Reading & Composition
Style: Fashion, Film, Writing
In this course we will explore the notion of style across fashion, film, and writing in order to grapple with what is at stake in a surface.
Style emphasizes the surface (e.g., the screen and the body) and the form of expression rather than the character or the content. The etymology of style reveals its roots in the Latin word stilus for a pointed instrument used to write on wax tablets. The Greek cognate is the verb stízō, which means “tattoo” or “mark” in order to designate property or shame. These root words are concerned with the act of marking and its associations with recording, archiving, designating, and ornamentation. Over time and through translation, the word acquired new meanings associated with literature and the manner of expression characteristic of a writer or group of writers. By the nineteenth century, style signified a person’s characteristic demeanor, expanding the range of style’s meanings to encompass a mode of living, deportment, and appearance. It is not a coincidence that widespread industrialization and modernity emerged at the same time that style came to designate one’s way of living, especially in relationship to fashion, expense, and display. Like the root words that emphasized markings on the skin or on writing pads, the clothing that covers our bodies also marks them, communicating messages to the people we encounter, embedding us in global networks of capital and production, and transforming the relationship that we have to our bodies and the ways we inhabit them. What is the potential of style for experimentation, expression, and political commitment?
Our guiding questions will be: How and what does style communicate to our readers? How is style embedded in the material conditions and histories of class, gender, race, and sexuality as well as labor, production, and environmental devastation? What is the relationship between style and unconscious fantasy? This course will pay particular attention to the ways in which style engages the desires, fantasies, and sexual drives at the core of psychic life while taking shape under specific historical conditions, including the histories of craft and technique. Our sources will include literature, film, fashion history (including contemporary collections) and costume design, photography, and texts drawn from cultural criticism, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and semiotics.
This is a writing-intensive R1B course with a research component. A substantial amount of time will be devoted to writing workshops and instruction. Throughout the semester, we will work on writing assignments that include a critical analysis of a literary work or film, a review essay (of a fashion collection, film, or literary work), creative writing (including experimentation with fragments), and a research paper. Students will be required to write papers with revisions.
Texts and films may include:
Almodóvar, Pedro. The Skin I Live In (2011)
Antonioni, Michelangelo. Red Desert (1964)
Anzieu, Didier. The Skin Ego (1995)
Barthes, Roland. Empire of Signs.
--The Fashion System.
--Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse.
Baudelaire, Charles. Le Spleen de Paris (1869)
Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project (selections)
Cavafy, CP. selected poems.
Coppola, Sofia. The Bling Ring (2013)
Denis, Claire. Beau Travail (1999)
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary (1856)
Freud, Sigmund. “Fetishism” (1927)
--Leonardo da Vinci, a Memory of his Childhood (1910)
--“A Note Upon ‘The Mystic Writing Pad’” (1925)
Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror Stage”
--The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (selections on Das Ding)
--The Sinthome, selections
Livingston, Jennie. Paris is Burning (1990)
Marx, Karl. Capital. Volume One (1867)
Miller, DA. Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style (2003)
Pasolini, “The ‘Cinema of Poetry’” (1965)
Pater, Walter. Marius the Epicurean (1885)
Sappho, selected poems
Sontag, Susan. “Notes on Camp” (1964)
Winnicott, Donald. “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena” (1953)