Tuesday, 12 December 2006

The Hair-Do Index of Eighteenth-Century Cultural Change

I caught myself ranting to the dog again this morning about eyebrow sculpting. The dog is very receptive to these rants. Today I told him that the only good thing about his prime minister was the impressively untamed wilderness said prime minister used to host above his shifty little eyes. "And then," I said, "then, Wilbur you fine young beast, then he went and got them trimmed! Just like he trimmed funding to the ABC, and trimmed a couple of islands from the Australian migration zone, and trimmed off his non-core promises." The trimming of John Howard's eyebrows (are you listening, Wilbur?) is a metaphor for his treatment of our expansive national identity.

Of course, John Howard's eyebrow-trimming is all of a piece with eyebrow sculpting trends in non-participatory democracies the world over. Scarcely a nominally enfranchised eyebrow do I see these days that hasn't been realigned, clipped, or subjected to the full punitive weight of the tweezer. Small government, my foot.

The dog thinks I am mildly obsessive about the things humans do to their various hairinesses, but he blinks indulgently. His own eyebrows consist of seven displaced whiskers and he tends to ignore them.

These discussions Wilbur and I have about prime-ministerial eyebrows are just the froth on the larger cappuccino of my concerns about hair. I've been working recently on my Hair-Do Index of Eighteenth-Century Cultural Change theory. European society during the Enlightenment is characterised chiefly by its fear of chaos (i.e., madness, political radicalism, nature, North American Indians and teenagers' bedrooms). This results in Newtonian astonomy, Linnaean botanical classification, Augustan poetry, etiquetterie, flummery, frippery – and elaborate wigs. Here, for instance, is Marie Antoinette, exemplifying the spirit of the age:


Or Marie Antoinette's terrestrial proxy, Kirsten Dunst, at any rate. That's not Kirsten Dunst's hair, citizens. That is a wig. And like corsetry and conduct manuals, it is part of an attempt to dissociate civilised people from a state of nature.

Enter the Romantics, dauntless advocates of a return to nature. No need to read their poetry, contract their tuberculosis, or speak their German. Just look at their hair ...


Shelley had better things to do with his time than invest in a restyle with complementary macchiato. And besides, this is hair as nature intended it.

The moral to the story: folks with de-natured hair run around advising disaffected peasants to eat cake and find themselves decapitated in untimely fashion; folks who let it all hang out get to go on walking tours of Switzerland and name their goldfish "Ozymandius".

We have been warned.

6 comments:

TimT said...

So are you saying that we should all aspire to be like the dauntless and uncouth like the romantics, or daunt and couth like the unromantics? I am a little puzzled by your ethical exhortions, although I am sure that we all need to exhort from time to time. After all, if we weren't exhorting, we'd end up inhorting all the time, and that would lead to a pearl of Wayne, or a world of pain. I can't remember now.

I was interested, by the way, to read the other day of the use of spray-on tans in 19th century Paris. Evidently it was the fumes from those spray-ons that led to such decadent excesses as Monet and Debussy. Perhaps if we'd stuck to wigs, modernism could have been avoided.

TimT said...

On the other hand, if we'd stuck to wigs, that would have lead to earwigs and headlice, which are disagreeable.

You have given me a lot to think about.

alexis said...

Apparently headlice are easily dealt with by removing the wig and boiling vigorously. This, only for those with an aversion to the louse-born delights of typhus, etc.

As for whither my miscellaneous ethical exhortations tend: I don't think I mustered a very compelling argument, but my intuitions are all in favour of dauntless and uncouth. Uncouthness seems to me a happy state. Why I feel the need to convert the rest of the world, I'm not entirely sure.

Anonymous said...

Words words words !!!
I can only skim-read this blog dear Lex.

In my opinion Shelley and Byron were degenerates. STC ok though.

As for their natural state, how did the opium fit in?

PS: I wear a wig every day at work and I love it.

Love from,
Lachlan

alexis said...

You in a wig, Lachlan, are a category all of your own.

Thanks for reading. What's the billing time?

lexi
xx

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