Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dawn of the Dandy

In his review of Philip Mann’s The Dandy at Dusk (TLS, 2/23/18) Richard Canning quotes Oscar Wilde thusly, “in so vulgar an age as this, we all need masks.” How far away dandyism seems in this era of moral probity, with it’s language police and politicized sexuality! How would the l9th century flaneur or boulvardier navigate affirmative consent? Talk about paradigm shifts, the dandy would run aground in a time fixated on the notion of human betterment. As Mann says, “Everything the dandy feels, does, says or wears reflects a desire to stop the clocks.” You may not ever have met a dandy, but the basic idea is that of a person who lives in a world of irony, who wears ancien looking clothes (as least more ancien than the era he is living in) and talks with an affectation that's a mockery of aristocracy. Of course the dandy is above literally everything including aristocracy which usually puts him (sorry dandyism not being politically correct is as Mann points out usually a male affair) in a state of poverty. Though the Duke of Windsor and the French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville are apparently cited by Mann, most dandies are above the kind of ambitions that lead to wealth while at the same time being the product of a self-invention that’s not usually the province of a blue or black-blooded upper crust background. Dandies thrive in cosmopolitan settings and normally show little interest in either healthy foods or environments. There were lots of dandies in l9th century Paris and during the 80’s and 90’s in Manhattan where refugees from the social revolution of the 60’s patronized eccentric Victorian structures like the Dakota and the Osborne, oases of anachronism amidst the juggernaut of progress which would take off again at the millenium.

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