work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

Becoming vs Being – Towards an anti-Heideggerian and post-Platonic Ontology of Fashion – A Preliminary Note

11.12.2012 · Posted in Uncategorized

[footnotes at the end of this post – links don’t work…]

As Simmelian/Bermanian Marxist, Plessner fan and antifascist, I have a deep aversion against the protagonists of the proto-fascist “conservative revolution” (konservative Revolution) in the Weimar Republic – people like “jurist” Carl Schmitt, the essayist and “novelist” Ernst Jünger, the “historian” Oswald Spengler … and best known and annoyingly popular among social scientists today, the philosopher Martin Heidegger. In my personal notes I tend to refer to him as “Heidi” for sake of shortness and ridicule – which until recently I thought of a merely phonetically based slur gesturing to the sense that he was a bit of country pumpkin (I’ve grown up with the Japanese TV anime version of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi). But on reflection, there is more to that mere slur (which I think is adequate nonetheless, given that much of Heidegger’s philosophical texts consist in plays on phonetic suggestiveness). I am referring here to the cliché story promoted by Heidegger himself about how he consulted, in the early years of Nazi reign, an old Black Forest peasant on whether he should take up a professorship in Berlin and give up his residence in the mountains – and the taciturn old man signals his disapproval of his friend’s idea of leaving the mountains for the city with nothing more than a nod.[1] It’s a cliché because, a good half century before, the scene was played out between Spyri’s Heidi and her grandfather, the Alm-Öhi – a mountain recluse in the Swiss Alps – when she was to be taken to Frankfurt by her aunt Dete who found a position as a maid in respectable bourgeois household (Heidi goes to the city in the end, but not voluntarily)[2]


Rudolf Munger, Illustration to Heidi (from wikipedia under creative commons) 

The parallels will have reverberated immediately with a German language audience who have grown up with the Heidi books: the authenticity of the mountainous forest life among simple folk firmly rooted in their Heimat versus the alienated city folk – merchants and intellectuals. To give credit to Johanna Spyri: her portrayal of the bourgeois of Frankfurt (especially Herr Sesemann, a businessman, and the family doctor only referred to as “Herr Doktor”) is much more benevolent than Heidegger’s generalised contempt for the alleged superficiality of urban professionals (characterised by ephemeral curiosity Neugier, idle talk Gerede[3] and noncommittal ambiguity Zweideutigkeit) – to put it blandly: with Heidegger it is the Germanic Blut und Boden open air country life versus the decadent city life. What he rejects is not the move to the capital of Nazi Germany – it is the move to the Jewish city (Frankfurt and Berlin being interchangeable in the antisemitic outlook).

As a Simmelian I intuitively take sides with the city here. Let me pick out the most superficial phenomenon associated with metropolitan life – the one that is used as an adjective to signify that something is ephemeral, unessential, and vacuous: fashion – to propose an anti-Heideggerian ontology of social life. Heidegger is often credited with making temporality central to our understanding of human existence, Becoming as the core of Being. I think this is a misconception. As Heidegger ontologises time and Becoming, de-historicises history, he still places Being before Becoming. As this is about fashion, curiosity as Neugier (which is a composite of neu “new” and Gier “greed” – Heidegger’s account plays to these meanings) is central. In the verdict on curiosity Heidegger affirms that true Being can only be had in arresting Becoming. He counters Neugier with Altgier (not his term – I couldn’t resist the temptation to come up with a Germanic neologism of my own): greed for the old. The acknowledgement of temporality and historicity is given the lie by the explicit contempt for all notions of moving away from one’s place (hence the hypostasis of rooted simplicity and immobility – Bodenständigkeit). Temporality and becoming are a threat to Being, the curious person as changing person always runs the risk of getting distracted (and seeks distraction in the exciting world of the metropolis). The term Heidegger uses is Zerstreuung which alludes not just to distraction, but also dispersal. One’s identity is at stake when one is distracted.[4] While many social scientists today celebrate Heidegger for his philosophical assertion of the importance of immanent being-in-the-world which they mistake for recognition of the ordinary everyday life, what follows from his ontology is the imperative to close oneself off from the world (or rather, from all of it which isn’t dull routine, as his Black-Forest paper suggests).

Decades before, Simmel’s theory of fashion does the opposite: in an implicitly post-Platonic inversion he suggests that in fashion change, constant becoming constitutes an ideal Being (both individual and social) that has reality as a vanishing point towards individuals and societies aspire and develop, but that neither precedes that aspiration and development, nor exists independently of it. The Platonic forms/ideas secularised – the Weberian ideal type realised. To overstate my case-to-be-made – even the ontological outlook promoted by Heidi Klum is more profound than that promoted by the Heidi of the Mountains. Needless to say that it is also much less prone to lead into totalitarian dreams of authenticity as promoted by the likes of Heidegger on the Far Right and Lukács on the Far Left and more conducive to the commitment to civilised/civilian social progress stubbornly defended on the Centre Right by the likes of Isaiah Berlin and Karl Popper and on the Liberal to Actually-Quite-Far Left by the likes of John Dewey, Marshall Berman and Leo Kofler.

