Philosophy of Fashion
“For the philosopher,” writes Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project, “the most interesting thing about fashion is its extraordinary anticipations.” In other words, fashion is, in itself, an avant-garde: it shows us what the world will be like before that world has fully arrived. Its uncanny relation to the new is by no means the only philosophically interesting thing about fashion. And yet, philosophy (often coded masculine, serious, enduring) has often rejected or dismissed fashion (often coded feminine, frivolous, ephemeral) as a site of legitimate inquiry. What does it mean to philosophize about fashion? What does it mean to have or practice a philosophy of fashion?
This course concentrates on fashion as a vital, luxuriant case study for major intellectual questions. With an emphasis on the 20th and 21st centuries, the syllabus combines readings in the philosophy, theory, and history of fashion with a wide range of visual examples. Some of our central inquiries will include: When was fashion “invented”? And what does fashion have to tell us about significant problems in aesthetics? How is fashion historical and what kind of questions about novelty and futurity does it open? What does fashion have to do with modernity, political economy, commodity fetishism, media, and climate change? How does philosophy of fashion intersect with ideas about gender, class, identity, morality, politics, and sex? To whom does fashion belong and how? What are the social uses and abuses of fashion? What do we make of additions like “cool,” “cute,” and “glamour” to the categories of classical aesthetics? Is an interest in fashion evidence of a vain, shallow, or false consciousness? And, if it’s not, what does fashion, with its fondness for surfaces, reveal about the depths of things?
Readings are likely to draw on some or all of the following figures: Shahidha Bari, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Judith C. Brown, Judith Butler, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin, Michel Foucault, Yuniya Kawamura, Karl Marx, Monica L. Miller, Sianne Ngai, Lars Svendsen, and Georg Simmel.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 14 — August 04, 2022