The great Margaret Atwood writing The Handmaid’s Tale in Berlin, 1984.
(These days, her desk looks like this)
Elsa Schiaparelli: Tear Dress, 1938. Images from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
I enjoyed Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, the Costume Institute’s current exhibition at the Met, much more the second time around. Yes, I still had problems with it, but I could ignore the exhibition’s faults — its business, its ridiculous, cheesy videos, its reductive categorization of these two designers’ complex work — this time around and just really enjoy the clothes, which are beautiful and exuberant and funny.
The best of these garments is Schiaparelli’s “tear dress” and veil. This trompe l’oeil ice-blue ensemble, which she designed in collaboration with her friend Salvador Dali, almost didn’t make it into the exhibition: the V&A in London, which owns the dress, had initially deemed it too fragile to travel. But thank God it’s here, because it is, I believe, one of the greatest creations in the history of fashion. Not only is it exquisite; it is also shocking, perverse, political, sad, poetic. This is fashion attaining the highest standards of great art.
Judith Thurman (aka my personal writing-hero) writes about the dress in an article for The New Yorker:
The last of Schiaparelli’s duets with Dali is also the most troubling, and it is hard not to read it as a work of protest art. The women who could afford her couture, and the men who paid their bills, had ridden out the Depression in Paris, Saint-Tropez, or New York, but, wherever they lived, it was a Shangri-La, sealed off from the blizzards of violence and misery howling around them. The masterpiece in question—a simple sheath known as “the tear dress,” from 1938—was a warning salvo from the outside world, meant, perhaps, to breach their sense of inviolability. Trompe-l’oeil incisions on the pale-blue silk (a print by Dali) represent wounds inflicted on the skin of a living creature. The cuts have been folded back to reveal bloody sinews. Appliqués on a matching mantilla reproduce the incisions. In 1940, Schiaparelli fled Paris for New York, and spent the war years volunteering for the Red Cross and raising money for pro-Allied French charities.
Doesn’t just send chills up and down your spine? Schiaparelli’s previous collaborations with Dali, of course, were great: they gleefully subverted social norms of decorum and taste, particularly in the fashion world. But the “tear dress”, as well as their other collaboration from that same collection, the “skeleton dress,” had a kind of gravitas that was more fitting for the dark and gloomy times.
Salome dances her dance of the seven veils,
The men all eye her like wolves on the hunt, this beautiful girl
finally undressing for them. Finally they can see her
exactly as they want to.
The first veil drops.
In 2007, Kim Kardashian’s ex-boyfriend
released their sex tape against her will.
Kim Kardashian, rather than hide in shame
Used the publicity to promote her own career.
Salome moves like a dream half-remembered.
Salome dances like a siren song. All the men ache
to see the hot sugar of her hip bones.
The second veil drops.
In 2014, Kim Kardashian walks down the aisle
As the whole world watches. If only all of us
were so successful in our revenge.
If only all of us stood in our Louboutin heels
on the backs of the men who betray us,
surveying the world we created for ourselves.
The third veil drops.
Kim Kardashian knows exactly what you think of her.
She presses the cloth tighter against her skin
Her smile is a promise she never intends to keep
We can almost see all of her.
Salome shows us her body
but never her eyes.
The fourth veil is dropping.
The four things most recently tweeted at Kim Kardashian were
@KimKardashian Suck My Dick
@Kim Kardashian Can I Meet Kanye?
@KimKardashian Please Fuck Me
@KimKardashian I Love You. I Love You.
Women are told to keep their legs shut.
Women are told to keep their mouths shut.
Some women are kept silent for so long,
They become experts in the silent theft of power.
The fifth veil has dropped.
Kim Kardashian made $12 million dollars this year
Yesterday, uncountable men in their miserable jobs,
told their miserable friends that Kim was a “dumb whore”
Kim Kardashian will never learn their names.
The sixth veil has dropped.
The seventh veil has dropped.
And Salome sat beside King Herod. And he swore unto her
“Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give to thee
unto the half of my kingdom”
And she smiled, and said
“Bring me the head of John The Baptist.
Punish the man who hurt me”
NYRB Classics that will take you to the sea—or at least to the pool—this weekend:
A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes
In the words of one reviewer, this is a “tiny, crazy” novel about kids on a pirate ship.
Afloat, by Guy de Maupassant
A logbook kept by Guy de Maupassant while cruising the French Mediterranean coast that’s also a passionate argument against war.
The Wine-Dark Sea, by Leonardo Sciascia
Spend a little time on the Sicilian coast with Sciascia’s tormented wives, romantic commuters, and accidentally murdered Cardinals.
The Professor and the Siren, by Giuseppe di Tomasi Lampedusa
In this slim story collection, Lampedusa sends a young professor on a swim in the Mediterranean that changes his life—mainly his love life—forever.
The Long Ships, by Frans G. Bengtsson
Vikings! Specifically, Red Orm the Viking—the best Viking that never was.
Agostino, by Alberto Moravia
Get your Oedipal complex and your tan on with Moravia’s confused young hero, his mother, and some tough Tuscan seasiders.
A Way of Life, Like Any Other, by Seamus Heaney
The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
In the summer, Finns take to tiny islands in the Gulf of Finland to enjoy the season—and now you can, too, with Jansson’s dreamy novel.
In Hazard, by Richard Hughes
If chilling out isn’t your thing, board the overloaded merchant ship, the Archimedes: it’s most definitely heading off course and into danger.
In a capitalist society, money is how we get our shit together. You can be a failure as a human being, but if you have money, if you make money, you haven’t failed. Capital conceals real failure in the same way that fame (consensus) hides mediocrity. A costume for spiritual poverty. Hence the…
Casa Tomada Rafael Gómez Barros
"The urban interventions are meant to represent displacement of peasants in his native Columbia [sic] due to war and violence, themes that resonate in one form or another in any country his work is displayed in. Crafted from tree branches, fiberglass, and fabric, the 2 foot ants are particularly striking when seen clustered aggressively on facades of buildings.”
I will always reblog giant ants.
This is truly terrifying.
His reputation as “the Peanut Man” notwithstanding, George Washington Carver was very much a part of the nascent conservation movement during the Progressive Era. From the Tuskegee Institute, he sought to persuade black farmers that altering their environmental behavior could mitigate, to some extent, the economic and political vicissitudes they faced as a result of their race. His campaign on behalf of impoverished black farmers provides an instructive case study of how one strand of Progressive conservation was undone by its failure to adequately navigate the intersection of the South’s land use and social and political institutions.
George Washington Carver was an African-American scientist and educator who made many contributions in the area of botany. He was born into slavery sometime in 1864, it is thought, which would make him 150 this year.
Learn more about George Washington Carver’s discoveries, in “Hints and suggestions to farmer: George Washington Carver and rural conservation in the South" from Environmental History.
Image: George Washington Carver by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.