To quickly summarise Plato’s take on Being and Becoming – Plato was confronted with the problem of how the identity of the person, the state and in fact the cosmos as a whole was to be thought when there evidently was constant change. According to Parmenides only the unchanging has the status of being, what isn’t always what it is has no existence at all. According to Heraclites, all things do not just change, they are change – including seemingly unchanging objects such as stones. If you accept both these claims (as did Plato), you either have to accept that nothing exists at all or (as did Plato) find a way of anchoring the ever changing in something that never changes. The never changing, the eternal for Plato was the world of forms or ideas which is only accessible in philosophical contemplation, and of which the world we live in, ourselves included, is but an imperfect image. Plato illustrates the relation between the world we live in and the world of ideas with a creation myth in his Timaios.

A creator figure (imagined as craftsman) looks at the eternal being and takes this as a model to form out of the pristine matter that is in such chaos that even the concept of time is applicable to it into an image of being. As eternal being cannot be created (else it would have a beginning, i.e. there would have been a time it is not and according to Parmenides’ argument would not be at all), all that the divine craftsman can achieve is to recreate an imperfect image, depicting eternal being in temporal becoming.[5] I think a good way of envisioning this is if you try to create a complete two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional object: you will dissolve the image into a sequence, ideally a film, i.e. you translate a being into a becoming in which an unmovable object is laid out in a moving image. The world (and in it all identity – that of human beings, and that of communities and societies) is constituted in every single moment, so even apparent immobility and continuity – from a very steady character to a stone – is reconstituted every single moment. So all worldly “being” as in fact “becoming” – and even what appears as continuous unchanging being is, as Plato imagines it, changing into the same thing, i.e. recreated as the same or rather: something very, very similar all the time. Identity as developing is the constant construction of similar, but not identical versions over time. For Plato this sense of continuous existence in and through time is only possible by matter being oriented, looking at, aspiring to the eternal being. He uses the image of Eros as son of poverty and plenty, constantly aspiring of plenty and perfection but constantly drawn down into chaos.

A secularised version of this would be to think the ideal forms as Weberian ideal types or as a Freudian ego ideal – i.e. to turn around the sequence: not the orientation of temporal becoming towards an idea constitutes identity through time, but the self-organisation of the world into temporal order postulates, suggests ideas as vanishing points towards their becoming is oriented. A conclusion from change (as opposed to chaotic movement) to the something that changes and thus remains identical.[6] The anticipatory nature of human action encourages an intuitive interpretation of the sum of all actions, expressions, intentions as more or less successful aspiration to ideals/forms.[7]

The most radical secularisation of the old question of Being and Becoming is suggested by Georg Simmel with respect to fashion – the very essence of superficiality and (in the world of Heidegger and his fellow conservative revolutionaries) inauthentic flight from being. And Simmel does point out the absence of inherent meaning and content in fashionable clothing, contributing to the notion that it is all about distinction and emulation. He develops a dynamics of aesthetic innovation as escape from emulation that is similar to what Veblen lays out at about the same time (1899) in his Theory of the Leisure Class. While Simmel is therefore often cited alongside Veblen, what is often forgotten[8] is his idea about fashion is a specifically modern way to allow the reconciliation of conformity and individual self-expression. With fashion, as with more traditional modes of clothing, we simultaneously show belonging (there are others wearing what we wear – and we tend to share some sense of collective identity with them) and difference (distinction from those who belong to other classes, status groups, lifestyle communities, tribes etc.).[9] The innovation that comes with modern fashion is that we also make differences within groups – to the extent that fashion never can become uniform. The very sense of belonging to a group is mediated through individual self-expression. To comply with a particular style it is not enough to just copy what others are wearing – one has to copy the generative grammar of that style, i.e. appropriate the taste (a process Bourdieu had much to say about much later in his Distinction), and that can only be done if the chosen outfit differs from everybody else’s while still being within the collective canon of taste, i.e. is a truly individual expression of that style. This, alongside the flight from emulation (which is the weaker of the two arguments), entails constant aesthetic change and leads to the paradox that in fashion (as opposed to traditional dress and to uniforms) individual and collective identities are expressed in and through change. Identity cannot rest on the reproduction of the always-same – or at least not if it is not to turn out one-dimensional, a cartoon character. Simmel points out another achievement of fashion: the threat of disintegration of identity through change is turned into an opportunity in which identity is deepened through change.

