Fashioned Bodies, Sartorial Semiotics
and the Performance of
Randi Koppen, UNIVERSITY OF BERGEN
In historiographies of modernism the opening decades of the twentieth century sometimes appear as the age of the object in the particular sense that this period “witnesses the birth and flowering of the social analysis of material culture”: systematic efforts, as in the work of Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin, to uncover the sociology and semiotics of matter; to “read through objects to the truth of the social totality” in which they exist (Mao 5). Along with this fascination with the object – whether as commodity, symbol or Thing – comes an interest in work, performances and acts: the work things perform in acting on subjects; the work subjects perform in their interactions with things (Brown 4–5).
The focus of this essay is a particular class of object involved in a range of performative relations: that of clothes and other sartorial items. The foundational assumption of the argument is that clothes matter in the construction (and reconstruction)