An onion

The insecure academician wanted his brush with history
so he historicized. The fauna, the fungal toe, Hepatitis B
transmitted through a shared needle. (In 1959, that affliction
was publicly still a mystery.)
The critics and the artists and the academicians deigned
to print on the skin of history.
History, like tattoo, is superficial but permanent.
Strange the room full of them, the academics,
groping at what they think is an elephant in a room so dark it bleeds
and actually manhandling, say, an onion.

Readers of Playboy on the midi, August 1970

The miniskirt is doomed– unless American women, with the support and help of men, refuse to wear the so-called midi fashions and continue to wear short skirts as a gesture of opposition to the designers, the fashion industry and the fashion publications that would defeminize women and make them pay through the nose for the privilege of looking ugly. This is a cause that should appeal to PLAYBOY and to its readers. It should also appeal to every thinking woman who still wants to look feminine and who is tired of being intimidated by arbitrary fashion dictates–especially one that is anti-woman, anti-sex and aesthetically unappealing. Of course, we still want to buy new clothes, we want to be fashionable and we want to be attractive to men in a manner that is consistent with comfort, utility and individuality. Therefore, to make our protest effective, we must have sources of miniskirts and short dresses as alternatives to the midi– so we can continue to buy clothes that please us instead of just the fashion industry, which is behind this costly nonsense. So far, in New York, our organization has appealed to several fashionable boutiques and dress shops and they have agreed to maintain stocks of minis in defiance of the new styles. At least one shop is refusing to stock the midi at all. We hope to find girls in every American city who will persuade several of the better shops in the area to cooperate: to keep the mini on the market for those of us– we hope millions– who, for the sake of freedom and femininity, will proudly go out of fashion until the designers and the industry once again decide to serve women instead of merely emptying their pocketbooks.

-Phyllis Tweed, Girls/Guys Against More Skirt (GAMS), Box 386, New York, New York 10022

Now that the 1970s are back and the midi with it, I found this complaint against grandmotherly fashion mostly contemporary…except the parts that weren’t. I wonder if Phyllis’s version of women against the fashion industry is an earlier version of today’s real/fat women against the fashion industry. The other notable difference: no rhetoric about “empowerment.” Does the mini skirt empower against the corporate homosexual shibboleth that is the fashion industry or what? Is this a cult of domesticity for women who want to fuck? Anyway good luck to you, Phyllis of GAMS. I hope you’ve had a good 45 years.

The Origins of Cyberspace

Did you realize that auction houses have entire series dedicated to topics like midcentury internet? They do. For example here is a listing at Christie’s for Claude Shannon’s article on chess programs in Philosophical Magazine (1950), still in its wrapper. This and several other items under the heading The Origins of Cyberspace (perhaps just materials included in this book?) were sold as a lot. I don’t totally understand how a journal article became affiliated with a 500-dollar book (though this article doesn’t seem to be in the ToC) before the journal became a thousand-dollar art object for auction, but there it is.

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Elephants Draft 2

It was Tuesday so I went to see the circus elephants.
I knew they’d be under the tent the only structure big enough to dwarf them.

Elephants can’t choose parts of the crowd to love the way you pick apart a chicken.
At the circus affection is an all or nothing affair

difficult for elephants because elephants are disproportioned
squeezed from a tube with a trail hanging out.

Next to the big cats and waterfowl elephants appear more serious than other animals
but they’re not serious they’re elephants.

The elephant steps onto a podium
the red place where elephants have two too many legs
more legs it feels than usual.

Maybe you’ve never fantasized about the thrill of screaming WOOHOO in a crowded room.
Elephants have.
Elephants dream of playing soccer so they can scream and drink ale

pick up other elephants which no elephant has ever done.
Elephants are terrible at soccer
they use their trunks constantly

the ball just falls at their sides like fish into a net
no momentum at all.

Elephants are not European.
Elephants are the ghosts of other elephants.
Elephants are what goes wrong when you make denim.

“How to Survive an Election Year” (1952)

Here’s something I found in accidentally in NYPL’s microfilm archives today. Among other things, even Harry Truman was called a socialist during election season. And World War II was cited in the early 1950s as an example of failed military policy?!? Here’s Harry D. Gideonse, “How to Survive an Election Year,” The Saturday Review of Literature, 1952. Probably around volume 30. The election in question was Eisenhower/Nixon vs. Adlai Stevenson/John Sparkman.

Traditionally, an election year is the silly season in American politics. Our national temptation to focus on personalities rather than policies reaches characteristic climax, and political principles are so completely swamped in the flood of invective that we forget–on both sides of the political fence–that a Presidential election should be a choice of policy in first analysis.

President Truman is accused of “Socialism” although he is obviously far to the right of the leader of the British Conservative Party in his social and economic views. He is criticized in our great urban centers for his “lip service” to the civil rights program, although many Southern Democrats seem to prefer almost any Republican to President Truman because they blame the latter for extensive vigor in the civil rights program.

There’s a dangerous–and typical–tendency in present American political discussion to discuss the use of military power as if it were an alternative to diplomacy…A “muscular” formula in foreign policy, in which the President can speak of relying on force rather than on diplomacy, is likely to repeat the mistakes of our policy in World War II which produced a “victory” in which we had failed to achieve our political purposes. It’s no consolation to note that the President’s loudest critics, such as Senator Taft and General MacArthur, have supplied even cruder illustrations of the same fallacy when they advocate a policy in Korea in which the “test of war is victory,” if necessary without the support of our allies rather than the demonstration with the support of our allies that aggression does not pay.

