Lars Svendsen

Plurality in the field of fashion is not least a product of the enormous amount of visual information that bombards us every day. Susan Sontag claims that a society becomes modern when one of its main activities is to produce and consume images. In that case, we are close to living in the most modern of all possible worlds. All of us have become ‘image junkies’, as Sontag puts it. According to Hal Foster, we are unable to escape the logic of the image, because images both create a loss of reality and at the same time give us something – namely new images – that enable us to soften or deny this loss. The image becomes a substitute for reality. Hannah Arendt writes: ‘The reality and reliability of the world rest primarily on the fact that we are surrounded by things more permanent than the activity by which they were produced, and potentially even more permanent than the lives of their authors.’ Conversely, a world where the lifespan of things is completely at the mercy of the whims of fashion is an unreal and unreliable world. For Lipovetsky, fashion becomes the life-guide, because it trains us to live in a world where everything is constantly changing. Viewed this way, fashion ought to be an ideal life-guide for a world whose premises it has set itself. The question is whether it really can fulfil such a role.

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  1. shinichi Post author

    Fashion: A Philosophy

    by Lars Svendsen

    There is little in Nietzsche’s writings about fashion, but he frames a conception of man that in certain respects is highly suited to fashion. The supreme commandment is: ‘You shall become the person you are.’ This is not least a question of ‘adding style’ to one’s nature. He claims: ‘Only as an aesthetic phenomenon is existence still endurable for us.’ This thought is taken further in Michel Foucault’s late philosophy. Foucault claims that the present task for each and every one of us is to create ourselves as works of art. He disassociates himself from every conception of humanity that ascribes to it a given essence that must be sought for. The task is not to find oneself but to invent oneself. Foucault sees the individual as a social construction. In his earlier work, Foucault stressed how individuals are formed by power relations, especially by such social institutions as the health and prison services. In writings in the years immediately before his death in 1984, this perspective changed considerably: he still considers the subject as a construction, but widens this conception by now claiming that it is a construction that also possesses the ability to construct itself. This self-construction takes place, among other things, by means of what Foucault calls ‘asceticism’, which means that the subject carries out ongoing work on himself in order to become his own master. But this conception of being one’s own master can seem paradoxical, since it is a question of being a master of a self that is constantly moving away from itself. Foucault claims that his whole work has been an attempt to liberate himself from himself, to prevent himself from remaining the same person. What is this self striving for? How does this self organize its life? Foucault does not come all that much nearer an account of this as an ideal than to emphasize lifestyle as an attractive concept for the formation of the self, since a lifestyle can contain both an ethical and an aesthetic aspect. But a lifestyle can be so many things.


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