“Love what you have burned, burn what you love”: Is fashion anything other than rupture ? Every six months designers throw over their repertoire, their axioms, their visions of the world, one trend giving way to another. Fashion speaks the language of calendars and seasons: designers that of innovation and change - mutability is the leitmotif. When a new creative director is appointed to a fashion house, the first thing they do is delete their predecessor’s Instagram feed - like Hedi Slimane at Celine, or, more recently, Matthew Williams at Givenchy - the better to signal a break with the past. Fashion cannot evolve in a straight line - it runs along a bumpy road, and the broken bones on the way become part of its identity. On an individual level, clothing is also an aid to transformation: transforming one’s look is transforming one’s self. Don’t we change our appearance in the hope of changing into someone else? Don’t we shed our uniforms like we shed our skin, revealing a new identity ?
⏤ But before encountering fashion, ruptures punctuate our existence. “Ruptures constitute us perhaps more than our connections,” writes the philosopher Claire Marin in her fascinating work (Rupture(s), Editions de l'Observatoire, 2019), in which she explores with precision and perspicacity the breaks in our lives - in all their forms. Because break-ups are not only romantic, they are proteiform. They are not only salutary, they are also wasteful. They splinter the person who does the breaking-up and the person who is broken-up with alike. They are an escape and the illusion of escape. They are not only psychic; they are real, palpable, bodily. “We like breaks to be clean. Short, sharp and straight, like the decapitating blade. But rupture is a kind of tearing apart.”
The first thing we note about your book is its extreme fluidity. For us, your readers, your pellucid prose is soothing, we feel understood when we read it. I sense that you have a great need for clarity; is that one of your priorities when you write?
⏤ I don’t think that serious thought demands jargon or complicated language. You can say complex things simply. I try to be understandable for different readerships : I am happy that the book can be read by people who are not familiar with philosophy or who don’t have any university baggage. To the extent that I am talking about things that concern absolutely everyone, I didn’t want to exclude anyone. In a general way, I find that there is a kind of snobbery when it comes to writing, in certain disciplines, which is counter-productive. I have always thought that my philosophical musings could be of general interest, regardless of the reader’s background. I have that sense of pedagogical duty, linked to my practice as a teacher [Ed: Claire Marin is a university lecturer and professor at ENS-Ulm] which perhaps finds an echo in my way of writing, which has become simpler over time in a way I think is very positive - it has become much more accessible. I find the academic writing which you find in scholarly works very laborious. Producing a kind of discourse which is hard to understand and difficult to write isn’t for me. I had carte blanche in writing this book and you can tell : I really was able to write what I wanted to write.
At the start of the pandemic and the experience of lockdown, much was said about the necessity of ‘reinventing’ oneself - both in self-help discourse and political speeches - as if the crisis were giving us an opportunity to apprehend a new self. Is this idea of the metamorphosis of the subject, presented as a positive thing, a misleading way of thinking about the crisis? As a form of consolation or the classic utopian idea of the “fresh start?” for example?
⏤ All of that inscribes itself in a logic of positivity, which consists in asserting that every crisis is, in fact, a moment necessary for collective reinvention, for ridding ourselves of everything which appears to be superfluous. That discourse made the situation - which was extremely anxiety producing - more bearable. Many of us were discombobulated and paralysed by this experience and we really needed that idea of reinvention to hold firm, to glimpse something positive. Today, all those discourses on the post-Covid world have disappeared. We have come to understand that our daily reality will be changed in lasting ways. In that sense, we can draw a parallel with the experience of chronic illness : we go through acute periods, alternating with periods of remission. Unlike illnesses from which you can make a full recovery, here there is no return to normality.
You write in your book that “rupture is more present, to the extent that it could be the new form or the new future of our existence, generally.” In fact, in our societies where we constantly have to “invent new codes to make [...] the world lucrative,” we feel like our existences are increasingly subject to rupture. Is this really a new vision of reality or is it just the magnifying glass effect?
⏤ We face moments of rupture which can erode us and break us entirely. These ruptures are multiplying in all facets of our life: in our professional and personal lives, in our family and our ecology... We are living in a very anxious-making era, in which a state of catastrophe and complete collapse is looming. The question is: what will remain? Furthermore, the experience of Covid-19 is wearing us down and tiring us psychologically. This crisis is also destroying lives because of the collateral effects of the virus. During the first lockdown, psychiatric wards were admitting patients of a young age who had no history of mental health problems. We should have been more attentive at that early stage to this issue. But, as researchers pointed out, we focused upon life in its physiological and biological sense and we neglected the psychic and social side of health and well-being. We are now realising that people are dying through suicide, from no longer being surrounded by others. In cutting this social tissue, we have eroded another body: the psychic body, in which some people find their vital resources. We’ve hardly even begun to realise the damage that has been done, the lives that it is destroying, particularly among the elderly and isolated, but also among students.
