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Psychoanalysis and Fashion (53rd NeMLA Convention)

Organization: NeMLA
Event: 53rd NeMLA Convention
Categories: Comparative, French
Event Date: 2022-03-10 to 2022-03-13 Abstract Due: 2021-09-30

To find a point of intersection between the realms of fashion and psychoanalysis, we should first try to define what exactly is fashion. As an expression of creativity, fashion could serve as a medium to canalize the inner life of the individuum, which is a concept that evokes the notion of the subconscious. Some artists and designers have already undergone an exploration of this field of work, Dalí and Schiaparelli being the most relevant case among them. Despite its clear connection with the principles of the surrealist movement, which generates its creativity precisely from the shadows of the human psyche, fashion articulates its imagery in highly symbolized language. A language that is prone to be interpreted and that obeys structures, which rule other cultural productions of human societies as well. Here, one could think of the Lacanian realms, which structure human reality through its dependency on language. Indeed, Roland Barthes’ The Fashion System evaluates the language of fashion magazines as a form of semiotic system. Being mostly a visual medium, fashion presumably operates within the order of the imaginary, where identification first occurs, and subjectivity begins to crystalize itself. Now, in modern societies, where there is a manifest pulsion towards visual contents, what kind of relations are established between the Moi, the Moi idéal, and the idéal du Moi of the subjects? These questions belong to many of the latest discussions on fashion images right now. The idealization of the bodies there depicted and their influence on the representation of reality count surely between the more attractive topics of analysis.

There are yet still other Lacanian concepts that may come to bear on the realm of fashion both as institution and as art form. In “Aggressivity and Psychoanalysis,” Lacan writes of the “procrustean arbitrariness of fashion” which implies rather conservatively that it is in some way a mutilation of the body. Other criticisms of fashion might stem from Lacan’s discourses, in particular those of the Master and those of the Capitalist—is fashion simply the megalomaniacal visions of, say, the late Karl Lagerfeld or Anna Wintour? Is it simply the pushing of what Shulamith Firestone so trenchantly critiqued in 1970 as the Beauty Ideal, one that can be attained at the expense of consumers weights, self-images, and wallets? Or might we read fashion more generously, following those who consider haute couture to be pure avant-garde artistry along the lines of Dada and Surrealist artists, among others. Of course, readings of Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Iris van Herpen, Vivienne Westwood, Rei Kawakubo, and others might give us readings of this artistry that positively represent, rather than negatively, the “castration, emasculation, mutilation, dismemberment, dislocation, evisceration, devouring, and bursting open of the body”—that is, the fragmentation of the body we all suffer as we become speaking beings. To say nothing so far of the role of desire here—desire for the clothes, for the fabric, for the body, for the allure, for the status—how might psychoanalysis analyze fashion as a representation of object a, perhaps in particular as fetish object? How can we see it as somehow simultaneously a cluster of Master and his discourse, the imagos and language of fashion, and the role of art qua visual object that calls for embodied response and embodiment as medium? What jouissance does fashion give the broken body? Finally, how might we see women’s couture in general as reflective of the feminine position of sexuation from seminar XX? How does the women fail to exist or indeed exceed existence in and through fashion?

We seek papers that examine the topic in general from psychoanalytical or philosophical point of view, or via literature, for instance the French novel of the 19th century like Madame Bovary, film, media, comic books, etc.

Organizers: Julia Bruehne (Bremen), Matthew Lovett (Pittsburgh)

Please note: Proposals can be submitted exclusively via the NeMLA website:




Julia Bruehne