Alison Bancroft, "Fashion and Psychoanalysis: Styling the Self" (I. B. Tauris, 2012)


Alison Bancroft has written a book with a refreshingly straightforward title: Fashion and Psychoanalysis: Styling the Self (I. B. Tauris, 2012). One immediately suspects that it reflects the author's two most enduring obsessions and this suspicion is confirmed within the first quarter of our interview. Yet, as it turns out, both "psychoanalysis" and "fashion" demand qualification.By "fashion" Bancroft means adornment that assumes an innovative form - creativity applied to the surface of the body.The psychoanalysis she has in mind is Lacanian theory.If, then, you are expecting a condemnation of fashion as a frivolous pursuit or a Kleinian explanation for shifting hemlines and anorexic models, Bancroft will not satisfy. But if you are curious about what fashion as art and corporeal style might express about fundamental Freudian and Lacanian concepts like identification, femininity, and the unconscious, you will be delighted and edified.Readings of fashion and its sociocultural resonances teach us a great deal about the delimitation and radical questioning of the twentieth-century human subject. By bringing fashion into dialogue with the Lacanian notions of object a, the sinthome, desire, and jouissance, Bancroft unearths its disruptive potential: the capacity of fashion -- like that of literature, painting and psychoanalysis -- to give fleeting glimpses into unconscious truths and the feminine abyss of subjectivity. The main body of Fashion and Psychoanalysis consists of four chapters that are discrete psychoanalytic explorations of fashion-as-protest, moving chronologically through Lacan's teaching and spotlighting some of its key concepts.The first chapter considers the fashion photography of Nick Knight, whose presentations of fragmented, fractured bodies confound imagined ego boundaries and invite hysteric identifications from viewers.The second chapter discusses the work of the two most celebrated enfants terribles of 2000s fashion: John Galliano (formerly head designer at Dior) and Alexander McQueen.Bancroft analyzes a few of their best-known collections in order to demonstrate couture's function as object a, driving desire and signaling feminine jouissance.Chapter 3 is about the courageous performance artist and fashion icon Leigh Bowery.Bancroft argues that his self-abjection and simultaneous embodiment of feminine and masculine positions prompted a painful pleasure in his audience - a transgressive jouissance brought out by masculinity's violent destabilization.The final chapter investigates the similarities between Hussein Chalayan's highly conceptual designs and Lacan's sinthome.Is fashion, like the sinthome, a blurring of language and corporeality, the collapse of the Symbolic into feminine logic, the apex of aesthetic self-invention?Listen in and find out!

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