Fashion, Epistemology, and the Forgettable: Rethinking the Archive

Doussan, Jenny. 2014. 'Fashion, Epistemology, and the Forgettable: Rethinking the Archive'. In: Fashioning the Archive: new approaches to materialising textile history. Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom 11 January 2014. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

In response to the “open season” declared on post-war social architecture, which stands in contrast to the increasing prominence in public discourse of preservation, the architecture research group OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) led by Rem Koolhaas presented the exhibition Cronocaos at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2010. The exhibition, re-staged the following year at the New Museum in Lower Manhattan, emphasized through material evidence in architecture, the “wrenching simultaneity of preservation and destruction that is destroying any sense of a linear evolution of time.” These conflicting tensions reflect on the one hand an insistence upon ruin in which historical moments of decay should be eradicated from our material and psychical landscapes and on the other the drive to restore in pristine form those moments that are deemed valuable as objects of memory.

This condition of temporal collapse, however, does not quite work when we transpose the model from architecture on to fashion. As Giorgio Agamben has pointed out in his essay ‘What Is the Contemporary?’ (2008), in fashion such a simultaneity is impossible as its temporality “always takes the form of an ungraspable threshold between a ‘not yet’ and a ‘no more’.” Fashion “constitutively anticipates itself and consequently is also always too late.” This, he argues, is the very condition of contemporariness. We may then say that fashion, as a continuous obliteration and resuscitation of styles, insulates us from the radical temporal stasis of cronocaos. Fashion, in which irreverence is the only rule, is thus a force of resistance against preservation’s “undeclared ideology” of authenticating certain historical truths at the cost of suppressing others.

But what happens when fashion becomes archive? Does it not give in to this ideology of preservation—an ideology founded upon superlatives and proclamations of the exceptional, in which, in OMA’s words, “the exceptional becomes the norm” and there is no means for preserving the mediocre or the generic? With the increasing diminution of public resources, the rhetoric of the exceptional used to justify value becomes ever more crucial to the existence of the archive.

While OMA concludes that it is a regime of demolition that could restore the possibility of liberation in the new, this paper instead argues for a regime of forgetting, for the forgettable. Drawing from the Socratic epistemology of Plato’s Symposium, it proposes a reconception of the archive as the repository of the forgotten, and an ontology of fashion grounded in the cycle of forgetting and remembrance—free of the tropes of nostalgia that hinge upon the ideology of value.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


11 January 2014Completed

Event Location:

Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom

Date range:

11 January 2014

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Date Deposited:

19 Jun 2024 11:25

Last Modified:

19 Jun 2024 11:25


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