THE Reality: Mrs Dalloway, D&G and Family

by - July 14, 2016

It's funny how the colours of the real world only seem real when you watch them on a screen.
Anthony Burgess

As famously sung by Freddie Mercury: "Is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality." But what is he on about? What is 'reality'? Well, reality comes from the Latin realitas, meaning 'relating to things'. Today reality is mostly defined as "the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them." Fantasy thereby naturally being this idealistic or notional idea, "the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable." However is there more to reality than it just being the opposite of fantasy? Well, yes. In this short post I'd like to discuss the reality, with help from Donna Haraway's A Cyborg Manifesto, using the novel Mrs Dalloway and the brand Dolce & Gabbana as examples.

Mrs Dalloway is the third novel written by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). It was published in 1925 and uses 'stream of consciousness', which is a particular narrative mode -better known as interior monologue. In the novel you hop on and off the characters and thereby you hop on and off their perspectives, background and general 'being'. At every turn you see the world through the eyes of a particular character. Therewith not only the exterior features of 'a sunny day in June', but their thoughts, feelings and -thus- inner consciousness are being displayed on paper. A reality of their own is being created, but together these realities make the story and give you a roundabout impression of perhaps the reality. Together these streams of consciousness gives you -as an outside party, someone who can hold these thoughts, these realities, together and compare them- a grand overlook in how they are tied together, differ or overlap (and therewith -again- creating perhaps the reality).

This same notion is being raised by Donna Haraway, who's among many other things a Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California. She's best known for her essay A Cyborg Manifesto, first published in 1985. In this essay Haraway uses the example of the cyborg to get her point on Socialist-Feminism across. The main idea behind this essay is how information technologies produce real and material effects. This is partly based on the Postmodern idea (most notably put forward by French Philosopher and Cultural Theorist Jean Baudrillard) that at the end of the twentieth century a socalled 'hyperreality' has been manufactured. Hyperreality is the "inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technological advanced Postmodern societies. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real with the world and what is fiction seamlessly blend together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins." Within this hyperreality reproduction and representation are being replaced by simulation. The difference being that repreduction/representation are referencing to something real, a 'truthful' account, while simulation is an endless chain of 'representation of representaion', something that 'stands on its own', it doesn't need real objects or a real world (thanks to -according to Baudrillard- digital technologies). So within this Postmodern view, there's no such thing any more as the reality.

However, as Haraway argues, this way of thinking undermines for instance the fight for equal rights. Because if it's just a 'representation of representation', there's nothing you can do about it, there's no core, no reality to 'go against' or to work with. So, as demonstrated by Virginia Woolf 60 years before, Haraway states that by being aware of our limitations within our use of language, allowing ourselves to see things 'through different eyes' (quite literally within the narration of Mrs Dalloway), show how our perceptions and views are bound to us, and by then to compare all these different accounts, you create mutual recognition -and therewith you create reality. These differences in perspective is very meaningful and thereby -when looking at the paradoxes- can be the truth, the reality.

This is best demonstrated when, within Mrs Dalloway, the characters Septimus Warren Smith and his wife Lucrezia are sitting on a bench in the park. Both experience a different reality through their perspectives. Spetimus is haunted by hallucinations of his dead friend Evans and is talking to himself, while Lucrezia is drowning in her sorrows -because of the mental state of her husband ("But for herself she had done nothing wrong; she had loved Septimus; she had been happy; she had a beautiful home, and there her sisters lived still, making hats. Why should she suffer?"). An extra dimension is being added when another character looks upon the couple from a distance and therewith we as a reader are taken away into his stream of consciousness ("And that is being young, Peter Walsh thought as he passed them. To be having an awful scene - the poor girl looked absolutely desperate - in the middle of the morning. But what was it about, he wondered; (...) The amusing thing about coming back to England, after five years, was the way it made, anyhow the first days, things stand out as if one had never seen them before; lovers squabbling under a tree; the domestic life of the parks."). Peter Walsh creates a different reality around 'this couple' according to his interpretation, you might say view, on the events played before his eyes. His stream of consciousness differs immensely from that of either Septimus or Lucrezia. However compared to one another they create a reality, perhaps the reality within this threesome.

A similar notion can be applied to the (seasonal) collections of brands, where multiple designs and sometimes literally multiple faces (think about the many models walking the catwalk or are used as image within promotion material), can -together- present one thought/message/idea. Together they are the creation of the reality of a brand/designer. You could even say that through simulation they create representation. From multiple points of views based on each other, they (try) to create one vision, one reality set within the world (or reality) of the brand.

A brand, one could say, has an overall reality. The collections are part of this, they are the storyline. The storyline further creates or demonstrates this reality. Like in Mrs Dalloway: The brand is the narration, the novel seen as a whole, and the interior monologues are the collections. All the collections together create the narration, create the story. However a novel is something that gets to be read and therewith -according to Roland Barthes- is no longer under the control of the author (and in this sense, no longer under control of the brand/designer). "The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the Author." However, as Barthes also suggests, meaning can be 'disentangled'. And so, by disentangling the different meanings, perspectives of the many ways one can 'read' a collection (and therewith the brand), comparing them to one another, we can find the reality of that brand.

Take for instance Dolce & Gabbana. On their website they state that the brand represents: "A style that expresses new forms of elegance, presenting itself as a modern classicism, based on superior sartorial content and creativity." Most notably they put emphasis on the importance of 'the roots' of the brand: "(...) Strong innovation with the Mediterranean flavour of its origins. A brand whose essence lies in its contrasting features." This can clearly be seen in the topics (or inspirations) the brand uses when creating their collections. The Winter 2016 Women's Fashion Show evolved around The Mother, "the heart of the family", based upon the designers' own childhood memories, but from an aesthetic point of view. This further elaborates itself with the campaign #DGFamily, with the tagline "The family is our point of reference." Online family portraits are being shared using the hashtag and adding the Dolce & Gabbana emblem.

Naturally it could be said that this is just a marketing tool. However by creating this collection with this campaign (which I believe is still ongoing), they create a storyline, an internal monologue, that's being read by a lot of people. Interpreted by a lot of people. Creating an active participation within their reality (they took the time to make a family portrait, log in on the website and share this portrait with the Dolce & Gabbana emblem). This reflects back on the brand and their reality (or the reality they want the be associated with). Similar images have been reproduces within the promotion material for the brand. Indeed therewith most probably making a 'representation of representation' -the average notion of 'family'-, but therewith also reflecting a 'truth' or 'reality' not only based on the #DGFamily project, but on the actual meaning of family seen from multiple perspectives (and maybe even defining what family does or does not mean within this reality).

So it could be said that reality vs representation is rather a collaboration than a battle. A way to get to the reality is to be aware of the many perspectives one something can be seen or experienced. Again: Septimus Warren Smith's reality of sitting on a bench in a park in London, Lucrezia's reality of sitting on a bench in a park in Londen, Peter Walsh's of seeing two people sitting on a bench in a park in London and the actual reality that's been created through these different points of views. Or: the average notion of family, the average notion of family within the context of #DGFamily and the reality of family created through these -different- notions of family (and therewith defining family in the first place).  
There's no escape from reality.


What I'm wearing: Salopette - Made by me / Blouse - Made by me / Hat - Primark (old) / Shoes - H&M (old) / Doll - Made by me /
Sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / And: Mrs Dalloway by V. Woolf, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century by D. Haraway, Postmodernism, Indie Media, and Popular Culture by L. Cartwright & M. Sturken

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