Table of Contents
Ben Sartorial Coats – A Look at Walter Benjamin’s Sartorial Works
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Benjamin used a tiger spring as a metaphor to represent fashion’s temporally indeterminate character and unique historical role as an essential constituent and structuring device in his unfinished masterwork, Das Passagenwerk (The Arcades Project).
Early Life and Education
Benjamin was a German philosopher and critic who is best remembered for his contributions to art history and aura theory. Additionally he wrote influential texts on Marxism and philosophy before tragically dying while fleeing Nazi Germany into Spain in 1940.
Das Passagenwerk is Benjamin’s unfinished chef-d’oeuvre and contains an expansive variety of fragments, excerpts, aphorisms, quotations and metaphysical musings. Benjamin uses the Tigersprung image to show how fashion’s borrowing from historical costume can transcend time or aesthetic constraints to become truly modern art.
Benjamin has contributed chapters to two edited volumes titled Dressing Global Bodies and Creating African Fashion Histories, co-authoring with Richard Wismann the 2022 volume on the roles of art and technology in nineteenth century British culture.
Walter Benjamin’s writings have traditionally been received within literary theory and aesthetics circles; however, their philosophical depth and cultural breadth are increasingly recognized. Benjamin’s influence can be seen through Bertolt Brecht and Theodor W. Adorno who both hold views about philosophy’s actuality and relevance respectively.
Das Passagenwerk was Benjamin’s unfinished master work that comprised an abundance of fragments, excerpts, aphorisms, quotations and metaphysical reflections about fashion. His account transcended sociological or art historical analysis by providing glimpses into an abstract perception of fashion that can be observed independently from its material base.
Benjamin’s work on Goethe’s elective Affinities and nineteenth century Paris (The Arcades Project) both portray fashion as a potency sensuous force capable of providing existential meaning, thus prompting this book to trace his concept of image during both periods of thought.
His books include Dressing Global Bodies: The Political Power of Fashion in World History (Routledge, 2019) and Creating African Fashion Histories: Politics, Museums and Sartorial Practices (Indiana University Press, 2022). In addition, he edited collections Performing Costume as Texture (University of Chicago Press) and Texture of Change: Textiles Pluralism and History in Western Africa from 1700-1850 (Texture of Change).
Das Passagenwerk, Benjamin’s unfinished magnum opus, contains an immense collection of fragments, excerpts, aphorisms, quotations and metaphysical musings on Paris in the nineteenth century. Benjamin uses this work to demonstrate his understanding of fashion as both historical constituent and revolutionary force; its literary, art historical and sociopolitical observations point toward an abstract perception of clothing that goes beyond mere physical observation – suggesting its formulation only by someone with cultural critic credentials.
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