Traded In

"Do you think Poirot concerns himself with mere thingness?" Poirot rebukes Hastings for suggesting he replace his starched collars with the more fashionable, turned-down collar. The line also evokes Jeeves' criticism of Bertie's penchant for trend, once taking the form of a ridiculous hat. Such ridiculous fashion preceded the grim reality of having to sell off the manor, bit by bit, to any person who had the money to buy it, as illustrated by the television show, To the Manor Born. There are things, and there are things. In Poirot, we have a character who avails himself of city things: the dainty shoes not meant for walking being perhaps the most significant. The city is: short walking distances, cabs, paved surfaces, no sullying mud or insect. The city is that convenience of shops and services, all in one place. The manor, more complicated.
There are things, and then there is their worth. I don't know that I would have known this had I not had my Cornwelian head of house who arraigned us if we were to discard so much as a scrap of paper before it was fully used. I was reminded of that - to not speak of habits that become unthought of - when I saw a documentary on how aluminum foil is made. To watch a thick metal sheet become the thin product that so many so readily discard is to gain vertigo. Not to mention clothes that are practically disposable, made in slavish conditions: so much could be done without.
But the lack of uniform (which applies to interiors) leaves people to their own devices. When I was schooled in France ions ago, there were three dominant styles for the fairer sex: pearls and pencil skirts; checked blouses and black jeans; and Morgan (vituperously derided by some). Today, people who have no sense for the uniform may get lost - Berties in ridiculous trousers. Too much choice becomes a curse. Poirot, though a man of his times, does not concern himself with mere thingness. He has chosen his fashion.


 
The fourth category of fashion in France was made up by the people, including residents from Nordic countries, who would buy used clothes where it was sold by the kilo. There, they acquired worn-in jeans, softened leather jackets - so many of the things that remain fashionable to this day. Glorified puces. But this is the part of fashion that ages slowly, seeking objects that can wear.
It is at odds with the person who does not know what or who he is, the Berties of the world seeking the mild rebellion that is made manifest precisely in things, in the disjointed language of the surreal parroted by advertising. Never mind that such forms are but mere aping, the aping of the taste that emerges when one feels collectively divorced from the world.
Like the factory protagonist described in this wonderful podcast (click where it says, "On peut la retrouver ici" if the embedded link is faulty). A factory worker feels he cannot express himself due to the automatic repetition of his movements. Words stolen by inhuman processeses, even though, as one of the podcast speakers points out, the machines were modelled after man: if they work better than man, it is because they are performing man's actions except faster, more accurately. Machines, though, require man's surveillance. Which, I might add, is so different from the work and looking after the field: the notion of responsibility shifts into something much more worldly, involving - freely - the elements, allowing for factors that cannot always be controlled.
The podcast makes another point: we still reach machines through language (controls on mobile phones; commands in programming). It would seem that language is the field the mute should seek to re-appropriate - to reconnect the drives silenced in the factory worker ever less capable of describing the feelings of his interior life.
The surrealist rebellion is the rupture of speech, now, everyone is dying their hair in the style of the urban warrior, appropriating African war symbols, no longer in touch with their native tongue.
We are told the world has been conquered ("globalism") so the travelling dreamers are silent - where they exist, their existence is disbelieved, as if they were a myth.



I turn to this excerpt from Saki (H.H. Munro) via: "It was the unledgered wanderer, the careless-hearted seafarer, the aimless outcast, who opened up new trade routes, tapped new markets, brought home samples or cargoes of new edibles and unknown condiments. It was they who brought the glamour and romance to the threshold of business life, where it was promptly reduced to pounds, shillings and pence".
I saw that world, I can attest to its existence. As I said, it still exists, but its voice is silenced by the mechanical news, which is now the dominant voice of the age, not the travellers' narratives of eccentrics, as was the case in the day of Jim Thompson. Society does not look to those encyclopedic personalities who may have been wrong in much, but were also signs of the magnitude of the single mind. They are too complex for us, it would seem. Who has the time to sort through them and discern? It is easier to analyse the processes, but in doing so, we lose the man.
So it happens that to depict a glass vessel, we see a glass vessel, and not a way of looking. Is this because in a world of language being reduced to commands, we take things too literally? Instead of seeing a uniform as restriction, it is freedom from choice - like what a wonderful friend from the past said about marriage: I love my marriage, because it made that choice of who to be with for me, I no longer have to worry about that.  To run from uniform is to end up in a uniform made by others, woe to the nonconformist who does not conform with nonconformity (this was a phrase in Bierce's Dictionary as far as I remember).
From speech to things to (dis)ordered drives. We have moved a long way's away from Auden's line (via): "the happy eachness of things". The reverence has been lost, some feel violated by these things, perhaps even the rush for thingness that Poirot so scorned. But to meditate, again, upon the shirt, this soft cloth woven of fibres at the perpendicular of warp and weave, eyed with buttons for easy donning, enveloping us in warmth, even making us look smart - surely this is a marvel. If that white blouse is too uniform for some, one might wonder why they wish their imagination to be stuck already on the basics. For the white blouse itself emerged through the uniform, because it is part of that uniform, the one that seeks to liberate from the perpetuum mobile, so aptly illustrated by the factory.



Book in background. Box brush. Postcard bursh: Lauren Harrison.

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