The result is a literally more superficial identity in the very trivial sense that there are more surfaces and a stronger interest in surfaces. But by means of temporal sequentialisation and transcendent reference to past and future this increase in surface also allows for greater depth – the depth Andy Warhol alluded to when he said about himself that he is ‘a deeply superficial person’.[10] The task of maintaining personal identity becomes a more demanding one, now that the Heraclitean truth becomes ever more obvious that we cannot step in the same river twice not just because the water won’t be identical, but because we ourselves never are identical. So personal identity needs much more work than it used to, and it is a much more complex thing. This insight has led to a common belief among theorists in the 1980s that we will end up with “multiple personality disorder” becoming the common form of identity. This postmodernistic anticipation, too, has some roots in the konservative Revolution as it builds on the notion of a out-of-bounds, disorderly world of media and advertising where sensual overload (Arnold Gehlen’s Reizüberflutung)[11]leads to distraction as Zerstreuung – dispersal, disintegration.  This didn’t happen, despite MTV and internet. To the contrary, the increased visibility after the microelectronic revolution increased the burden for both variety of expression and consistency in style. So neither the one-dimensional always-the-same-suit-and-tie character of Mr Bean, nor the constant personality switch of David Bowie are viable options. For Simmel the fact that fashion (and of course a forteriori and individual style)[12] connects past and projected futures in a present point, joins up nostalgic and aspirational moments, it constitutes a strong presence of an integrated self.[13] Especially for individual styles, this is borne out by anthropological research (e.g. Woodward 2005). Thus, change itself no longer is a threat to identity – full acknowledgment of the Heraclitean insight that all is Fire leads to the recognition that embracing change is our only chance to achieve some durability[14] without collapsing into one-dimensionality. Fashion (like other modern modes of self-expression) provides us with masks[15] which not only fall short of offering authentic selfhood, but through this shortfall, as Simmel implies and Plessner explains,[16] creates the opportunity of being more than one’s social role, to go beyond social existence and find authentic selfhood through and beyond the masks. Against the Heidegger’s radicalisation of Rousseau’s yearning for pristine authenticity before socialisation they posit a radicalisation and delimitation of Hegel’s assertion that authentic selfhood is an endpoint, not a beginning. Both assert that what Heidegger will lay out as the threat of mass society, of the They (das Man) is indeed a potential outcome: that one loses oneself in social role performance, gives over all responsibility to convention.[17] However, there is a twist.

In response to the mortal threat of mass society and its fashions Heidegger alongside other post-Rousseauvians seeks refuge in the simplicity of country life and – but what Heidegger and other seekers of rustic authenticity mistake for an escape from the flimsy changeability of the metropolis is no closer to Being than the fashion cycle – they repeat a misunderstanding that we already find in Plato: that the self-reproducing object that moves in one place – above all the fixed stars – is closer to the Forms than the circling, spiralling, perambulating parts of the cosmos.[18] Here philosophy is guided not by reasoning but by conservative mood and aesthetic preference for stability and calm. To go back to our metaphor of the 2D imaging of three dimensional objects: The long still shot may aesthetically communicate a more profound sense of full being – the moving shot will always capture more of the three-dimensional reality by adding the dimension of time to the two spatial dimensions it our visual perception is confined to. What Plato in does his favouring of the seemingly unmoving (but in his own account self-imitating same-moving)  is akin to what Heidegger does in his portrayal of the old farmer who, solely on account of having been in the same place all his life, aging but otherwise unchanging, is attributed with greater depth.

And of course, Heidegger’s own sartorial claim to depth and constancy (the famous existential suit) is no less an act, a self-stylisation, than is the dandyism of an urbane artist.[19] But it is a more dishonest one – the assertion that he does not give anything on the recognition by academic philosophers and other intellectuals and everything on the judgement of the people of Todtnauberg is given the lie by the mere fact that he publicises his life in the woods.

So while the famous existential suit, the insistence on expressionless basic clothing was intended to signal spiritual, ontic depth that can do without surface. Whatever the depths of his philosophy – as a human being sitting in his hut on Todtnauberg he has no claim to superior depth over the city dweller, no claim to a more valid life. Whatever the contribution to metaphysics or to its deconstruction, his philosophy quite obviously was not a guide to moral responsibility or even to consistent personhood. In an apparent anticipation of mass abdication from personal responsibility in under the Nazis in Being and Time he sees mass society, the They (das Man), as temptation for a flight from accountability (the justification for one’s own doing being that others do the same) – and Simmel acknowledges that one function of the sharing of stylistic principles in fashion is alleviating the burden of responsibility.[20] But that is only necessary because fashion reflects a social situation in which individual responsibility, the ascription of identity to individuals’ decisions and actions, has become the default assumption. What Simmel, in his writings about money, about the city, about sociability, has shown is that such responsibility increases in mass society – while the longing of Heidegger and associates for a more authentic selfhood amounts to the opposite. While in his critique of Heidegger’s political ontology Habermas is quite forgiving about Heidegger’s involvement with the Third Reich, it is his inability after 1945 to take responsibility  for his own actions in the run-up to and during Nazi rule that he highlights as unforgivable sin for a philosopher of authenticity and responsibility.[21]

