This is a course that explores the relationship between ideas, the body and the way that fashion can be understood to mediate between the two. Through a range of disciplines and media this course considers the body as an aspect of not only medical and scientific exploration, but crucially as a vital element of culture and society. Bodies affect the ways in which the social world and power relations are organised, and they even arguably condition the way that we understand reality itself. Our physical form is constantly shaped according to both philosophies and fashions. Body ideals and broader ideals often interrelate strongly through bodily practices and with what we wear. There are meanings and fashions in all bodily forms (skinny, buxom, muscular, ideas of ‘whiteness’) and body practices (dieting, hair management, cleansing rituals, plastic surgery and genital cutting).
Over the sessions, we will take a conceptual approach to fashion, as a strident condition of modern life, that incorporates politics, science and aesthetics and we will closely read a number of cultural texts against a number of theoretical models. Attitudes towards the body can vary widely according to historical period, and this course will explore how, in different moments, and via different media, we have been preoccupied with the aesthetics of different body zones, with displaying identity (gender, class and ethnicity), and also with power. Different cultural forms (literary, visual, material etc) will provide the focus of our discussions as they all engage with the different ways that we make meaning out of our bodies. Students will be invited to investigate in their written work set texts from class in addition to primary material of their own choice.