One strain - excuse pun - in Linda's book is the line of discomfort and downright pain involved in wearing some garments, especially shoes. She writes very well about this. The sheer agony of it is puzzling, she says:
And so I start to wonder if women are masochists; are we actually the brain-dead dolts and bimbos which our superior brothers suggest? 'It is only when the mind and character slumber that dress can be seen,' sneered Ralph Waldo Emerson. 'You cannot be fashionable and first rate,' intoned Logan Pearsall Smith, the early twentieth-century essayist and author of nearly thirty works, most of which are out of print.
But then I remember that men get their teeth knocked out playing rugby, fall off mountains, run marathons, lift weights and voluntarily sign up to be flown round the world to fight wars for the grand adventure of being shot at. Because pain is part of living, and pleasures without effort are candyfloss confections, pallid and sickening.
"Well," says the subtext, and not too sub- either, "a good miaow to you, Emerson and Pearsall Smith, you sneerers and intoners, whom the world has rightly forgotten and whose names I now bring up only to show how far they are forgotten, while... " ...While what? That we cannot know. But Linda is right about clothes, and they are wrong. I am firmly persuaded of that, chiefly by her, and in any case a good cat-scratch does no great harm. Certainly not to the dead, even the sneerers and intoners.
Later, in talking about the elegant women of Hong Kong, each with her designer handbag, she says of them:
... they carried them with the conviction of the young, fashionable woman who knows she is dressed to strike a certain impression of uniform brand luxury. It was a devastating sight for the untidy, badly proportioned Englishwoman. The women on the streets had achieved the plateau of excellent taste the rest of us aspire to. I found it soothing and extremely appealing to the eye. And terribly sad, too, for all individuality had been extinguished in the race for the calming plateaux of luxe, and the self-assurance it brings. I did and did not want to be them. For they seemed to exist in a morphine pre-death, utterly calm and at peace with fashion.
Lovely phrase that, the calming plateaux of luxe. It is a kind of poetry. But what strikes me under it is the tension between ease and unease, between confidence and pain, between wanting and not wanting. That, I think, is where the game is played, in that band of tension. Sometimes, I think, that is the female domain. And a pretty tantalising domain it is too, a power game in which power is helpless, and in which, sometimes, helplessness can be power.
Pain and plainness are part of what we are: ease and beauty, calme, luxe et volupté, are the wanted / unwanted objects of desire.
As to fashion, mutability is at the heart of it. Mutability - donna e mobile - used to be the characteristic barb thrown at women by men, as if mutability were unambiguously a vice. The true male hypocrisy is not about dress or fashion, it is about mutability, because mutability is the very object of desire. Which is, of course, why we condemn it.
Fashion changes because desire changes. Male desire particularly. Desire is not quite the same as love: love can live without desire, though desire might find it harder to live without love. Male desire depends on mutability, on the change, shape-shift, sheer otherness, of that-which-is-never-quite-here. It is the male equivalent of female wanting and not-wanting as described by Linda. So women change because they know in their very bones that change is necessary, that mutability is of the essence, whether they are, as Linda has it elsewhere, "on the pull" or not. It is not always the other we pull. It is our very shadows.
Maybe more on this. Translated two poems this evening. One very beautiful, but first draft only. Tomorrow to UEA for a class and some blessed admin. On Saturday to Cambridge and another lecture.