“In my formulation: ‘The eternal is in any case far more a ruffle on a dress than some idea.’ [Dialectical Image] (1999)” – Walter Benjamin
Interior/Exterior: Meeting Place (An Excerpt)
The space of fashion, the external surrounding of the garment, the inorganic mode, seeks to alter the original body, veiling it with the attributes and tactile perceptions of the garment’s qualities. The garment provides the meeting place for the ‘coupling’ to occur on the body. This meeting place is revealed by the ‘coupling’ of the interior and exterior of the garment to the epidermis of the body. The clothing embraces the epidermis (this “new skin”) and changes it from its original condition into a mode, an arrangement of pattern, texture, and fabric, an overall style.
Jacques Derrida writes, in “The Truth about Painting”, of the ‘parergon’. Drawing off of Kant and transforming it into his own, Derrida discusses the parergon as coming “against, beside, and in addition to the ergon, the work done [fait], the fact [le fait], the work, but it does not fall to one side, it touches and cooperates within the operation, from a certain outside. Neither simply outside nor simply inside. Like an accessory that one is obliged to to welcome on the boarder, on board [au board, a bord]. It is first of all the on (the)bo(a)rd(er). [Il est d’aboard l’a bord] (1987).” As Derrida elucidates, the parergon is neither wholly inside nor wholly outside. The parergon is the included area that, by its very nature, should not be perceived as non-area, as detachable from the observed piece of art. In this way, the garment becomes the site of the parergon, the site from which the other is aesthetically opened (or closed). As the garment surrounds the body (its meeting place), it acts as a parergon in its constant veiling and unveiling of the body’s organic nature. Viewing the garment as an aesthetic surround, as a sort of architecture, one finds the ‘coupling’ that the parergon elucidates. The parergon acts as an ‘outside’ while clothing the ‘inside’, by being un-detachable from the object in question. Derrida: “We think we know what properly belongs or does not belong to the human body, what is detached or not detached from it – even though the parergon is precisely an ill-detachable detachment (1987).”
This “ill-detachable detachment” that Derrida mentions is precisely the osculum of the meeting place, its space of existence. A detachment that cannot be detached is the ‘coupling’ of the interior and the exterior. The garment makes possible such an osculum, providing the landscape of the human body with a design, a map of familiarities and confusions. The crevice between the neck and the chest opened by the garment (as in the Yamamoto Limi design) or the subtle crease in a fabric revealing a concealed piece of epidermis is fostered by the parergon of the body through the garment. And, conversely, each mode creates a new arrangement of possibilities for the construction of the garment to exist on the body. The meeting place (the parergon) of the garment and the epidermis, this “new skin” which zips, folds, creases, rips, slips, sways, and opens the organic, reveals a unique materiality, an impression of style.
The garment’s parergon presents us with a dual element. While engaged in the act of adornment, of wearing, our bodily exterior (and here I mean the exterior of our organic skin) confronts the interior of the garment, the garments invisible inside, the perpetually concealed. What now faces the exterior is the exteriority of the garment; the separation between skin and clothing, clothing and world creates the parergon, fosters the parergon, and makes the parergon take place.
Finally, as Derrida says, “The parergon stands out [se detache] both from the ergon [the work] and from the milieu, it stands out first of all like a figure on a ground. But it does not stand out in the same way as the work. The latter also stands out against a ground. But the parergonal frame stands out against 2 grounds [fonds], but with respect to each of these 2 grounds, it merges [se fond] into the other (1987).” This ‘merger’ that occurs, this taking-apart-splitting-apart, uniquely expresses the act of the perception of the worn garment. As I perceive another person, I am overtaken by their all-at-onceness, their totality as a body, as a figure against a ground, that I take-in and assimilate. Thru predication I can break down their appearance, their semblance, into separate parts (pieces). The body’s all-at-onceness explodes into a fragmentary body and, thru the garments expressed I am all the more tempted to separate and to delineate the body into these concise pieces. The body that I see is a body that has already been merged together, a body [with a] parergon. Organic and Inorganic body connect and ‘couple’ into the body’s “new skin”, its social identity, its utilization of a mode. The glasses, the jacket, shirt, pants, dress, watch, hat, and necklace blur together, resting upon and around the enveloped body. The garment as envelope wraps (and invites?) the organic body to be consumed, to be made anew.
And, since we are now dwelling in the realm of the meeting place, of the opening of the interior and the exterior, of the parergon, we may find ourselves overlooking a landscape of bodies, a landscape-body.
Benjamin writes: “Something different is disclosed in the drunkenness of passion: the landscapes of the body. These are already no longer animated, yet are still accessible to the eye, which, of course, depends increasingly on touch and smell to be its guides through these realms of death (1999).” Are we not already following a landscape, a design, a parergon? Has not passion, the passion of the body, of the other, multiplied thru fashion, through the interior/exterior of the parergon? Certainly. Through the creation of this new space, this “new skin” of the garment, of the ‘coupling’ of the garment to the organic, a melting of interior/exterior takes place, surges up from…from where?
The landscape of the body, through the mode of fashion, has become an ever-evolving landscape, a parasitism of body and texture. The landscape is coated, painted, accessorized, and made stylish by the design of the landscape. The landscape comes in many forms, many particularities, and many possibilities. That the landscape blurs with possibility, again, clouds over the cessation of fashion, which is death. Fashion cannot stop, the constellation of modes, continues as an independent organism, a parasite that feeds off of the body…or is it the other way around? What the body gains from this new epidermis is style and impression.
The phenomenon of style is the phenomenon of the mode of dressing-up and dressing-down. The hospitality of the garment, the greeting of the other, though not always necessary, brings to light an interesting insight into our reliance on semblance. That I might change my clothes for an evening out on the town, or that I may dress down for a relaxing day in, entails my implicit awareness of my style, my image. How I choose to manipulate my sensations of exterior and interior depend on my mood of dressing-up and dressing-down. That I can never be fully detached from the parergon of my garments transfigures the choices of dress that I may adorn. The body is the dwelling and the meeting place. The place where my exterior ‘couples’ with the interior of the garment and, at the same time, the place where I dwell, where I move out from to embrace life. This portable habitat, this textile home from which I live greatly affects the other in my arrangement and construction of its features, of its hospitable qualities. This mutable habitat may be morphed to assume numerous patterns of action, from love and sexuality, to somberness and melancholy. This meeting place greets the other, and calls on the inorganic of the other, the place where they too have greeted me with their unique style.
Benjamin, Walter The Arcades Prjoject (trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin) 1999: Belknap Press. Cambridge, MA.
Derrida, Jacques Of Hospitality (trans. Rachel Bowlby) 2000: Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA.
Derrida, Jacques The Truth about Painting (trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian Mcleod) 1987: University of Chicago. Chicago and London.