music. Fine. Sure. I'm all for it. But there's such a thing as too-much-of-a-good-thing, and more to the point, even more of too-much-of-a-bad-thing.

Justin Timberlake brought "sexy" back. Maybe I should bring value-judgements back...



And oh yeah: "The pursuit of beauty is much more dangerous nonsense than the pursuit of truth or goodness, because it affords a stronger temptation to the ego." - Northrop Frye



Hogan, as usual, your comments are appropriate and appreciated. I find my style is to amorally describe, whereas you aim to morally prescribe.

When it comes to art, I don't think the tension between truth and opinion will ever be resolved in a satisfying way. Beauty is a long way from mathematical equation: we can send a man to the moon, but we can't put a tie around his neck that is aesthetically pleasing to all.

I find your remark on "Western self-hatred and guilt" intriguing. I just read a essay by Roger Scruton, in which he similarly writes, "In the presence of sacred things, our lives are judged, and to escape that judgment, we destroy the thing that seems to accuse us." In this passage he is trying to understand the current trend of artists who are ostensibly transgressive with their works of desecration. In the same essay, entitled Beauty and Desecration, he states, "It is an ancient view that truth, goodness, and beauty cannot, in the end, conflict. Maybe the degeneration of beauty into kitsch comes precisely from the postmodern loss of truthfulness, and with it the loss of moral direction." Here again the trinity of truth, goodness, and beauty is presented, as also mentioned in your Frye and Keats quotes. I don't know if the pyramid crumbles when one part is lacking, but it is often presented as such.

You, too, are right, Hogan. There is more to say. Politics, the way we live, is on another level than Dior's Fall/Winter ready-to-wear runway debut. A nation's decision to go to war does entail more significant consequences than if I forget to match my shoes with my belt.

What I am interested in when it comes to fashion, is people's decision making process. Trends do come and go, but it is the ultimate pursuit of beauty that fascinates me. To remain desirable today involves the complex and rapidly changing world that is fashion and design. It is the desire to be desirable amongst strangers in our urban landscape that is closer to the Platonic Form, as you put it, than what particular cut of jean is hip at the time. Modern fashion is about identity and belonging. In the West, function and survival are no longer at the forefront of our decision making process, though the rise in perceived Terrorism may alter this.

If you want to convince someone that caring for another on a small scale, and politics on a larger scale, are worth pursuing, I don't think appeals to truth and goodness alone will do it. Aristotle believed that the best argument was comprised of ethos, logos, and pathos -- roughly translated as moral character, logic, and passion. A politician possessing the first two alone is usually considered a pious bore. They appear more automaton than animated. Obama is a great example of a politician who displays all three. I think what you oppose, Hogan, are things that are merely passion/fashion. This would be the Hitler of the political sphere; someone renown for his charisma at the podium, but disdained for his moral actions and the reasoning that lead him there.

To make the ordinary, or even the ugly, beautiful in an increasingly culturally diverse milieu is a challenge that every politician must consider. To this end, I think you can see how I'm trying to tie haute couture into the tapestry of politics. And clothing, as I admit, is only one thread amongst many in the quilt of culture.



Well said, as usual, Ryan.

For one, I don't think that there's any such thing as purely "amorally describing". Anyone who thinks they're being totally unbiased, objective and therefore "just describing things the way the actually are" has probably got a hidden agenda, i.e. a "moral prescription" lurking in the background, consciouly or not. To juxtapose "amoral description" and "moral prescription" is a false dichotomy, but I'm sure you're well aware of this and can see how the two always overlap. You're not a black and white sort of person.

I guess I'm just worried that things have swung too far in a certain direction (doesn't matter which one, extremes in any direction are usually bad (I say usually because I don't want to be too extreme)). The extreme direction I'm talking about is the one that prevents us from making any moral judgements whatsoever. People are afraid to precribe (and yet they're not great at describing either). It's practically an epidemic with my generation. Relativism has taken over, so much so that people don't even bother to defend their latent or implicit relativism because it's got such a subconcious hold on them that they can't even muster up enough non-relativistic energy to defend their own position. They'd rather just throw up their hands, stop the conversation, and say, "Yeah, but watta ya gonna do? Cheers. Let's talk about South Park."