At least the fashionable person achieves consistency and continuity in and through change that is more likely to safeguard enough personal integrity that cannot be easily broken by complete reinvention such as that of Heidegger after his ‘turn’ (Kehre – NB the allusion to the act of cleaning with a broom kehren, indicating a the cathartic and hugely dishonest cleansing of all past identity; or at least a rather dishonest re-invention). It is symptomatic that the champion of true authenticity neither abhorred uniforms nor was able to maintain a coherent moral biography, while the multiplicity of inauthentic masks offers the opportunity of an identity in and through change – or rather: as complex societies require both specialisation in functional context and continuous personhood, the multiplicity of roles as well as the sequence of sartorial change stipulate authentic selfhood[22] while the self-imitation of incurious Altgier forgoes that chance in favour of a shallow pretence to hypothetical roots.


Bosworth, David (1997): ‘Echo and Narcissus: The Fearful Logic of Postmodern Thought’, in: Georgia Review, Vol.51, No.3, pp.409-37.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1996): The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger, Cambridge: Polity.

Dux, Gunter (2011): Historico-Genetic Theory of Culture: On the Processual Logic of Cultural Change, Bielefeld: transcript.

Gehlen, Arnold (1986): Urmensch und Spätkultur, Wiesbaden: Aula Verlag

Gronow, Jukka (1993): ‘Taste and Fashion: The Social Function of Fashion and Style’ in: Acta Sociologica, Vol.36, pp.89-100.(1)

Habermas, Jürgen (1989): ‘The Heidegger Controversy from a German Perspective’, in: Critical Inquiry, Vol.15, No.2, pp.431-56

Heidegger, Martin (1963) [1934]: ‘Schöpferische Landschaft: Warum bleiben wir in der Provinz?’, in: Martin Heidegger: Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens 1910-1976, pp.9-13

Heidegger, Martin (1963) [1927]: Sein und Zeit, Tübingen : Niemeyer

Heidegger, Martin (1962): Being and Time, (transl. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson) New York: Harper Perennial

Miller, Daniel (2010): Stuff, Cambridge: Polity Press

Plato (1977): Timaeus and Critias, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Plessner, Helmuth (1976): Die Frage nach der Conditio humana, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp

Popper, Karl R. (1958): ‘Back to the Pre-Socratics: The Presidential Address’, in: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol.59, pp.1-24

Simmel, Georg (1957): ‘Fashion’, in: American Journal of Sociology, Vol.62, No.6, pp.541-58.

Simmel, Georg (1910): ‘How is Society Possible?’ , in: American Journal of Sociology, Vol.16, No.3, pp.372-391

Spyri, Johanna (1998): Heidi , Project Gutenberg e-text #1448

Woodward, Sophie (2006): ‘Looking Good: Feeling Right – Aesthetics of the Self’, in: Susanne Küchler/Daniel Miller (eds.): Clothing as Material Culture, Oxford: Berg



[1] ‘Neulich bekam ich den zweiten Ruf and die Universität Berlin. Bein einer solchen Gelegenheit ziehe ich mich aus der Stadt auf die Hütte zurück. Ich höre, was die Berge und die Wälder und die Bauernhöfe sagen. Ich komme dabei zu meinem alten Freund, einem 75-jährigen Bauern. Er hat von dem Berliner Ruf in der Zeitung gelesen. Was wird er sagen? Er schiebt langsam den sicheren Blick seiner klaren Augen in den meinen, hält den Mund straff geschlossen, legt mir seine treu-bedächtige Hand auf die Schulter und –schüttelt kaum merklich den Kopf. Das will sagen: unerbittlich Nein!‘ Heidegger, Martin (1963): ‘Schöpferische Landschaft: Warum bleiben wir in der Provinz?’, in: Martin Heidegger: Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens 1910-1976, pp.9-13 Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 12f.  ‘Recently I got a second invitation to teach at the University of Berlin. On that occasion I left Freiburg and withdrew to the cabin. I listened to what the mountains and the forest and the farmland were saying, and I went to see an old friend of mine, a 75-year old farmer. He had read about the call to Berlin in the newspapers. What would he say? Slowly he fixed the sure gaze of his clear eyes on mine, and keeping his mouth tightly shut, he thoughtfully put his faithful hand on my shoulder. Ever so slightly he shook his head. That meant: absolutely no!’  Heidegger Martin (1981): ‘Why Do I Stay in The Provinces? (1934)’, in: Thomas Sheehan (ed/transl): Heidegger: The Man and the Thinker, Chicago: Precedent, pp.27-9

[2] “Be silent!” thundered the Uncle, and his eyes flashed with anger. “Go and be done with you! and never let me see you again with your hat and feather, and such words on your tongue as you come with today!” And with that he strode out of the hut. “You have made grandfather angry,” said Heidi, and her dark eyes had anything but a friendly expression in them as she looked at Dete. “He will soon be all right again; come now,” said Dete hurriedly, “and show me where your clothes are.” “I am not coming,” said Heidi.’


