Championing aesthetics is often a bourgeoisie endeavor. The act of considering superficial presentation before carefully contrived personal authenticity lends itself to upper-class ignorance. Trumpeting the purchase of a new $300 Lucky Jeans leather jacket is, in a way, succumbing to the culture of the white aristocracy, in which older generations ignore rampant pill-popping and white powder abuse by “rich kids with nothin’ but fake friends.”
There are times, however, when I think cherishing aesthetics in the form of material expression becomes an act with less vice and more virtue—when agonizing over the day’s outfit doesn’t involve the ideology that is intertwined with overpriced ripped jeans and drunken cameo appearances at a diplomatic reception. Sometimes, promoting aesthetics is an act of devotion to creative energy, one that often goes ignored by austere establishments pushing stringent syllabi and rote memorization.
Literature, to be specific, is the intellectual context for my thesis. To be a lover of literature is to be a member of an artistic realm that leads its audience and its artists to prod the status quo and subvert the social order. Literature shines light on despair, derangement, and delight in ways that the sciences can’t. Literature is an inked record of the trials and tribulations of the human condition.
What does literature have to do with material expression? The creative spark that mobilizes a novelist to devise timeless dialogue is the same creative spark that leads to a scrupulous search for an impeccable outfit. The dresser broadcasts creative expression through nothing but cotton and leather boots, etc. Ink equals cloth.
To demonstrate how creative expression through literature can be expressed materially, I include three examples of excellent prose and translate them into a unique sartorial aesthetic.
- Opening to “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick:
“Stella, cold, cold, the coldness of hell. How they walked on the roads together, Rosa with Magda curled up between sore breasts, Magda wound up in the shawl. Sometimes Stella carried Magda. A thin girl of fourteen, too small, with thin breasts of her own, Stella wanted to be wrapped in a shawl, hidden away, asleep, rocked by the march, a baby, a round infant in arms. Magda took Rosa’s nipple, and Rosa never stopped walking, a walking cradle. There was not enough milk; sometimes Magda sucked air; then she screamed. Stella was ravenous. Her knees were tumors on sticks, her elbows chicken bones.
Analysis: A despairing passage full of the paradox of deprived animosity –also replete with sexual tension, maternal pull, and female competition. A gray conscience abounds and morality becomes skewed– an afterthought in the midst of famine and primal thirst. Comma repetition emphasizes constant movement, and said movement is abrupt in the face of looming death.
Outfit: Heavily worn black Doc Martens, black denim with minimal bagginess and width, white long sleeve cotton shirt that tightly hugs the torso, dark brown leather band on right wrist, small-sized gold or diamond jewel in one ear. Maybe a shawl.
- Opening to “The Rockpile” by James Baldwin
“Across the street from their house, in an empty lot between two houses, stood the rockpile. It was a strange place to find a mass of natural rock jutting out of the ground; and someone, probably Aunt Florence, had once told them that the rock was there and could not be taken away because without it the subway cars underground would fly apart, killing all the people.”
Analysis: Matter-of-fact writing that conveys urban decay and familial ties in a straightforward way. At the end of the passage signs of fantastical thinking seep through. There is a juxtaposition between natural habitat and metropolitan reality, and a progression from small items to large truths, from micro to macro, quotidian to profound, simple to complicated. All of these progressions are concluded with a riveting existential statement, which betrays a pessimistic outlook on humanity.
Outfit: Lightly worn, dark brown Doc Martens (Italian leather), light wash ripped denim with minimal bagginess and tight grip, black short sleeve button-down with no collar, big gold rock in one ear, a silver ring on fourth finger of right hand.
- Closing to Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
“As fleet and bright as a lodestar he wheeled toward Guitar and it did not matter which one of them would give up his ghost in the killing arms of his brother. For now he knew what Shalimar knew: If you surrendered to the air, you couldride it.”
Analysis: Lyrical, fantastical, musical. A violin strums through these words with crescendos, pause, and staccato. Majestic and fantastical meditation on the whereabouts of personal rootedness and the prize of flight. Flight with a mysterious ending. Flight that surrenders to air.
Outfit: Lightly worn dark brown Doc Martens, burgundy khaki jogger pants, and a loose fitting and rigid fiber cotton top with gold jewels lining sleeves and collar. Henna on the left hand and two rings on the right. Medium sized diamond in left ear. Rolex is a maybe that would sit opposite to three silver bracelets. The number three for a degree of religious fervor.
This bridge between ink and cloth—between creative literary expression and its stylistic manifestation—is precious. It’s a hallmark of creative victory. It’s an acknowledgment of the intellectual powers that lie beyond boring binaries and rigid letter grades. To shun the connection between creativity and aesthetics is to shun the forces that push intellectual boundaries and expand our creative horizons.