When I think of “style,” I think of a philosophy of life; how one aspires to both affect and be affected by experiences in daily living, events near and far. In The Incorporeal, Elizabeth Grosz writes that the philosopher Nietzsche’s question for all of us is,
How can we give value to our existence, how can we live artistically, how can we overcome what we must and live with what we cannot overcome?
and that his answer is
with style, with self-fashioning, with art, by making ourselves living works of art, living forms of resistance to the herd’s resentful normalization. (p. 122)
In response, I consider the normalized meaning of the term “style” - in terms of one’s clothing, hairdo, and bling - one that I might artfully resist. To me, to resist normalized notions of having a style involves refuting the assumption that one’s style must be fixed and easily interpretable. Furthermore, to live with style involves permitting my thoughts and movements toward creative potentiality.
With Grosz and Nietzsche’s concept of style, I still think daily about my appearance, and how it abides by or resists - often at the same time - normalized conceptualizations of femininity, beauty, sophistication, and intellectualism. In the cover photo for this section, I am pictured with my colleague Dr. Maureen Flint, who enjoys making her own clothing. (On this day, we were celebrating the solar eclipse about to take place). A few years ago, Maureen wore a top that had chickens patterned all over it. I told her how happy the top made me, and she responded that she liked to make and wear clothing that provokes joy. Ever since, I have felt inspired by what I interpret as Maureen’s sense of (clothing) style - freer to create an appearance that I anticipate will inspire joy in myself and others.
In addition to thinking about style in relation to appearance, I think about style when cultivating friendships, reading to be moved, and teaching to enable awareness and positive social change.
I am also concerned with how Nietzsche’s rendering of style bumps into present-day emphasis on personal branding (see Jia Talentino’s book Trick Mirror for more on this). Whereas personal branding regards the creation of a public image that both reflects and diversifies enactments for the purpose of achieving social and economic value, living with style involves playful perturbations of value, along lines of thinking and doing inspired by vibrant, artful living.
There is a beautiful On Being podcast on the “Art of Being Creatures” that continues to provoke my thinking in these areas. Even as one who does not presently aspire to a particular religion, in a poetic way I appreciated sentiments shared in this interview between Krista Tippet and Ellen Davis. Below I share a particular excerpt of interest - an analysis of the creation story presented in the Bible.
Davis: And of course, we know human beings are blessed on the sixth day, but we often overlook the fact that the creatures of sky and sea receive exactly the same blessing, pru u’revu, “be fruitful and multiply.” And so we are living amongst creatures who are blessed before we even come into existence. I think that’s an important thing to recognize.
Tippett: Now let’s just, you know, point out that I think the passage, if people know something from this, it is this blessing that also seems to contain not just permission but a commandment to — you know, the words, the translation’s different: “to have dominion,” Tanakh says “to master it,” “to rule the fish of the sea.” So you’re saying that that’s tempered first of all by the context. But, you know, how do you step back from that and what do you see is happening there that is not clear in the way we have translated and used these texts?
Davis: OK. The Hebrew word is a strong word, and I render it “exercise skilled mastery amongst the creatures” because I think the notion of skilled mastery suggests something like a craft, an art, of being human without taking away the fact that humans do, from the perspective of almost all the biblical writers — not every single one but almost all — humans occupy a very special place of power and privilege and responsibility in the world. But the condition for our exercise of skilled mastery is set by the prior blessing of the creatures of sea and sky that they are to be fruitful and multiply. So whatever it means for us to exercise skilled mastery, it cannot undo that prior blessing. I think that’s pretty convicting for us in the sixth great age of species extinction.
Eating a plant-based diet for almost ten years, I have learned, laughed at, participated in and found irritation with the socially prescribed branding of vegans/veganism and non-vegans/creature-eating. I have also watched and contributed toward the changing branding of veganism over the years. While, Davis and Tippett’s interview could be interpreted as validating my subscription to veganism, it also causes me to resist prescribing human creature “exercise of skilled mastery” in relation to nonhuman creatures. While I consider eating a plant-based foods aligned with a notion of living vibrantly in one’s emplacement on Earth, vibrancy is neither completed nor fulfilled in a brand. Style, self-fashioning, requires moment-by-moment sensitivity toward the activity of creatures around us - and considering our artful response-abilities therein.