With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.
An androgynous orgasm: Fashion Beast by Alan Moore
The images of this story become like memories of another life, maybe what's to come, Gina making do in a fascist state and looking good in spite of everything, a version of me, a cosmic cousin.
Like the time I wrote about Cloud City in a film from my childhood, the cosmos conjures certain places, they flow out from an artist or collective, they don't belong to those that drew them, those are only the receptacle. These visions provide glimpses between the cracks of your life that you never knew existed. A different life, waiting for you somewhere, when you didn't even realize you were waiting.
Like the first line in an essay, I write: A life I'd like to live, breaking through the cracks in reality, takes place in Fashion Beast. It is not the greatest graphic novel that Alan Moore has collaborated on (with the Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm McClaren of all people). Watchmen is epic; Neonomicon is brilliantly plotted and extremely fucked up. V for Vendetta, I've only just started, but who didn't like the Wachowski-directed film?
Fashion Beast is a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast, but re-locates in a dystopian future of some authoritarian regime. Centred in a fashion house, it follows the travails of coat-attendant-come-model Doll Seguin and her competitive relationship with wannabe fashion designer Jonni. They are androgynous opposites: Doll an approximation of a girl who looks like a boy trying to look like a girl, and Jonni the opposite of that. Pay no mind if it's not clear, savour it, even, these aesthetic liminalities are the story's high.
The plot, meanwhile, really isn't the point. It over-intellectualizes fashion. It dehumanizes the mob of the working poor, a missed opportunity for Moore to create a similar world to V for Vendetta where the fascists are looking to destroy a freedom fighter. Doll Seguin would have been a marvelous, glamorous, accidental freedom fighter, but instead, the fascist presence is kept to posters and the barest of mentions. The ending of the story is underwhelming, if what you're looking for is the climax of a grand narrative. But as a dreamscape to a day-dreaming individual, maybe trans and definitely a place of blurred sex/gender identities and fluorescent surfaces, it goes off to somewhere in a myriad of colours, and isn't that what we are anyway, isn't this lack of definition what drives others to distraction? Meanwhile, above the throng, those final giant posters of Doll and Jonni (see accompanying image), their irises all blues and golds and in-betweens, are what matter to me, like memories of another life, maybe what's to come.