the cravat: like a distant nebula or a puff of ectoplasm


Despite this profusion of rules, all far too complex to have impressed the Beau, there is one stipulation of Le Blanc’s that he has inherited directly from Brummell. Once tied, the necktie should never be altered in the hope of improving its appearance; if it is ill-tied, one must start again with a fresh cravat. What the wearer is after is a “curious mean” (as Virginia Woolf wrote of Brummell’s jokes) between skill and pure chance. The tying of a cravat involves the rigorous removal of human agency from the final appearance of the fabric: the knot is intentional, but the folds are entirely fortuitous. As Giorgio Agamben has put it, Brummell, “whom some of the greatest poets of modernity have not disdained to consider their teacher, can, from this point of view, claim as his own discovery the introduction of chance into the artwork so widely practiced in contemporary art.”7 Beau Brummell is a direct precursor of the dandy Marcel Duchamp. The dandy’s intention is in fact to make the garment-like the artwork-evanesce into pure gesture, to institute something like the “threadbare look” described by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly in his essay on Brummell and dandyism. In a brief craze, says d’Aurevilly, dandies took to rubbing their clothes with broken glass, till they took on the appearance of lace, became “a mist of cloth,” scarcely existed as clothes.8 Similarly, at its logical extreme, a well-tied cravat is a palpable immateriality, like a distant nebula or a puff of ectoplasm.

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