In environmental, and therefore economic and political terms, we have, as a matter of urgency, to rethink our ways of communicating, of travelling, our habit of accumulating wealth, and stop denying the exhaustion of resources that this behaviour necessarily entails. The change would be phenomenal; it would amount to, as you later say, “ceasing to believe in the permanence of the world.” Can we break with that idea before catastrophe is upon us? In other words, will we manage to break our own cognitive dissonance?
⏤ It is, as you point out, very difficult. We see the extent to which we are used to a certain idea of luxury, of movement, of exchange… Being deprived of these things seems intolerable, when we experience them as interruptions to the norm. That is not a very good sign in terms of our capacity to go without travel or consumption, of whatever form, in the long term.
And we are, in fact, waiting, hoping, for a return to normal...
⏤ Yes. I’m afraid that the Covid-19 health crisis will, to a certain extent, undermine the small efforts we have seen people undertake prior to the epidemic. These efforts are being swept away by a feeling of frustration and deprivation. We are also seeing the effects of a new mindset, which thinks, “What’s the use of making these efforts if another health crisis comes along ? Things are going from bad to worse, so what’s the point ?” I worry that a kind of fatalism is taking root which is feeding off the sentiment of exhaustion and disaster all around us. We are very disoriented by what is going on. Which crisis is in fact the one which threatens us the most ? It’s hard to identify, to foresee.
A forward-looking perspective on these issues has not really appeared. In a general way, we’re not taking the climate crisis seriously enough. Is it just a concern for a small minority?
⏤ You have to be in certain material conditions to be able to ask yourself those sorts of questions. When someone asks themselves, “How will I be able to feed my children this month?” it’s certain that their worries are of a different nature. Unfortunately, this question will be all the more present when we come out of lockdown. I think that for a large part of the population ecological choices cannot be made quite simply because the crisis is elsewhere for them, in terms of material survival.
The climate crisis is not necessarily a priority for the affluent classes either...
⏤ There are forms of blindness and cognitive dissonance, but there is also a great deal of denial. Generally, the more something frightens us, the more we tend to repress it. Even when the elephant is making its presence in the room very clear.
This acceptance suggests breaking with what we have known, with what we have appreciated in the past...
⏤ And also, our habits. Among the privileged, it is out of the question to take the train instead of the plane, to give up holidays in the sun in winter, or going skiing. Things which one would think are completely rudimentary.
You assert a difference between breaking up voluntarily and undergoing a breakup. But does chosen, motivated breaking up just amount to an illusion of deliverance? A hopeless quest to escape one’s self?
⏤ That is, indeed, the risk. Often what gives a breakup its energy is the idea that afterwards our life will be better, that we will be more fulfilled, more ourselves, that we will have more intense relationships… Voluntary breaking up rests upon an ideology of breaking for the better. Conversely, the person who undergoes it necessarily seems to be the victim, positioned within a context of loss and destitution. Yet, I feel that the person who does the breaking-up has more to lose, precisely because they hope to gain from that break-up. Whichever position we find ourselves in, in the break-up, each person has something to lose. This loss is much more apparent for the person who undergoes it, it is sometimes discovered only later on by the person who initiated it. Even if they are the one to initiate it, they will also no doubt suffer moments of mourning, for their former life especially. Both sides experience loss, but not of the same ilk. The one who undergoes it can gain freedom, the necessity of which they did not necessarily feel, they can identify neuroses they had not previously been able to name, dependencies which they are ultimately happy to break, even if they felt no desire to before. The ambivalence is shared. There is no standard format of opposition between the party which loses and the party which gains. The way in which we react to a break up is always unpredictable, including for the person who does it.
Your chapter on “The Pleasure of Dispersal” is particularly liberating. You invite us to reappraise the notion of a “true and false me”, a true face and a mask, by considering the fact “the palette of our identities is broad.” This “multiple subjectivity” you talk about is liberating because we have a tendency to associate moral superiority with the “real me” (the good one) and dishonesty with the “false me” (the bad one). But what would be bad about “being tired of being one person”, to quote Bergson, as you have done?
⏤ I believe having several selves is necessary. Look at how children function - when they play a character, they are often in very creative situations. The child psychiatrist Donald Winnicott demonstrated that the game for the child was the moment when they adopted several possible identities; they test them, play with them, and that helps them to construct themselves. In becoming an adult, it is necessary to adopt one identity and remain constant. This idea is validated - and it is here that moral judgment imposes itself : the right identity is the social persona. On the other hand, variation is considered destabilising, in France particularly. For a long time, we were placed in a box: you chose a job and you stuck with it, you could not be interested in both fashion and philosophy, nor management and music… Whereas we see that interior variation is very nourishing, in fact. I believe that collisions are very productive and that dispersal within an individual is like the mix of people from very different horizons. I really like this idea that we can allow ourselves to be multiple - be it over a period of time (having several lives in one life) or at the same time. Having different possibilities of being intensifies our lives but also allows us to rest. In fact, I think being the same person all the time is ultimately very tiring.
