Writing on the transformative and imaginary body

Ha, Winnie
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Conference Paper
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Textile and Design Lab and Colab at Auckland University of Technology

"Unable to sense any articulation in your palms and fingers, you realise your arms are now stumps, rounded off where the elbows would have been. All you can feel is clammy, thin film, like loosely stretched latex. You are entirely covered in a milky coalescence forming a semi-translucent, membrane-like film. This new skin stretches over an engorged blob enclosing you like a wrinkly, half-deflated water balloon. Laying there immobilised you think of those whole headless chickens with their appendages neatly tucked under plump bodies, wrapped in plastic bags and sitting in a supermarket cool room along with countless others, their identity registered on barcode stickers, their value calculated in weight." (Ha Mitford, 2012)

This article discusses the potential for the literary imagination to extend conceptual and imagistic possibilities of the body in fashion. It posits that writing, as an act of creative production and an expressive tool, can initiate ideation of bodies that are as yet unknown – as potentialities. The narrative form and linguistic devices of metaphor, analogy, allusion and projection are used to draw forth, shape and carry the body from the imaginary (concept or idea) into readable form. The transformative body performs as the subject of imagination, the protagonist in the narrative. It also performs as the agent mediating between the actual and imaginary, who, in this context, relates to both the author (me) and reader (you).

This article discusses the author’s writing practice that focuses on “writing the imaginary, embodied and performative.” The intent of the practice is to produce affective sketches of imaginative forays into and beyond one’s own body, coalescing into performative self narratives as well as fictions.

"You gasp, in wonder, as you contemplate the forces of collision, disintegration and reconstitution at work. You sense an anticipation growing in you that is so achingly pure – because you expect nothing in return. All you want to know is what would become of you when the transformation is complete." (Ha Mitford, 2012)

This article connects Joanne Entwistle’s emphasis on dress as embodied practice, the phenomenological approach of Gaston Bachelard, especially his writings on the poetics of the creative imagination, and the concept of ekphrasis (specifically the use of verbal art to engage a visual one) put forth by literary critics and authors Michael Clune and Ben Lerner. The discussion weaves through a piece of prose fiction entitled Falling which alludes to some of the concepts in this article. Produced as part of the author’s PhD research practice, Falling presents an alternative, narrativebased approach to account for the poetics of fashion, using the transformable/transformative body as the site and subject. The narrative centres on a body undergoing a process of extreme physical transformation, metaphorically referring to the continual disintegration and reconstitution of the self, at the verge of fashion, where fashion is understood, conceptually, as the aesthetic expression of ideas and sensibilities to do with contemporariness and progress (Lehmann, 2000, p. xii), and how this implicates the self. The article mediates literary experiences of what the body could potentially be, and suggests the capacity of writing to account for fashion as an embodied practice and lived experience. Falling performs the propositions put forward in this presentation – to enact, through writing, processes of bodily transformation that drive fashion, stressing the fundamental role of imagination, and the performativity of language in understanding the transformative agency of fashion.

Fashion narrative , Fashion writing , Writing practice , Fashion imagination , Body in fashion , Embodied fashion
Shapeshifting: A Conference on Transformative Paradigms of Fashion and Textile Design, 14-16 April 2014, Auckland, New Zealand
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