Monday, 28 July 2008

Is fashion a demonic power?

In Karl Barth’s discussion of the “lordless powers” (published in the Church Dogmatics lecture fragments, The Christian Life), there is a delightfully funny analysis of the way “fashion” operates as a demonic power. Here, fashion is placed alongside other humorous principalities such as sport, transport, and technology. Here’s what he has to say about fashion (p. 229):

“Who or what really determines fashion – the fashion to which man thinks he must obediently subject clothes, headgear, and hairstyle, the alternation of assurance and then of exposure first to the rather sympathetic astonishment and then to the horror and amusement of those who think they must follow the new fashion? How is it that women’s fashions change so much more quickly and solemnly and intensively than men’s? Why does it seem to be to even the most sensible women, if not an act of lese majesty, at least an impossibility to be old-fashioned?

“Who wants it this way? The particular industry that tirelessly makes money out of it and whose kings, we are told, reside especially in Paris? But who has made these people the kings? What is it that has always made this industry so lucrative? How has it come about that since the end of the eighteenth century men’s clothing has become so monotonous and uninteresting? Conversely, how has it come about that world history might be presented from the standpoint of the sequence in which men have thought that they should shave or not shave their faces or adorn them with the boldest or most hideous arrangements of hair? Who inspires and directs these processes, which are not a matter of indifference to the feeling for life and all that it implies? If it is a matter of rapidly changing taste, what released spirit of the earth pulls the strings so that this fancy passes, another which is anxiously watched by millions comes and prevails, and then after a while it too departs?”

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