The New Life with Fashion
One day I happened onto a small xeroxed booklet, seemingly by accident. It was pierced between two books, strategically it seemed, at one of the shelves for used books outside Strand bookstore in New York. With towering hardbacks on each side, the architecture of Bernard Tschumi on the one hand and a catalogue from a Paul Klee exhibit at MoMA on the other, the little booklet appeared like a discrete, displaced, and even magic object. My first thought was that it must be a misplaced appendix from one of the books, but with a second glance it it drew my attention like a pamphlet from some secret sect.
It was as if it waited to be delivered, not only from its delicate position on the shelf, but also from its materiality, like it was caged or bound to the surface of the paper. As I took it out of the shelf I saw it must have been stuck there a long time, its cover faded and bended. The copy was alluring, slightly distressed, as if once read many times over. The cover spelled the author's name, Orhan Pamuk, and the title was "The New Life with Fashion". I had to read it. And my whole life changed.
The New Life With Fashion: A Novel, 2012. Photocopied pencil work under pseudonym, Limited Edition shopdropped at undisclosed NYC used bookstores
I glimpsed through it as I stood outside Strand bookstore, the traffic on Broadway muted behind my back, and I could already feel the world swinging slightly under my feel, as if I was already slipping through to another world. But I was confused, uncertain what it was I held in my hand. This little booklet could hardly be a book by Orhan Pamuk, which I knew was a great author of real, hardback novels, not xeroxed zines. What was this?
The small story inside started, “I read a fashion magazine one day and my whole life was changed. Even on the first page I was so affected by the magazine's intensity I felt my body sever itself and pull away from the chair where I sat reading the magazine that lay before me on the table." As you may know, I have a fond interest in fashion, so I took the zine, and went inside Strand bookstore on shaky legs. I went into the back of the store and looked up the shelf with the “real” books of Pamuk. Among his other titles, I found a book called "The New Life" and it was as if my sight was in a haze. It could not be an accident. A sense of vertigo rushed over me as the astute vortex of fashion opened underneath me. I had to get my hands on them both.
The small booklet seemed an invitation to read Pamuk's book "New Life" through the lens of fashion. Was it perhaps an invitation by Pamuk himself? The booklet suggested that by reading a fashion magazine a whole life can somehow change, a new life emerging from the luminescent pages of dreams. Something like an identity production in a laicist consumer society and post-Sufi world. Fashion: an invitation to approach life in a continually new way, yet with deep undercurrents, and where nothing is as it first seems.
A fashion accident, a new meaning, a new life. Perhaps the fashion magazine which Osman, the main protagonist, reads is actually the little xeroxed booklet I had before me. A zine that, almost intuitively, seemed to capture the sadness of lost identities, undesired expressions of character, and loyalties changed as often as clothes. As Pamuk wrote in the booklet, the magazine's "incandescence dazzled my intellect but also endowed it with brilliant lucidity." Was this the lucidity of fashion that radiated in my face and made my eyes water?
I am no literary critic, but to me it seems as if The New Life with Fashion touched on the eternal conflict between Fashion and the world, which perhaps is a theme that mirrors the identity-discussions that run through most of Pamuk’s work. In a sense. Pamuk’s native city, Istanbul, speaks through the narrative, cuts through the old cliches of East meets West, history meets the ephemeral, surface meets depth, Fashion meets the Real. The zine exposes the paradoxes and irreconcilable differences between people's approach to fashion and the particular and dull hopelessness about the future that echoes through most critiques of consumer culture. The melancholy that crusts every mania. The glum sorrow that breaks over us as we retrieve a photo of a love lost. The desolation of a discarded dress, the novelty gone.
However, as I re-read the booklet yet another time, I saw that The New Life with Fashion could also be read in general terms, as an allegory about the conflicting ways in which people respond to fashion, the flickering dreams of us everyday people. In the character of Doctor Fine, the "deep state" agent who is part of “a struggle against Fashion, against foreign shallow cultures that annihilate us, against the newfangled stuff that comes from the West, an all-out battle against consumer culture”. Doctor Fine revolts violently against the impossibility to remain secular to fashion in a time when we are flooded by its quotidian attainability. No wonder the doctor's agents all are named after watches, as fashion is so tightly controlled by time, a deep state so deprived of means to affect its allotted stretch of vitality.
As with Pamuk's book, the small xeroxed zine seemed to appropriate certain works for itself, as if it was a meta-history of fashion as a means of life. After yet another dozen readings, it was as if the small booklet was bringing out fashion's natal qualities, revealing new desires and hopes, making them tangible and pursuable - even if the whole process was engrained in a spell of disillusionment.
With the zine, fashion opened to me with new attributes, it cultivated for me a nocturnal imagination where the shades of identity seemed facetted and sculptured of esoteric matter, dissolving boundaries between desire, narratives and intimate lives, lost and found. The zine seemed to express longings and raptures that owe more to Sufism than to post-modern thought and critical theory. With yet another reading I was spellbound as continuously new layers of fashion was unveiled before my eyes. With the narrative I was walked through ruins of identities, arches upon arches, deeper and deeper through the wardrobes of memories lost. My breathing got heavier and my eyes watered yet again. I now saw fashion in the looks exchanged between lovers, where they kiss and kiss again, sucking lipstick and life. The mimetic desire, the laws of cultural cannibals. The zine spoke of fashion as if it was saturated by the magic that makes life meaningful and bearable, the mystique that seems to offer a last exit for the lost, and this miasma still hung in the air as I closed the zine yet another time.
I still today think about the small xeroxed booklet on Broadway. How many more copies are out there? Who else has read it? Some nights, when I cannot sleep, just like Osman in the story, I sit up at my desk and make a hand-written copy of the zine myself. Sometimes I make a few photocopies. It seems the little text must have a life of its own, reproducing itself in the looks we exchange, a forceful meme, a virus of every longing mind.
As I sit by my table now, I can still feel the zine's lucidity in my face. The pleasure of the yarn. It is as if I can feel my body sever itself and pull away from the chair as my eyes encounter the words of Osman, fashion theory's Scheherazade.