Putting on the World

I've long loved this phrase — putting on the world. I just found an essay I wrote on it for a journal; the editor, understandably, didn't like it. I'm not sure I like it but I like much in it, an attempt, often failed, to write that insane middle voice where inside and outside fold through each other and where clothes and flesh share a common territory.....

There is, alas, no naked body. Every fold of our flesh is an inflection, an argument, a stance — our skin creases in the way our bodies make sense of sun, laughter, wind, and words. The curves of our spine, the turns of our heals, the rhythm of our gait, the manner in which we comport are made by the world while in turn making the world.

When we squint in the glare of the sun, we are putting on a star. When, over time, we hunch to meet the endless demand of the screen, we are literally putting on labor and pixel. When our hair is mussed by the breeze, we are putting on the wind. And, in so doing, we become the world.

Our frames are looms. We are tailors, all; our bodies, drapes of being.

Skin, bones, clothes — every layer, every fold — are negotiations, intersections, encounters with the world and all its atmospheres: sex and heat and grass and age and speed and weight and love and angst and barometric pressure and desire. We are always threaded through varied networks — social, physiologic, economic, sexual, natural. We put on the world, or at least pieces of it, to make our way.

Every garment, ever wrinkle, stitches us to the fabric of the world, is a stitch of the world.

Now consider all the accoutrements of fashion, of label and style and purse and belt and cap and coat, and watch as they weave us laterally across and through the social fabric while negotiating very private experiences of temperature, gender, comfort. Every blue jean, sweater, sock, and underwear is an inflection of the cosmic network — a network that is as affective as it is somatic, as personal as it is cultural, as private as it is social.

Suddenly, the act of getting dressed seems impossibly complex. Yet being nude is being dressed, too, and so we have no choice: to live is to put on the world.

This and that adornment — and we are always already adorned — are weaves of the world. Tie, coat, shirt, shoe; smile, mullet, wrinkle, stain; posture, gait, temper, tempo: this is our fabric of being, a patch in the cosmic twill. Every layer of us — from pants to pore — is a putting on of the world.


Linz said...

I was having trouble making sense of this post, because every time I read the phrase "putting on" I get dylan in my head: "abe said, man you must be putting me on." I think you mean "putting on" earnestly here, but the idiomatic meaning kept tripping me up. But then I started to think how the two meanings are related, because the idiom probably comes from the notion of putting on a disguise, which is kind of what you're talking about here, only you're broadening the definition of disguise so much that it becomes less meaningful: as bodies in the world, we are always already disguised. But "disguised" isn't quite the right word, because it means to conceal identity. Maybe we need a similar word that means to inflect identity.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Yes yes yes — all that play is intentional, including the Dylan reference. I love that expression: "You must be putting me on." It's so grotesque in a Hannibal Lecter kind of way; it's generous, as in: I'll give you a lift; it's an odd swapping of identities — but not a swap, a draping, a layering, a folding.

McLuhan uses this phrase in talking about the Beatles — they put on the world.

I like the sense of duping, of doubling, of playing....all of it.

Quin said...

Every once in a while you write something which makes me stop and look at the world with different eyes. This was one of those. I love that feeling, so-- thank you.

dustygravel said...

(This is the best post yet! )

smile, mullet, wrinkle, stain; everything is meaningful!

3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?

““Meaningful! Meaningful!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningful!
Everything is meaningful.”

Linz said...

Where can I find the McLuhan reference? I poked around but couldn't find it. I've never read McLuhan but I probably should, huh?

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Quin: Thanks...I'm glad I can hit the mark every now and again...

@Dusty: I feel you channeling Whitman.

@Linz: I think it's in the Medium is the Massage. Which you should read, anyway. Short, cool, sexy, performative....

dustygravel said...

thanks for the tip, I'm goin to read Whitman with new Eyes now, as a Putting on the World– any way, you probably know but the whole middle section is from the book of ecclesiastes, of course I made it speak something different; marlow ponty, youself, Deleuze, and apparently Whitman. I'm shore I'm in there somewhere too.