F A S H I O N

I am also trying to think carefully about the ways that signifiers of Black femininity gesture toward an excess that is not a subjectivity or desire or a liberating promise we can know in advance but a virtuality that is indeterminate and without guarantees.[1]

– Zakiyyah Jackson

 

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We fear the story that aesthetics has to tell, for aesthetics tells a blunt story. Aesthetics tells a story of how violence makes one ugly and how violence becomes beautiful. Aesthetics tells the story of how a body becomes terror and terror gets embodied as expression. Aesthetics are always debased. Aestheticization is the mundane form in which all form gets it tale told. There is no description to/for/of the thing without an aestheticization of the thing. Architecture and sculpture are the material building blocks of the world. Fashion, that of the body. Fashion is design, where the intent is to design the body. Where the body is the canvas for one to design clothing on to. Indeed, where the body is the canvas. It is an art because it is invention. It is an invention taking place on and to the body. An invention from and for the body.

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The connection between fashion and the feminine is a connection rooted in the West’s sociohistorical delineation of the mind from the body. Fashion is belittled because it is of the body and the body, in accordance to the axioms of Western culture, is of the feminine and the feminine of the lesser-than. But then again, what hasn’t been touched by Descartes’ age-old philosophical mind-body problem. I never felt the philosophical horror of this problem – even if I have been structurally crushed by its continued epistemological extension. My mind has always been so closely connected to the experiences, exposures and existential excisions of my body that it’s always been impossible for me to get outside of mind or my body in order to permit a division. A part of me thinks that this failure to demarcate a dualism at the level of mind and body is part and parcel why Frantz Fanon finishes his Black Skin, White Mask with the always enigmatic, “O my body! Make of me a man who always questions!”[2] I read this statement for the first time in undergrad, but I must have had an understanding of what it means to have the body be the location for one’s questioning as early as high school. In high school, I used to always say to myself that my ultimate goal in life was to be the flyest and the wisest. It was a kind of inspirational nursery rhyme I would tell myself.

I always had a passion for fashion, before I had it I closed my eyes and imagined – the good life.[3]

I used to sing this line over and over again; and my homie Gujuan and I used to share clothes when we couldn’t afford to buy more. When he had fly shit I wanted or I had fly shit he wanted, we would just ask and share. The basis of our entire friendship has been dope shit. Our mutual love and appreciation for dope shit.

I never knew why it spoke to me so much until I started to think deeper about my body, about what my body was like, how it was positioned in relationship to the other bodies/objects in the world, what were its boundaries, where did it start and finish, what was its representational hindrances, and what was its representational power? My entire life had been a confrontation at the level of existence with my body. This confrontation has always been a race-based, gender-based, class-based, sex-based, -based, -based, -based confrontation. If I have any interest at all in what might be called, “Black Male Studies,” it is because of this rather intersectional nature of my embodied experience and the idea that “male-gender-in-black,”[4] as Jared Sexton calls it, provides a nonpositive value for my gender performance. Meaning: “Male gender in black inconsistently mediates structural vulnerability but affords none of the traditional entitlements. Power in black is a negative affordance, a capability for immiserating the lives of others without a capacity for ameliorating one’s own, like a seesaw that works in only one direction, down.”[5]

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When Zakiyyah Jackson said:

Black femininity is figured as a superposition or the state of occupying two distinct and seemingly contradictory genders simultaneously – a predicament that underwrites the separation of both “masculine” and “feminine” in Western ontological discourse and exposes the impossibility of consistently keeping them apart.[6]

I felt that.

Fashion is this locus in which black bodies get access to wearing their superposition. Fashion is the practice of saying, “I love you,” to your body with clothing.

 

 

Folks Who Shared Their Wisdom Here. 

[1] Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, “‘Theorizing in a Void’ Sublimity, Matter, and Physics in Black Feminist Poetics,” South Atlantic Quarterly 117, no. 3 (2018): 641.

[2] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove press, 2008), 206.

[3] Kanye West, T-Pain, “Good Life,” Graduation (2007).

[4] Jared Sexton, Black Men, Black Feminism: Lucifer’s Nocturne (Springer, 2018), 28.

[5] Sexton, 28.

[6] Jackson, “‘Theorizing in a Void’ Sublimity, Matter, and Physics in Black Feminist Poetics,” 635.

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