Bloody Merleau-Ponty

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Ah well… It’s all Arty-Bollocks… Right up to the point where you find something you have experienced, and can see it as real.
So, having finished my MA nearly five years ago, and having suppressed the urge to burn anything with Deleuze and Guattari written on the front, I now find myself in the confusing state of mind of wanting to quote a bit of Merleau-Ponty.

When it comes to matters academic, I am generally found reluctant and petulant. I find big words tricky. Some of them I have to look up in the dictionary EVERY DAMN TIME I encounter them!

But… I also find that my work cannot exist in a thought-free vacuum. In order to push on the material, the reality of the cloth and needle, in a meaningful and self-challenging manner, I must keep thinking. Otherwise, a steady downward spiral occurs, where the only reference is self-reference. To climb, you need stimulation to the point where your brain starts to itch.

So this week, I ordered two books: Daniel Miller “Stuff”, and Marius Kwint et al “Material Memories”. I read, allow their thoughts to attach themselves to what I already know, and sparks start to fly. I also know my limitations. I am unable to go to the original texts cited, as they make my ears bleed, but I am able to absorb those parts that have been initially digested and contextualised by someone cleverer. (Or maybe I’m just lazy?) So it is within the chapter written by Susan Stewart “From the Museum of Touch” in the Kwint volume that I come across not only my beloved Aristotle, but bloody Merleau-Ponty:

“I am able to touch effectively only if the phenomenon finds an echo within me, if it accords with a certain nature of my consciousness, and if the organ which goes out to meet it is synchronised with it. The unity and identity of the tactile phenomenon do not come about through any synthesis of recognition in the concept, they are founded upon the unity and identity of the body as a synergetic totality.”

How this becomes real to me is in the manner I go searching for materials. I rarely go looking with a list… Other than something vague like “children’s clothes” at the most. I prefer junk shops and vintage clothing specialists to charity shops. Charity shop clothing is these days too clean, too new.

If my husband is with me on these occasions he now knows to leave me, find himself coffee and newspaper and settle down for a good stretch.
Sight is first… I scan the rails, but I don’t really know what for… Colour, fabric, size.., the physical and visual… Style… Age maybe…
Touch is next… Texture, fabric, the seams and stitches, labels, trims…
Smell…I can’t bear fabric conditioner… It makes fabric slimy… My sense of touch is very sensitive and I know if it has been used… I don’t like it on my own clothes, it puts a barrier between the fabric and my skin… And so we get back to touch… And sound too…
Hearing the rustle of silk, crisp starched cottons or that wonderful softness of well-handled and heavily laundered linen
Taste is there too… I have a wool allergy… If there are wool fibres in the air I can taste them… Feel them on my tongue and in my nose and eyes…
There is a blurring of those senses around the edges… I can smell how it feels…

In among all this sensual information is an undercurrent of memory… The materiality has to latch on… Feed on something that already exists…

Then I remove the hanger from the rail… Remove the garment from the hanger. By this time I’m sold, it is already mine. I hand over the credit card in my cat-nipped state, and head out of the shop.

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