SIR ® EEL:
The Suit after '68 -
the Politics of Revulsion
Gustav Metzger has written on an aesthetic of revulsion in
avant-gardism that had informed
the scandal of Dada and Surrealist polemic,
in prose as disarming as an exquisitely dressed corpse.
To salute that destructive polemic,
do we hack off the arms of the suit that once draped the cadaver
of the Modern, or donate it
to Oxfam? Or do we don its ripped jacket,
as a trophy if it fits with our slogans and designer Kalashnikov?
Can we appropriate the supernatural power of Bush or Blair,
or Bill Gates by wearing it sleeveless,
or by burning it alongside the American flag?
The Situationist International had moved the violent imaginary
of Dada and Surrealism into the '60s
rhetoric of political suppression at a time when youth movements
such as the Red Guard in China were also captured by a generational
radicalism. The Red Guard's
attire is the more strikingly beautiful,
although Guy Debord looks stunningly intellectual in his black
and white overcoat. Whose spectacle
frames does Malcolm X wear? They're
good, but Martin Luther King's
suit, frames and overcoat are
the real winner. I am a
Man placards neatly set off the suits for a rally.
They photograph extremely well.
Is not a young, pregnant,
female Palestinian "suicide"
bomber (veiled and modestly
dressed in the conservative costume of the black Burka,
proudly carrying a powerful machine-gun)
not unlike Sophocles' Antigone,
the inheritance and proof of the enthusiasm for sacrifice,
embedded for us in the photograph's
aesthetic address. The snapshot
homage to the power of sartorial formality is also a sign
of ambivalence. Is not her
arrogance precisely geared to trigger disgust? How dare she
affront decorum armed with the Real?
Mao wore a well-cut jacket
named after him, neatly selling
more Maoist ideology in the West than in the Beijing of '68.
Other well-dressed icons,
Patty Hearst, Baader and Meinhof,
or Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde,
signal, in our collective memory,
an indiscreet and self-destructive
elegance. One dare not ask
how the 9/11 terrorists were
dressed during the fatal flights.
There are no photographs this time but it is more than likely
they went unnoticed. Perhaps
they chose to wear something "sharp"
modelled from TV characters caught in the endless contradictions
of the fictive image.
Walter Benjamin defines fashion as "the
eternal recurrence of the new".
The latent disagreements between fashion,
disgust and auto-destruction
anticipate, as Metzger suggests,
the potential of symbolic violence.
To have efficacy as critique,
fashion's ambivalence toward
dominant ideology must be taken fully into account.
Fashion is a powerful simulacrum in the cause of the destruction
of the Real, recuperating the
material subversion of all ideology,
truth and representation, art,
whatever, to the energy of
Capital. It reappears ad
nauseam as the phantom community made up of costumes,
masks and fables, infinitely
dissociated from the scandal of Surrealism or its Other,
that we call society.
1. Black and white photograph
of the Sanitation Workers'
1968 by Ernest Withers Fort Wayne Museum Of Art,
Park", New German Critique,
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