Thursday, June 27, 2013

The red shoes

    The red shoes were perceived by others as excessive and inappropriate for a young girl in mourning for the death of her mother, but to Karen, "nothing else in the world was so desirable." Her story reveals the tension between appearance and sensation,between the visual and the tactile, between image and sensation. Shoes, of course, offer bodily pleasure and so, according to Elizabeth Wilson, "gratify women's highly developed sense of touch and pleasure in their own bodies.
    The effect of high heels on the body has been the origin of much speculation and controversy. When American women imported them from Paris, they created a scandal.The Massachusetts colony passed a law: "'All women, whether virgins, maidens or windows, who shall after this Act impose upon, seduce or betray into matrimony any ofHis Majesty's male subjects by virtue of .. . high heel shoes, shall incur the penalty ofthe law now enforced against witchcraft, and the marriage shall be null and void." This fear of the seductive power of stilettos has been traced to the shoes' effects on the female body. In The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, William A. Rossi delineates are various ways
the high heel "adds new dimensions to the sensuousness and sex-attraction of a
woman." The high heel elongates the leg and increases the arch of the foot, making itappear smaller. It raises the buttocks (as much as 25 percent, according to Harper's Judex) and curves the back, pushing the chest forward. lt also "feminizes the gait by causing a shortening of the stride and a mincing step that suggests a degree of helpless bondage" that "appeals to the chivalrous or machismo nature of many men: " Added height may also provide women with "a psychological and emotional uplift that enhances sexual attraction. The arched foot, for sexologist Alfred Kinsey, more simply and directly indicates erotic arousal: "Curled toes have, for at least eight centuries, been one of the stylized symbols of erotic response." (Now we know why Barbie is always smiling.) Men have also periodically donned high heels to enhance their sexual attractiveness. King Louis XIV popularized them in the sixteenth century when male wearers discovered that "Louis heels" enhanced the muscles of the calves, making them seem more "masculine" in their short pants and hose.
    Theorizing with the shoe commodity can only be accomplished in postmodemity
because of the kind of rationality that has come to invade its circulation, in this case. as museum artifact. Chancterizing this "rationality" must entail an emphasis on information and pedagogical exchange. On an advertising flyer for membership. which includes a gift of the book All about Shoes, the museum declares: "Shoes have been with us for millennia and are intriguing sources of information about human identity. ... Fascinating infonnation about shoes in history, titillating shoe trivia and wonderful full-color photographs are brought together in this educational and entertaining book- providing hours of enjoyment for the entire family " The museumt's pedagngical impulse to provide
information and act as an educational institution endows the shoe commodity with
new material signincance. What is the semiotic value of this new material signification? It's the value of differen.e.


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