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Endings, mescaline, clothes

It is a time of endings. It is a time of packed bags, final examinations and the changing of old guards. It is a time of goodbyes, temporary and otherwise. 

Such a time deserves a requisite column. And so here you are, and here, again, am I. What should we talk about? There are many options. I could spin you a pleasantly generalizable parable. I could offer a childhood memory, lyrically presented. I could talk about this University, or questions I don’t know the answers to, or something dumb, like donut holes. 

Whatever I write about, it has to be good. It has to impress you, entertain you, teach you something. It has to be as good on the fourteenth read as the first, if not better. It has to reward an intensely metaphorical read as richly as it would one steadfastly literal. I refuse to pretend that my goal when Ispeak is anything less than leaving you unable to. You’re giving me your time, and, honest young entrepreneur that I am, I insist on giving you your money’s worth.  So I’m going for all of the above. I’m asking you to indulge me as I aim high. I’m talking to you today about clothes.

On a May morning in 1953, Aldous Huxley, author of the famed dystopian novel Brave New World, ingested “four tenths of a gram of mescaline” dissolved in a glass of water. He describes a particularly poignant moment of his resulting experience as he glances down as his own trousers. “Those folds—what a labyrinth of endlessly significant complexity! And the texture of the gray flannel—how rich, how deeply, mysteriously sumptuous!” He later dissects the perceived meaning of his experience with the characteristic alacrity of a novelist: “civilized human beings wear clothes, therefore there can be no portraiture, no mythological or historical storytelling without representations of folded textiles.... In the average Madonna or Apostle the strictly human, fully representational element accounts for about 10 percent of the whole. All the rest consists of many colored variations on the inexhaustible theme of crumpled [clothes].... Very often they set the tone of the whole work of art, they state the key in which the theme is being rendered… they express the attitude to life of the artist.” He gives examples: Piero’s “untutored folds,” Bernini’s “sartorial abstractions.” He goes on for pages, even, at one point, comparing the material of his pants to a “divine not-self.” What exactly he meant by this I’m not entirely sure. I do know for certain that almost exactly 65 years ago, Aldous Huxley, creator of worlds, spent hours of his life staring, rapt, at clothes.

On September 12, 2010, a woman known to the world as Lady Gaga wore a dress made out of meat on the stage of the world. The dress was made out of flank steak. The designer was Franc Fernandez. The stylist was Nicola Formichetti. The intention, according to Gaga, was to protest the US military’s then current “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Aldous Huxley might instead argue that the purpose was to subvert a genre, to replace the expected with the unexpected and so shock the onlooker into paying attention. Gaga’s dress was widely hailed as weird, unnecessary, misplaced within the artistic context she was working with. She was given a medium and asked to present something within that medium. But her goal that day was not to operate within any particular context or medium. Her goal was to elicit mindfulness, to draw the viewer, wide-eyed, into the world they were taking for granted.

I had a dream the other night. I was in a beautifully Dahl-esque factory, all bronze clockwork and fantastical motion. Around me, cloth was being made. Enormous looms snapped and whirred, pulling speed-blurred thread from gargantuan spools of sturdy wool and soft cotton. High above, bolts of finished cloth soared as they sorted themselves according to color and type: sequined turquoise chiffon and scratchy umber tweed and opulent red plush, all pirouetting in the air like gloriously deranged flying carpets. My head careened wildly as I looked around me and caught things that I had at first missed. A specialized apparatus for joining calfskin and leather. A series of tapestries in the process of being woven that all seemed to depict slightly different versions of the a single sweatshirt. A machine whose only purpose seemed to be waterproofing small left-handed gloves. It was all completely ridiculous. It was all completely magnificent. If this sounds anything less than awe-inspiring, then my words have failed you. Suffice it to say that this place of cloth and motion was one of the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. In the midst of this wonder as I stared, dreaming, I heard a voice. It said to look down. I resisted. Who wouldn’t, amidst this spectacle? The voice insisted. I obliged. Below me, the floor was carpeted. Nothing fancy. The opposite, in fact. The carpet was plain grey, with a nap too shallow to be luxurious and too thick to be minimalistic. I looked at it for a long minute, longer than anything else in that place. As I looked, I woke up.

We’re surround almost always by cloth, by clothes. Look around you, and there they are. How dare we let the ever-present become invisible? How dare we fail to mythologize the everyday?

So here we are, you and I, at an ending. 

You ask me for meaning. And I give you clothes.

Mihir Bellamkonda is a Trinity first-year. His column, “small questions,” usually runs on alternate Mondays.”

Mihir Bellamkonda | small questions

Mihir Bellamkonda is a Trinity junior and a Managing Editor of the Editorial page. His column, "small questions," runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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