[3] NB the anti-cosmopolitan reference to Bodenständigkeit, whose reference to the rurality is lost in translation ‘Das Gesagtsein, das Diktum, der Ausspruch stehen jetzt ein für die Echtheit und Sachgemäßheit der Rede und ihres Verständnisses. Und weil das Reden den primären Seinsbezug zum beredten Seienden verloren, bzw. nie gewonnen hat, teilt es sich nicht mit in der Weise der ursprünglichen Zueignung dieses Seienden, sondern auf dem Wege des Weiter- und Nachredens. Dase Geredete als solches zieht weitere Kreise und übernimmt autoritativen Charakter. Die Sache ist so, weil man es sagt. In solchem Nach- und Weiterreden, dadurch sich das schon anfängliche Fehlen der Bodenständigkeit zur völligen Bodenlosigkeit steigert, konstituiert sich das Gerede.‘ (Heidegger 1963: 168) ‘The Being-said, the dictum, the pronouncement [Ausspruch] – all these now stand surety for the genuineness of the discourse and of the understanding which belongs to it, and for its appropriateness ot the facts. And because this discoursing has lost its primary relationship of-Being towards the entitity talked about, or else has never achieved such a relationship, it does not communicate in such a way as to let this entity be appropriated in a primordial manner, but communicates rather by following the route of gossiping  and passing the word along. What is said-in-the-talk as such, spreads in wider circles and takes on an authoritative character. Things are so because one says so. Idle talk is constituted by just such gossiping and passing the word along – a process by which its initial lack of grounds to stand on[Bodenständigkeit] becomes aggravated to complete groundlessness [Bodenlosigkeit].’ (Heidegger 1962: 212)

[4] ‘Die freigewordene Neugier besorgt aber, um zu sehen, nicht um das Gesehene zu verstehen, das heißt in ein Sein zu ihm zu kommen, sonder nur um zu sehen. Sie sucht das Neue nur, um von ihm erneut zu Neuem abzuspringen. Nicht um zu erfassen und um wissend in der Wahrheit zu sein, geht es der Sorge dieses Sehens, sondern um die Möglichkeit des Sichüberlassens an die Welt. Daher ist die Neugier durch ein spezifisches Unverweilen beim Nächsten charakterisiert. Sie sucht daher auch nicht die Muße des betrachtenden Verweilens, sondern Unruhe und Aufregung durch das immer Neue und den Wechsel des Begegnenden. In ihrem Unverweilen besorgt die Neugier die ständige Möglichkeit der Zerstreuung.‘ (Heidegger 1963: 172)  ‘When curiosity has become free, however, it concerns itself with seeing, not in order to understand what is seen (that is, to come into a Being towards it) but just in order to see. It seeks novelty only in order to leap from it anew to another novelty. In this kind of seeing, that which is an issue for care does not lie in grasping something and being knowingly in the truth; it lies rather in its possibilities of abandoning itself to the world. Therefore curiosity is characterized by a specific way of not tarrying alongside what is closest. Consequently it does not seek the leisure of tarrying observantly, but rather seeks restlessness and the excitement of continual novelty and changing encounters. In not tarrying, curiosity is concerned with the constant possibility of distraction.’ (Heidegger 1962: 216)

‚Die beiden für die Neugier konstitutiven Momente des Unverweilens in der besorgten Umwelt und der Zerstreuung in neue Möglichkeiten fundieren den dritten Wesenscharakter dieses Phänomens, den wir die Aufenthaltslosigkeit nennen. Die Neugier ist überall und nirgends. Dieser Modus des In-der-Welt-seins enthüllt eine neue Seinsart des alltäglichen Daseins, in der es sich ständig entwurzelt.‘ (Heidegger 1963: 172f.) ‘Both this not tarrying in the environment with which one concerns oneself, and this distraction by new possibilities, are constitutive items for curiosity; and upon these is founded the third essential characteristic of this phenomenon, which we call the character of “never dwelling anywhere” [Aufenthaltslosigkeit] . Curiosity is everywhere and nowhere. This mode of a Being-in-the-world reveals a new kind of Being of everyday Dasein – kind in which Dasein is constantly uprooting itself.’ (Heidegger 1962: 217)

The affinity to antisemitic prejudice is palpable here – the stereotype of the “wandering Jew” is there in all but name whenever Heidegger touches on the metropolitan and cosmopolitan life he so detested.