But on the other hand, is it possible to get lost in the multitude of the self?
⏤ It doesn’t need to be experienced as a tearing or a pulling apart. When we are asked to play several characters, each linked to responsibilities and injunctions, each demanding a certain level of performance - when we are asked to be at one and the same time a good lover, a good mother, a good friend, a good daughter, a good employee etc - it is very difficult to reconcile all these demands at the same time. Dispersal is only beneficial when it is a source of momentum and dynamism, when it intensifies our existence.
In the fashion world, designers are asked to produce something new every three months. Does this involve, in a certain sense, a break with their previous collections to reveal a new facet of their existence?
⏤ What creatives - fashion designers, but also painters, sculptors etc - fear above all things is repetition, which is perceived as the opposition of creativity. It’s a fine line between variation - the recognisable signature of an artist’s individuality - and repetition. Rather than speak of a rupture between acts of creation, we could maybe evoke the idea of a change of perspective, of a displacement in relation to the same object or the same emotion… Of a new translation, in other words.
Karl Lagerfeld used to say that he only really came alive in that quest for a permanent renewal, that incessant return to the drawing-board, whereas other designers failed to synchronise with that rhythm, collapsing with exhaustion. In your introduction, you refer to the “plastic entities which can undergo deformation because they are endowed with a ‘spinal column’. Certain structures are solid and supple at the same time.” Are some structures therefore better able to support rupture than others?
⏤ I don’t think that we all have the same capacity for change. Some people, for example, by virtue of their temperaments are better able to conceive of change as something exciting and not as a wound or a loss. I tend to believe that someone who is conscious of what is solid in their lives (and within themselves) can bear adversity more easily. On the other hand, it’s more difficult for someone who had a precarious childhood. Something else to take into account is the way in which the individual has already reacted to ruptures in the past and internalized the shocks. We can draw a parallel between those who are flexible and those who aren’t. In medicine, it’s well known that if a patient has successfully made it through a job loss or a divorce, they are more likely to ‘better’ get through cancer or another illness, since they know, albeit not necessarily in a systematic way, that they already have the resources to meet that challenge. Sometimes, without having a sense of invulnerability, we can also be aware of a certain self-confidence that enables us to survive hard times. But on the other hand, there is also a process of fragilisation, which is the basic principle of burn-out: as a result of suffering repeated blows, we finally collapse entirely. I am not a fan of theories of resilience, but there is nonetheless this interesting idea that the more imaginative a child is, the more they are able to envisage different scenarios, and that the more they are able to represent multiple possibilities, the better able they are to get through difficulties. If a child only projects one possible reality, and this reality disappears, then things will be much more complicated for them.
Whether it is breaking or being broken, can one learn through experience, or it is only time that heals? In the sense that the latter enables one gradually to efface “the memory, too acute, our executioner.” (Vincent Delacroix, whom you quote).
⏤ The two go together: time and learning. Memory doesn’t disappear but it becomes less painful. We can also lean on ourselves and on what we were capable of doing during experiences of rupture, to give us the strength to survive new ones. We can think back to the strategies we put in place, to the way in which we made it out the other side, to give a new form to our lives, upended or in ruins.
And what do you think needs to be broken (up) today?
⏤ The most important thing is to break with our habitual forms of representation. In the United States and Europe, we have been living up until now with the idea that everything is possible and everything is unlimited. We, or at least the most privileged among us, were caught in a logic of constant gratification. We can change our familiar representations by coming to understand that there can be pleasure and quality in a form of economy and selection. We were caught in a logic of the unlimited, of quantity and excess, perhaps it is time to return to the simplicity of quality. We might tire of having thousands of friends on social networks, of this profusion of communication - which we have finally realised is pretty empty. It is possible - but not certain - that we are witnessing a shift in mentality, in our relationship with figures, with kilometres travelled, with the number of collections. Maybe we are going to learn once more to make intelligent choices in place of just gobbling everything up. But for there to be a change in our behaviour, there first of all has to be a change in the way we represent ourselves, of that I am sure.
If you were writing this book today, would you change much?
⏤ I would not write it now because we don’t have enough distance to see what this collective experience of rupture will lead to in terms of folding in on ourselves and our habits of solidarity. I am not very optimistic; I fear the rise of violent radicalisation too much. I am also disturbed by the febrility and distress of young people, who can quickly gravitate towards forms of political extremism. Even those I was hoping would help us. They are living in situations that are too testing, the idea of their future is provoking greater and greater anxiety, even amongst those who were optimistic, who assumed they would have great careers. These are bad omens. This generation is very anxious, but also doubtless very angry. What will become of this anger, of this feeling of being deprived of one’s youth? We have to imagine a new way of working and living together in an economy of means, movement, and exchanges - it’s a huge challenge. So perhaps I would instead write something about that: how do we start again when everything seems to be finished?
Sara & Emma Bielecki.
Sara & Emma Bielecki.