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Kristina Marie Darling, Interviewed at the Conversant!

 

VIRGINIA KONCHAN WITH KRISTINA MARIE DARLING AND LIGHTSEY DARST

Darling and Darst
Kristina Marie Darling and Lightsey Darst

This interview focuses on Kristina Darling’s X Marks the Dress: a Registry, co-authored with Carol Guess and Lightsey Darst’s DANCE.

Virginia Konchan: In both of your recent books you explore the semiotics of fashion in different ways. In 1967, Barthes made the connection, in Elements of Semiology, between text and textiles, describing the text as an interwoven fabric of quotations drawn from culture, rather than from any single reading experience. Referring to textual production as a “garment system,” Barthes describes the act of speech as comprised by “all the phenomena of anomic fabrication” or of individual style—tracing the very origin of the word “text” to the Latin past participle texere, to weave or fabricate. The author’s successor, the scriptor, exists simultaneously with the text, not in a subject/predicate relationship, dislocating the text’s meaning to “language itself” and the effect on the reader.

From the punk band Glamour Kills to the relationship between fascism and fashion (a symbolic code too often replacing signification through speech or writing for women with a codified language—literalized through semaphores such as sex bracelets worn by middle-schoolers indicating what sex acts they perform, or a diamond ring signifying a woman’s unavailability as well as cultural “worth”), the idea that “clothes make the man” takes us to the metonymic conflation, in “polite society” between a well-dressed or spoken individual and his or her character.

Can you speak to the semiotics of fashion (as a signifying system) in your two books, which present female speakers with various degrees of agency, as well as to silencing? I’m especially curious how you relate the semiotics of DANCE, Lightsey (la geste rather than logos, as signifier) to female agency.

Lightsey Darst: When I went to make hell (the first section of the book), I turned to what I had at hand. I was interested in making an attractive hell, a seductive hell, a baroque and beautiful hell, and so I went for what makes me feel a really nasty appetite: fashion. Somewhere along the way, though, I started to think about fashion not as an inherently cruel system, but more as an amoral growth formed in reaction to other cruel systems. So fashion may be nasty, but also redemptive—as when a woman remembers what she wore for the last time that she saw her beloved, remembers how she concealed or revealed or altered her body, how she made herself appear. And appearances are realities. Local glamour. Alteration of air.

Kristina Darling: That’s a great question. When writing X Marks the Dress, my collaborator and I were especially interested in exploring the ways that culture is historically sedimented, particularly the various rituals and etiquettes associated with weddings. The book takes the form of a bridal registry, with each poem named for an item on such a list. Carol and I sought to evoke the myriad ways that contemporary beliefs, desires and sexualities don’t fit within such a heteronormative framework. Just as the book creates a discontinuity between form and content, the identities of the characters don’t conform to established gender categories, particularly since these identities question, blur and ultimately reject these categories.

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