[5] ‘The nature of the Living Being was eternal, and it was not possible to bestow this attribute fully on the created universe; but he determined to make a moving image of eternity, and so when he ordered the heavens he made in that which we call time an eternal moving image of the eternity which remains forever at one.’ (Plato 1977: 51)

[6] ‘For all change is the change of something: change presupposes something that changes.  And it presupposes that, while changing, this something must remain the same.  We may say that a green leaf changes when it turns brown; but we do not say that the green leaf changes when we substitute for it a brown leaf. It is essential to the idea of change that the thing that changes retains its identity while changing.  And yet, it must become something else:  it was green, and it becomes brown; it was moist, and it becomes dry; it was hot, and it becomes cold. Thus every change is, in a way, the transition of a thing into something with opposite qualities (as Anaximander and Anaximenes had seen).  And yet, the changing thing must remain identical during change. This is the problem of change.  It led Heraclitus to a theory which (partly anticipating Parmenides) distinguishes between reality and appearance, (Popper 1958: 12)

[7] ‘Anyone who conceives of an action, conceives of it in such a way that he mentally allows the action  to run its course to its goal, in order to then put the plan into action, or not. Planned actions are, as Alfred Schütz puts it, conceived in modo futuri exacti. In Chinese Sophism, it was held to be one of those irritatingly, overly subtle statements of argumentation to say: “Today I will set out for the South and I am already long there.” Not all action is action conceived in modo futuri exacti. A large part of everyday action takes place in a much less dramatic fashion. But even routinized actions have a precursive character. And anyone, who in the midst of an action, gives it a specific turn, by doing so objectifies himself in what he does. The reflexiveness of action is a reflexiveness that objectifies the subject in action, controllable through the reflexive form of self-perception. As such it is the basic form of daily practices.’ (Dux 2011: 78f.)

[8] A notable exception is Gronow 1993

[9] ‘Fashion is the imitation of a given example and satisfies the demand for social adaptation; it leads the individual upon the road which all travel, it furnishes a general condition, which resolves the conduct of every individual into a mere example. At the same time it satisfies in no less degree the need of differentiation, the tendency towards dissimilarity, the desire for change and contrast, on the one hand by a constant change of contents, which gives to the fashion of today an individual stamp as opposed to that of yesterday and of to-morrow, on the other hand because fashions differ for different classes – the fashions of the upper stratum of society are never identical with those of  the lower; in fact, they are abandoned by the former as soon as the latter prepares to appropriate them.’ (Simmel, 1957: 543)

[10] quoted in Bosworth 1992: 411

[11] Gehlen makes a similar move as does Heidegger in that he on the one hand fully acknowledges plasticity and openness of human temporal existence, but as a consequence calls for order and structure to fend of the dangers of disorientation in mass society.

[12] In the extreme case of stylisation observed by Daniel Miller on Trinidad a complete move to the surface and disjunction from any “inner self” in the end opens a road to independent and strong selfhood: ‘In stark contrast to this depth ontology Trinidadians seem to have almost a horror of things becoming interiorized, rather than kept on the surface.’ (Miller 2010: 17) ‘There is a version of madness called tabanca. This afflicts people not because they have lost a relationship, but because they then discover that they allowed that relationship to get inside them, and when it ended they became distracted and disorientated. One of the most common expressions heard in response to any misfortune, from a passing insult to the break-up of a relationship, is doh (don’t) take it on. In other words implying don’t take it in. Most Trinidadians would certainly assert humour and wit as central to their self-definition and would see it as contributing to their sense of cool and style. A person without a sense of humour, who can’t take insults, is seen as ignorant and prone to violence, a label Trinidadians use of their Caribbean rivals, the Jamaicans. This keeping things on the surface also means the freedom to construct oneself and not be categorized by circumstance.’ (Miller 2010: 17)

[13] ‘… peculiar attraction of limitation, the attraction of a simultaneous beginning and end, the charm of novelty coupled to that of transitoriness. The attractions of both poles of the phenomena meet in fashion, and show also here that they belong together unconditionally, although, or rather because, they are contradictory in their very nature. Fashion always occupies the dividing-line between the past and the future, and consequently conveys a stronger feeling of the present, at least while it is at its height, than most other phenomena. What we call the present is usually nothing more than a combination of a fragment of the past with a fragment of the future.’ (Simmel 1957: 547)

[14] ‘The fact that change itself does not change, in this instance endows each of the objects which it affects with a psychological appearance of duration.’ (Simmel 1957: 557)

[15] ‘Fashion insists, to be sure, on treating all individualities alike, yet it is always done in such a way that one’s whole nature is never affected. Fashion always continues to be regarded as something external, even in spheres outside of mere styles of apparel, for the form of mutability in which it is presented to the individual is under all circumstances a contrast to the stability of the ego-feeling. Indeed, the latter, through this contrast, must become conscious of its relative duration. The changeableness of those contents can express itself as mutability and develop its attraction only through this enduring element. But for this very reason fashion always stands, as I have pointed out, at the periphery of personality, which regards itself as a pièce de résistance for fashion, or at least can do so when called upon.

