Commenting on the horrifying future of the skin and of the constancy of its decay, Cioran said, “Much more than the skeleton, it is the flesh, I mean the carrion flesh, which disturbs and alarms us—and which alleviates us as well (1974).” Further, in the same essay, he writes, “In order to conceive, and to steep ourselves in, unreality, we must have it constantly present to our minds. The day we feel it, see it, everything becomes unreal, except that unreality which alone makes existence tolerable (1974).” From this standpoint, we experience a vision of the skin—of the flesh—as our uninterrupted reminder of death, as the site from which we are everlastingly decaying. In this way, the garment may act as a cloak to shield away the future existence of our corpse. The, as Cioran writes, “alleviation” of our existence can be greeted quite readily by exposing ourselves to an honest contemplation of the body. In this way, we find the beauty of the body, the beauty of the garment, to be nothing but a transitory phenomenon, a continually slipping and aging object that we are continually at the whim of.
In Cioran’s words, we may read “unreality” to be a kind of mask from which we, quite unknowingly, come to veil the starkness of the world. In not ruminating on the skin, we come to capture its sensual aspects, its pleasures and its reified naturalness. This is the same with fashion and its relation to the body. The transfixing of clothing to the body, at the same time providing us with a unique and changing visual identity and semblance of beauty, brushes away the animality of our body and all that is “disgusting” about our body.
This transcendence through the garment and into the carrion provides us with an angle of beauty that fashion plays upon, opens and closes, calls attention to and ignores—the complete exposure of the skin and of the movements of the body’s interior. Phenomenologist Alphonso Lingis writes, “We crave to break through the self-contained form in which the feminine is so utterly removed, not only from the world of work, but also from us. What excites us is to break through this jeweled mirage, though we sense that we will thereby join not in its radiant epiphany but in its decomposition (2000).” The illusion of the feminine (so aptly displayed in fashion) haunts and possesses us with its semblance of carrion detachment.
The desire of the body, of the symbols surrounding the body, stirs us unto this desire of transcending the social sphere of reason. Returning to Rudofsky’s comments on the “intoxication” of certain garments, we find an overall “intoxication” with in the perception of beauty—a horrifying intoxication. Horrifying, in that, any analysis upon the body’s exterior beauty is simultaneously a reminder of the decaying flesh, of the transformation that that body will eventually be—a corpse. Fashion, apart from being the site of our hybrid existence, is also the site of our bodily unreality, a fleeing from the truth of our bodily destiny through style and sartorial transfiguration. Moreover, an analysis of beauty and elegance in relation to the physiological functions of the body renders us appalled. Why is this?
Cioran writes, “In order to vanquish attachments and the disadvantages which derive from them, we should have to contemplate the ultimate nudity of a human being, force our eyes to pierce his entrails and all the rest, wallow in the horror of his secretions, in his physiology of an immanent corpse (1974).” The shocking analysis of the human condition, instead of repelling us, should act as a valuable lesson of lucidity. Our perpetual exposure to the exterior of things hides the interior, makes it invisible and, hence, ugly. However, the human condition cannot be ignored, it is what we are, our concrete solidification and connection with the physical world. The suggestion and enhancement of the bodily in fashion opens unto a new light in the realm of pure bodily exposure. That certain garments enhance sexual attraction is clear enough, but that certain exposures to the carrion opens for a spiritual experience seems almost taboo. Lingis suggests, “The erotic frenzy sweeps its vertiginous way over barriers, plunges toward nameless, proliferating excesses of life teeming in orgasmic decomposition of the world of work and reason. This zone of blood and semen and vaginal secretions, of excremental discharges and corpses, this zone too of mushrooming eddies of nameless inhuman life, which fills us with exultant anguish and anguished exultance, is the zone of the sacred (2000).” The organic body when examined under sartorial phenomenology can ascend to authenticity, in its organic reality, as our natural and mysterious possession, and, more than that, our vortex of intention and expression. Moreover, what Cioran and Lingis aspire to is the experience of the divine from the interior of the body. In addition, they call attention to our proclivity for a hidden fascination with the animality of the body. From this, fashion lends its hand to play upon this sacredness of the body and to thrust the body into a new animality—a civilized animality complete with new and, hence, inorganic desires, desires apart from the physiological. In this way, a desire to appear beautiful is concretized and the beautiful image idealized. Finally, in a world where this image-making shifts and mutates, comes a propensity to create and solidify one’s own beauty as an individual and away from the mainstream of fashion. It is in this individualistic drive for visual singularity that we have come to accept the changing faces of fashion and even have come to embrace the fluidity of fashion.
This is a short piece that I wrote in 2003 while studying at Grand Valley State University. It has not been revisited until today. Enjoy. The texts mentioned in the essay are:
E.M. Cioran: The New Gods
Alphonso Lingis: Foreign Bodies