Sarah Vukalovic, Contributing Editor
Philosophy and Fashion, an upper-level philosophy course being taught for the first time this semester, has generated significant interest on campus for its combination of two seemingly dissimilar fields. The course comprises two parts; professor of classics Dr. Gwenda-lin Grewal focuses on ancient texts, and philosophy adjunct John Macready presents modern philosophical readings.
The structure of the course encompasses an ongoing dialogue between the past and present, allowing for genuine philosophical conversation on topics such as beauty, self-knowledge and self-expression.
“We don’t have any preconceived ideas about where we’re headed. We have some general ideas, but what we’re getting in the course is really emerging as we go,” said Macready. “I think we’re making a case in the course that this topic is important; not only are people interested in it, but also the tradition has something to say about it.”
Students in the course study a variety of texts, from Plato’s Hippias Major to works by Kant and Heidegger. Additionally, they watch films that reflect the philosophical, anthropological and aesthetic themes explored in the texts.
The class, an unusual hybrid, is unique at the University of Dallas.
“Nobody really looks at it in this direction, because fashion is always thought to be straightforwardly superficial,” Grewal said.
The course, however, is intimately united with the Core curriculum.
“The shield of Achilles is a really good example in classic literature, and even Jane Austen novels pay attention to the ways people dress. It’s not that it’s foreign to the Core; it’s actually intrinsic,” Macready explained.
“[Fashion and philosophy coincide] everywhere,” said Grewal. “I mean everywhere.”
The concepts explored in the course are also relevant to the culture of the university as a whole.
“The University of Dallas has a dress code, which means that they obviously place some importance on what faculty and students wear. There has been controversy [over Anna Kaladish’s article on leggings] in the University of Dallas newspaper. So people do care about what they wear, and what others wear, because it creates an environment. And I think it’s worth finding out if that leads to self-knowledge or knowledge of the world,” said Macready.
According to Grewal, the class serves as an intellectual exploration of issues with which students are deeply concerned.
“There is so much conflict about what’s right and wrong, and what is appropriate to the academic climate, and, at this university, the religious climate,” Grewal said. “All of these things are sort of brewing in the student body, in their life. I think a course that actually looks at that and exposes it, and calls it into the court of philosophical examination can only be a good thing.”
The course does not encourage students to adopt a particular mode of dress based on luxury magazines and couture designers. In designing it, the instructors were careful to avoid charges of superficiality. Instead, through readings and discussion, the class attempts to retrieve fashion from the notion of consumerism and to reflect upon it as a mode of self-knowledge.
“In a way, when you’re dressed up for the day, you’re dignifying that event, your environment, and others,” said Macready.