Fashion, France, and the Politics of form
Date of Original Version
Formalism, as an interpretive mode, speaks as much to the social as it does to the aesthetic dimensions of culture. With this recognition has come a reminder of just how politically implicated the handling of forms can be. The mid-nineteenth-century American playwright Anna Cora Mowatt needed no such reminding. Mowatt’s popular drama Fashion (1845) addresses a politics of cultural exchange, as expressed in the contemporary preference of an aspirational class of urban Americans for a French fashion sense. Theorists often ascribe forms with liberatory potential, but the fashions that inform Mowatt’s work represent a revealing instance of forms having mastered their makers. By dramatizing a satirical entanglement of the cultural and sartorial, Mowatt speaks to the continuing potential (in her own day, as in ours) of the formal to problematize the making of meaning.
Faflik, David. "Fashion, France, and the Politics of form." Arizona Quarterly 73, 3 (2017): 49-75. doi:10.1353/arq.2017.0014.