The feeling I was left with after Dr. Alison Matthews David’s lecture responds to her sensuous account of history, an intention to narrate the past through the lens of corporeal senses. This approach ignited an anxiety, a sense of horrific shock commonly absent from other methodologies that reconstruct previous episodes just by enunciating facts and actions carried out by beings that appear so distant from us. The new possibility for empathy towards humans from another time facilitated connections with our current concerns, which we often fail to analyze taking into consideration previous states in their evolution.
One of the most palpable responses to Wednesday’s lecture was the puzzling realization that people in other centuries would risk their lives just to make a fashion statement. I would of course argue that risking death for simple instant gratification is something humanity has not left behind. Take conspicuous eating, drug usage or plastic surgery, for instance. They all carry inherit dangers that we do not ignore, but that we decide to risk for the sake of the moment. And I would also suggest that the feeling of possible damage becomes an important part of why we do it. Probably the best example of this are extreme sports, which are justified by the enjoyment of adrenaline rushes.
Nevertheless, in the terrain of dress practices this reality seems to have changed. There are long terms effects on the spine for wearing high heals, but I would guess that almost no one wears a piece of clothing being aware that the risk of death is on the table; the world has done a fine job banalizing fashion enough for people to know better. But where we are still in the same place we were in the XIXth century is in the production side. Most of what the fashion industry has done since then is moving the aberrations of the industrial West to faraway lands, distant from the daily life of the fist-world citizen so our societies are not faced with constant anxieties on what our arbitrary needs for consumption cause on other human beings. I would dare saying that this may be one of the main engines of traditional and modern-day colonization. What we probably need is to bring Dr. Alison Matthews David’s notion of “sensuous” narratives to current times. Our present might be as disembodied as our past.