It is this phase of fashion that is received by sensitive and peculiar persons as a sort of mask. They consider blind obedience to the standards of the general public in all externals as the conscious and desired means of reserving their personal feeling and their taste, which they are eager to reserve for themselves alone, in such a way that they do not care to enter in an appearance that is visible to all. It is therefore a feeling of modesty and reserve which causes many a delicate nature to seek refuge in the leveling cloak of fashion.’ (Simmel 1957: 552)

[17] ‘Weil das Man jedoch alles Urteilen und Entscheiden vorgibt, nimmt es dem jeweiligen Dasein die Verantwortlichkeit ab. Das Man kann es sich gleichsam leisten, daß „man“ sich ständig auf es beruft. Es kann am leichtesten alles verantworten, weil keiner es ist, der für etwas einzustehen braucht. Das Man „war“ es immer und doch kann gesagt werden, „keiner“ ist es gewesen.‘ (Heidegger 1963: 127)

‘Yet because the “they” presents every judgment and decision as its own, it depreives the particular Dasein of its answerability. The “they” can, as it were, manage to have “them” constantly invoking it. It can be answerable for everything most easily, because it is not someone who needs to vouch for anything. It ‘was’ always the “they” who did it, and yet it can be said that it has been “no one”.’ (Heidegger 1962: 165)

[18] ‘And he gave each divine being two motions, one uniform in the same place, as each always thinks the same thoughts about the same things, the other forward, as each is subject to the movement of the Same and uniform; but he kept them unaffected by the other five kinds of motion, that each might be as perfect as possible. this is the origin of the fixed stars, which are living beings divine and eternal and remain always rotating in the same place  and the same sense; the origin of the planets and their variations, of course we have already described.’ (Plato 1977: 55)

[19] As Bourdieu emphasises – and in general: ‘Historians of philosophy too often forget that the great philosophical options which mark out the space of philosophical possibilities, such as neo-Kantianism, neo-Thomism, and phenomenology, are embodied in the palpable forms of people, who are themselves perceived in terms of their life-style, behaviour, and speech, their white hair and heir Olympian looks, and that these philosophical options are associated with moral tendencies and political choices, which give them a concrete physiognomy.’ (Bourdieu 1996: 51f.)

[20] ‘The charm of imitation in the first place is to be found in the fact that it makes possible an expedient test of power [zweckmäßiges und sinnvolles Tun – “expedient and meaningful action”], which, however, requires no great personal and creative application, but is displayed easily and smoothly, because its content is a given quantity. We might define it is as the child of thought and thoughtlessness. It affords the pregnant [??] possibility of continually extending the greatest creations of the human spirit, without the aid of the forces which were originally the very condition of their birth. Imitation, furthermore, gives to the individual the satisfaction of not standing alone in his actions. Whenever we imitate, we transfer not only the demand for creative activity, but also the responsibility for the action from ourselves to another.’ (Simmel, 1957: 542f.)

[21] ‘He is absolved from all personal responsibility, because error itself objectively befalls him. A mistake could be ascribed only to an intellectual, an unessential thinker. in the “case of the rectorate [in] 1933/34,” which “in itself” was “unimportant,” Heidegger sees, even after the war, only “a sign of the metaphysical state of the essence of science”. For him, “it is as unimportant as teh barren rooting in past attempts and measures taken, which in the context of the entire movement of the planetary will to power are so insignificant that they may not even be called tiny”’ (Habermas 1989: 450)

[22] This is what Simmel must have had in mind when saying: ‘‘We know ourselves on the one side as products of society. The physiological series of progenitors, their adaptations and fixations, the traditions of their labor, their knowledge and belief, of the whole spirit of the past crystallized in objective forms – all these determine the equipment and the contents of our life, so that the question might arise whether the individual is anything more than a receptacle in which previously existing elements mix in changing proportions; for although the elements were also in the last analysis produced by individuals, yet the contribution of each is a disappearing  quantity, and only through their generic and societary merging were the factors produced in the synthesis of which in turn the ostensible individuality may consist. On the other hand we know ourselves as a member of society, woven with our life-process and its meaning and purpose quite as interdependently into its coexistence (Nebeneinander) as in the other view into its succession (Nacheinander). Little as we in our character as natural objects have a self-sufficiency, because the intersection of the natural elements proceeds through us as through completely selfless structures, and the equality, before the laws of nature resolves our existence without re|mainder into a mere example of their necessity – quite as little do we live as societary beings around an autonomous center; but we are from moment to moment composed out of reciprocal relationships to others, and we are thus comparable with the corporeal  substance which for us exists only as the sum of many impressions of the senses, but not as a self-sufficient entity. Now, however, we feel that this social diffusion does not completely dissolve our personality. This is not because of the reservations previously mentioned, or of particular contents whose meaning and development rest from the outset only in the individual soul, and finds no   position at large in the social correlation. It is not only because of the molding of the social contents, whose unity as individual soul is not itself again of social nature, any more than the artistic form, in which the spots of color merge upon the canvas, can be derived from the chemical nature of the colors themselves. It is rather chiefly because the total life-content, however completely it may be applicable from the social antecedents and reciprocities, is yet at the same time capable of consideration under the category of the singular life, as experience of the individual and completely oriented with reference to this experience.’  (Simmel 1910: 385f.)