You can probably tell that I'm talking from personal experience. I'm here in Prague on a field school with other supposedly bright students (some of them are, I admit) and I've been getting earfuls of relativism and pop-culture frivolity. So you can see where I'm coming from and what I have to contend with.

By the way, I'm well aware of the (world of) difference between beauty and mathematical equations, and between NASA and neckties. I certainly wasn't trying to morally precribe anything so mathematically absolute.

But back to extremes: I'm also worried that in our nothing-matters/anything-goes "modern world" there seems to be a conservative backlash, and since this conservative minority is, well, a minority, it can assume the moral highground of the underdog, fighting against oppressive permissiveness (irony!). There's a tendency to want to simply fight against the norm, no matter what it is. And so, with the decline of religion (a good enough thing in itself, I'd say; the decline of it, that is) comes the inevitable backlash. Unfortunately religious fundamentalism can take this underdog status and use it to prop up its platform with rebel prestige.

I'm all for fighting the norm, but not just for the sake of fighting the norm. Sometimes the norm is just fine. And increased secularism, decline of superstitious and prejudiced beliefs, all this is fine by me. The argument that we need to go back to the good'ole days where morals were more abundant and people had some sense of where they stood in relation to "something higher than them" (whatever that's supposed to mean) is itself an old argument. Frye relates in The Educated Imagination that an inscription was dug up in the Middle-East somewhere that said that the young no longer obey their parents and that morals were on the decline and society was going to hell, etc. So, if it wasn't new back then, it's definitely not new now.

More recently, and most famously, Nietzsche made the case that we'd done away with traditional morality, and, as a society, unwittingly killed God. After this there was no going back. We'd be at the mercy of men who recognize no ethical limits to their own power, "resolute" types like Hitler and Bush (to make a broad comparison) whose only moral limits is their own thirst for power. However, since there is no going back to pre-nihilism - no "rediscovering" the past and all its moral virtues - the only thing to do is either accept one's meaningless fate joyfully (amor fati) or else succumb to the despair of such meaningless world. (I guess the other option is to remain locked inside true-belief and ignore everything in the world that contradicts your religion or set of morals.)

And yet, I am calling for something of a traditional morality, aren't I? I want people not to be relativists and believe in democracy. But here's the catch: I don't think there's anything God-givenly good about democracy, I just think that people should believe in something, and so why not they only human system we have at our disposal? We can make meaning in life, by and for ourselves, individually and together. As my old prof John Dixon put, "Democracy is the best spiritual idea since monotheism". I take this to mean, among other things, that we can safely do away with monotheism (or theism in general) and get to work on making some genuinely worthwhile meaning out of life. Beauty, truth and goodness can all paly a part, but not in the Platonic sense. If there's one good thing...(continued below)...



about post-modern society it's that there's no more capital-T "Truth" to cling on to. And in my view this makes going on and creating our own meaning - in the absence of God-given meaning - even more noble. We can accept the meaninglessness, love our fateless fates (amor fati!) and go on together nevertheless. There can be, following Richard Rorty, solidarity in the absence of capital-T Truth. It just requires the will to come together and build something out of the nothing.

"But no," say the relativists, "there's nothing that can be made worthwhile enough to bring everyone together. I have my truth, you have yours. We shouldn't 'impose' democracy on other cultures. If they want to persecute homosexuals and cut out girls clitorises, that's they're business, you morally prescribing neo-colonialist." (I exaggerate for effect, and this isn't aimed at you, Ryan, just the relativists.)

But this is an ongoing problem. Collective meaning comes and goes in society, and it would seem that at the moment we're lacking lots of it. But the solution isn't to decry the moralless present and revere the ethically virtuous past. We need to re-invent, for our own circumstances, a way in which to deal with current problems. Maybe that's just another way of saying the same thing, but in any case, Ryan, I'm sure you're with me, even if we don't agree on all the little details. After all, agreeing to disagree is the core democratic virtue, and "opposition", as I'm always fond of pointing out, quoting William Blake, "is true friendship."

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