Day 109: soulmates

First off: to all those who cringe upon reading that fatuous term, as well as to all those readers who are so vain that you probably think this post is about you …

… rest easy: it’s just a pun.

This week the younger and I both bought new, life-changing shoes.

The younger bought hers first. They are green and blue. They say “Star Wars Jedi Knight” on them. When she stamps her foot a green lightsaber lights up on the side.

They are pretty awesome.

In the shoe store, it was love at first sight. I tried to persuade the younger to try on another pair, not because I had any particular objection to the Star Wars shoes, but it just seemed like the sensible thing to try on at least a couple of pairs and compare them. But she could not be induced to try on a single other pair of shoes in the whole store. And, frankly, I understood. It would have been a mere bit of play-acting to try on another pair of shoes; the decision had been made as soon as she set eyes on the Jedi shoes. We would have been trying on another pair merely to reframe what was a coup de foudre as, instead, a rational choice. The shoes had called out to her, and she was lovestruck.

I have enormous affection for Theodore Dreiser’s 1900 novel Sister Carrie. One of the moments I especially enjoy is Dreiser’s characterization of Carrie’s weakness for beautiful commodities, especially apparel.

“Fine clothes to her were a vast persuasion; they spoke tenderly and Jesuitically for themselves. When she came within earshot of their pleading, desire in her bent a willing ear. The voice of the so-called inanimate! Who shall translate for us the language of the stones?

‘My dear,’ said the lace collar she secured from Partridge’s, ‘I fit you beautifully; don’t give me up.’

‘Ah, such little feet,’ said the leather of the soft new shoes; ‘how effectively I cover them. What a pity they should ever want my aid.’” [1]

I had a similar coup de foudre with a pair of shoes this week. I was with Miss Honey, who shares my love for le shopping. I stopped in my tracks and caught my breath. My heart beat faster, my cheeks flushed, and I found myself moving slowly towards the magic pair of shoes as if summoned by a witch’s spell. I circled around them cautiously, at first keeping my distance. I turned away. I tried to walk away. But resistance was futile. I turned back. Now I picked them up and examined them. Oh God, the lines of these shoes! They are … I can’t even explain it, but there is something about the height of the heel, the roundness of the toe, the curve of the vamp ….. oh oh oh! They make my heart sing! They make me feel the same way I do when I watch a skillful, beautifully proportioned dancer hold a pose and it is just perfectly, exquisitely balanced. Like so:


A young Sylvie Guillem performing a perfect battement tendu.

And then there is the color: a burnished gold. But—and here is what I think made these boots extra-especially covetable—the gold is muted. It is soft. It is at once warm and cool. The official description describes them as made of “burnished gold leather with grey-blue accents,” but that doesn’t quite capture their appearance; the gold is scuffed. They look well used … as though Hermes just alighted a little heavily after an especially arduous journey … or as if Barbarella just kicked up a lot of post-apocalyptic dust on some distant planet.


The feeling I had upon laying eyes on these boots was one of recognition: here, finally, were my elves and the shoemaker fantasy booties. Do you remember, long-time readers? How I harbored this fantasy about the booties that the lady from the Ladybird edition of the tale is so smitten with? “I have never seen such well-made shoes,” she exclaims! And then she tries them on and “they fitted her perfectly”! Oh, sweet love!

The boots were terrifically expensive. I bought them with the better part of a handsome honorarium I received (come to think of it, they haven’t actually sent it to me yet) for giving that talk at Johns Hopkins. While it is true that nobody, at that talk, declared within earshot that my argument was the most jejune that they had heard in quite some time, I still felt that the whole experience was quite grueling enough to warrant a hefty purchase to mark the occasion.

That being said, it was not so much a prize, in my mind, for giving the talk, as for having written the article that occasioned the talk. That essay, published recently, was, as all academic articles are, a ridiculously long time in the making. When I think about the process of writing the essay, I remember the advice of one of my undergraduate advisors: “don’t think of essays,” he enjoined us, “as expressions of one’s innermost soul, but rather as artifacts which demand a kind of pleasurable shaping in themselves.” I still think of this advice often when I write, and I tried to follow it in this essay. I cut. I shaped. I smoothed. I sutured. I embellished. I polished. Perhaps most importantly of all, I handed it over, constantly, to others, who tried it on and told me which bits were too loose, which bits were too tight. And then they gave it back to me, marked up, and I would sigh and tinker with it some more. (Incidentally, this essay is probably the most collaborative piece of work I’ve ever done; I thanked a lot of people in the Acknowledgments, but I keep thinking of people I forgot to thank and I am truly sorry if you are one of them, dear reader.)

The work was laborious; incremental; painstaking: but, in the end it did yield a piece of work that I felt had a structural integrity and coherence of its own; when I let go of it, to my surprise and delight, it could support itself. A friend who’d read endless earlier scrappier iterations described the final version as “shiny.” And what better reward for a shiny paper than a shiny pair of boots?

I am sure there must be a famous thesis about how the ideology of romantic love is displaced consumer desire. I mean, there’s got to be, right? It seems so bloody obvious. I remember the class I TA’d in grad school in which the Professor taught Mme LaFayette’s La Princesse de Clèves as a novel about the ideology of love at first sight. And doesn’t the period of that novel’s publication, the late seventeenth century, coincide, historically, with the rise of mercantile capitalism in France and the creation of a market for luxury, highly crafted consumer goods? I actually have no idea but it sounds plausible, don’t you think?

At this particular juncture in my life I feel quite cynical about the possibility of a coup de foudre yielding any lasting relationship; but perhaps my problem thus far has been falling in love with animate creatures. I think that these boots and I may be life partners.



[1] It is possible that this passage came to mind today because of an abomination someone gave the younger for her fifth birthday. They are called “shopkins.” They are little plastic models of various commodities (e.g. clothing, shoes, furniture), all of which have eyes and mouths. Their features have the attributes (long eyelashes, pouty rosebud lips, etc.) of animated female characters. I have this fantasy that they are designed by Žižek as some kind of tool for teaching tots about commodity fetishism, but I suspect that I am probably wrong about that.