Nothing is less likely to develop the morale of the non-Stalinist world than a purely military test of our policy in the Far East.

Fashion thoughts

Because I am neither extremely beautiful nor incontrovertibly well dressed I had to “come out” as liking fashion twice, both times to gay confidantes (so maybe the sexual metaphor is not so shallow). The first time was to my friend Diana the summer before college. It was about something small. She noticed I was wearing a scarf. This was the mid-late 2000s; scarves were just about to become a hipster cliche. Mine was knitted in green and black stripes by Olga, my dad’s live-in girlfriend, which I had stolen or appropriated unfittingly for a new summer regimen of nylon cargo pants and a very tight stretchy orange tee shirt which showed off my in-diet body. That was the summer I worked at the Seaport for the toy sales division of a children’s TV production company. Since there were very few customers at our kiosk I had little to do but write in my journal, read literature anthologies and stare at passerby, which culminated in a short story that in retrospect was an interesting piece of juvenilia, about the significations of various American and Eurotrash footware. Diana, my sole lesbian friend at the time, was the most fashionable person willing to talk to me, but very rarely about fashion. When we did talk fashion she mostly talked at me (I was still closeted) about boat shoes and introduced me to Ray-Bans, which she owned a real version of (I think) and which we definitely bought knockoffs of one day for five dollars at Chinatown or St. Marks’s Place; I remember because we took a photo album for Facebook of me in the knockoff Ray-Bans and a pink wig and one of those photos became my profile picture when my dorm mates and I met the virtual avatars of each other online a couple months before I’d move in to Dodd-Mead House. Anyway maybe this is a not-coming-out story because I can’t remember if I ever actually came out to Diana about loving fashion. She noticed my scarf and made a slightly rude remark about how unusual it was for me to look trendy, like I had done it by accident, or maybe I told her that I watched a lot of Project Runway and cared passionately but secretly about accessorizing; I don’t know. There was another disastrous coming out to Diana a year later when I came home for spring break in a red cotton trench and bright blue tights which I’d bought at Conway. Conway is a recently defunct Harlem/outer borough department store with basement prices probably secured through child labor. I loved it for years. When Diana saw me in my getup she literally couldn’t look at me and about half an hour into our anxiety-fueled West Wing style walk-and-talk she announced she had to leave because she found my new presentation as a “Glamazon” too bizarre. Although maybe once a year we exchange slightly rude or alienating hellos to each other online, I haven’t seen her in person since.

The second time I had to come out as a fashion-liker was to Alex Dulchinos, who was my best friend and also my first close male gay best friend, an important personal milestone. Dulchinos and I went thrifting regularly at the Ravenswood iteration of a chain of Chicago resale stores called “Global Village.” Global Village was and remains my secret font of amazing, cheap clothing. Most prices there are around 50 cents. Almost none of my plunder from Global Village is extant because in 2012 I nuked half my wardrobe over an OCD fear that my possessions were saturated irreparably with mercury vapor. It’s very sad. Anyway Dulchinos and I would go thrifting to what I conceived of as basically the orient of thrift stores and bought cheap, horrible clothing with sequins and shoulder pads, some of which we effectively modified to make presentable. It was at one of those hauls that I came out as genuinely liking fashion — what had he thought before, I wonder, if we were already shopping? — and he was kind about it. It was a big deal for me to come out as a fashion-liker back then because I hadn’t started trying to dress well yet. I did own a brown genuine flannel, red leather boots, a striped V-neck shirt, knockoff keds and two pairs of skinny jeans, including one in Turkish blue which I thought made me look hip, but I knew that this was not objectively enough to qualify as well dressed. It was a secret trying until that point, which is something I do a lot, secret trying.

Fashion is an almost unceasing source of delight. It’s also oppressive, which is part and parcel of its appeal. I found the best explanation of this phenomenon in Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing, in an aside between two minor characters:

Albertine said, “I’m longing to hear about the ball, Juliette.”

“Yes, but why didn’t you come? We were all wondering.”

“I was discouraged. My new dress wasn’t ready, and I do hate autumn clothes in the spring. So after dinner I went home. But as soon as I had sent the motor away I longed very much for the ball. I couldn’t go to bed, I sat in my dressing-room until three consumed by this longing to be at the ball. Isn’t it absurd, really! But to me a ball is still a miracle of pleasure. I see it with the eyes of a Tolstoy and not at all those of a Marcel Proust, and really, I promise you, it is terrible for me to miss one, even at my age….Perhaps I ought to have gone, even in an old dress. But there — a ball to me is such a magical occasion that I cannot enjoy it wearing just anything. For days I have been seeing myself at that ball wearing my new dress, and when I found it couldn’t be ready in time (nobody’s fault, influenza in the workrooms), I didn’t want to spoil the mental picture by going in just another dress. Don’t you understand?”

I wish I could explain the satisfaction of a billowing pleat or a shirt whose proportions are exactly right for their paired pants. Or the feeling of being in a crowd knowing that you’re contributing to the vibrancy of the throng– although I absolutely hate the related feeling of superiority I sometimes get when I’m better dressed than other people in a group, or the inferiority of being below the sartorial average. Fashion always seems to be on the edge of offensiveness, not visually (I’d say the opposite, because tautologically it makes attractive what is normally boring, ugly, or impolitic), but psychologically. It’s thrilling, shaming, joyous, depressive. Maybe that’s one reason why fashion is constantly aestheticizing death: it’s spotted its own tendency to creep against homeostasis.