7 Responses to “Becoming vs Being – Towards an anti-Heideggerian and post-Platonic Ontology of Fashion – A Preliminary Note”

  1. Istvan Geiss says:

    Have you seen this interesting comment on how to understand Heidegger by reading Heidi?

  2. no i haven’t seen this – (Die Welt as German equivalent, roughly, of the Daily Telegraph is not necessarily my kind of paper) but this is very good. Although it’s a pity that I’m not the first to work on the pun Heidi/Heidegger…
    So for German speakers – this is highly recommended
    Jörg von Uthmann: Heidegger verstehen? Heidi lesen!Johanna Spyris Naturkind von der Alm spricht verständlich aus, was der Denker undeutlich raunt. [Understanding Heidegger? Read Heidi! Johanna Spyri’s child of nature from the mountain pastures spells out clearly what the thinker murmurs indistinctly] link to article as in comment above

    Here’s the key passage
    “Die Botschaft ist klar: Die Natur ist gut, die Kultur schlecht. Es ist eine Botschaft, die auch Heideggers Philosophie wie ein roter Faden durchzieht. Lange bevor ihn das Lehrverbot aus Freiburg vertrieb, fühlte er sich in seiner Schwarzwaldhütte am wohlsten. “Es ist schon tiefe Nacht”, schrieb er während der Arbeit an “Sein und Zeit” an Jaspers, “der Sturm fegt über die Höhe, in der Hütte knarren die Balken, das Leben liegt rein, einfach und groß vor der Seele. Zuweilen begreife ich nicht mehr, dass man da unten so merkwürdige Rollen spielen kann”. Und bei anderer Gelegenheit: “Hier oben ist es herrlich. Nach der Gesellschaft der Professoren habe ich kein Verlangen. Die Bauern sind viel angenehmer und sogar interessanter”. In der Universität legte er Wert darauf, sich von der städtischen Gewandung seiner Kollegen abzuheben. Seine Vorlesungen hielt er im Bauernkittel mit Kniebundhose.”
    ‘The message is clear: Nature is good, culture is bad. It is a message runs through Heidegger’s philosophy like common thread. Long before he had to leave Freiburg due to having his teaching licence being withdrawn [by the Allies], he felt much more at home up in his Black Forest cabin. “It is deep night already” he wrote to Karl Jaspers while working on his Being and Time, “the storm sweeps over the peeks and the wooden beams of the cabin are creaking, life in its simplicity and purity lies before the soul. At times I cannot understand how one can act so curiously down there.” And at another occasion: “It is wonderful up here. I have no desire for the company of professors. The peasants are much pleasanter and even more interesting.” At university he made a point of distance himself from his colleagues’ urbane apparel: He held his lectures dressed in peasants frock and knee breaches.’
    … I like the sartorial point there…

  3. To get an impression of Heidegger’s sartorial preferences – take a look at this
    Crucially – this is not just rustic simplicity (with added swastika eagle) – it is a fashion statement (driving home Bourdieu’s point above): not an unpretentious peasant philosopher displaced in the city yearning for his mountain home, but pretended unpretentiousness.

  4. On Heidegger’s fashion, the band Laibach in their rich medley of totalitarian symbolism appropriated, in the early 90′, the peculiar tyrolian tailoring that has become associated with Heidi. More recently the members of their NSK state in time are often posing with those jackets.

  5. Thanks for this! I’m interested in learning a bit more about Leo Kofler, whom you briefly mention. I wonder whether you have a recommendation which book of his I should start with. (Deutsch ist kein Problem.) So far I’m getting most of my heterodox marxism from Lefebvre.

  6. sure – unfortunately nothing available in English, and much of his writings are out of print… but the Leo Kofler Gesellschaft has put up online versions of some of his most important papers here My own acquaintance with his writing is through his Stalinismus und Buerokratie, Neuwied: Luchterhand 1970, which I’ve used in my MA thesis (p.60) as I found that the anti-bureaucratic impulse in corporate ideology and Stalinist rule through dynamic uncertainty are, in some respects, surprisingly similar (with the rule of law under which capitalist corporations in liberal/democratic societies operate of course preventing similar excesses…)
    There now is also a full intellectual biography available through the Kofler Gesellschaft (I’ve made myself a print out, but haven’t found time to read it yet…) – Christopher Juencke Sozialistisches Strandgut – praise and a short summary of the book is to be found here

  7. Vielen Dank!

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