Research: Beginning Theory

Notes from Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory

These notes have been made to supplement my essay on Victoria Hislop’s The Island in particular. The original draft of this essay can be found here.


The aim of stylistics is to “show how the technical linguistic features of a literary work, such as the grammatical structure of its sentences, contribute to its overall meanings and effects”. (p196)

A ‘floating signifier’ is “the idea that the meanings established through language are innately fluid, indeterminate, and shifting.” (p197) This idea is generally ignored in stylistics

Look into the structure of sentences ie what is the subject and what is the object. For example he [subject] touched her [object] (p205)

A problem (see Stanley Fish What is Stylistics and Why are they Saying such Terrible Things About It?) is that there is always a gap between the linguistic features identified in the text and the interpretation of them offered by the stylistician – hermeneutic gap ‘hermeneutic’ refers to act of interpretation (p206)

“common feature of poetry is to break habitual collocation patterns, so that words not usually seen together suddenly occur. Poets divorce words from their usual partners and provide unlikely new partnerships between words which we would never have imagined together” (p210)


Gérard Genette – how the tale is told:

  1. basic narrative mode ‘mimetic’ (dramatised/scenic) or ‘diegetic’ (telling/relating)?
  2. how is narrative focalised? (viewpoint)
  3. who is telling the story? (narrator/character)
  4. how is time handled? flash back -> analepsis. flash forward -> prolepsis
  5. how is story ‘packaged’? frame/embedded narratives (look at relative balance between frame and embedded narrative)
  6. how are speech and thought represented? direct and tagged vs indirect speech. each inserted tag is a reminder of the presence of a narrator that tends towards telling rather than showing (mimesis)


Four areas:

  1. ‘the wilderness’ (deserts, oceans, uninhabited regions etc) often entered as if instinctively by those who would ‘find’ themselves
  2. ‘scenic sublime’ (forests, lakes, mountains, cliffs, waterfalls etc)
  3. ‘the countryside’ (hills, fields, woods etc)
  4. ‘domestic picturesque’ (parks, gardens, lanes)


  1. re-read major literary works from ecocentric perspective, to look at representation of natural world
  2. extend applicability of a range of ecocentric concepts eg growth and energy, balance/imbalance, symbiosis/mutability, sustainability
  3. give canonical emphasis to writers who foreground nature
  4. extend range of literary criticism by placing emphasis on ‘factual’ writing, reflective essays, memoirs, travel
  5. turn away from ‘social constructivism’ and ‘linguistic determinism’ and emphasise values of meticulous observation, collective ethical responsibility and claims of world beyond ourselves.


Barry, P. (2009) Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory Manchester: Manchester University Press


Research: Sustainability in Textiles

Notes from Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change by Kate Fletcher & Lynda Grose:

An interesting comment from the beginning of this book is:

Sometimes… the biggest change comes from a series of small, individual actions rather than from big international declarations – a realization that brings change within the reach of us all. [p10]

This is stark contrast to a textile artist I contacted via email who commented:

I am afraid I have never got involved in the matter of sustainability, as I tend to use very small quantities of material.

Transforming Fashion Products

Sustainability issues:

  • climate change
  • adverse effects on water and its cycles
  • chemical pollution
  • loss of biodiversity
  • overuse and misuse of non-renewable resources
  • waste production
  • negative impacts on human health
  • damaging social effects on producer communities

This list creates a complex trade off of characteristics for each fibre. Sustainability-led innovation roughly divided into:

  • increased interest in renewable source materials
  • Materials with reduced levels of processing ‘inputs’ eg water, energy
  • fibres produced under improved working conditions for growers and processors (Fair-trade fibres)
  • materials produced with reduced waste eg biodegradable, recyclable fibres. Note: biodegradability/ decomposition inhibited if synthetic and natural fibres combined. Facings and trims also need to be considered.

In their book Cradle to Cradle William McDonough & Michael Braungart propose two cycles acceptable in sustainable industrial economy:

  1. composting – waste from one part of economy becomes raw material for another
  2. industrial recycling – materials perpetually reused

Significant challenges to a fibre’s biodegradability:

  1. Design of completely biodegradable garments where all fibres and component parts compost fully and safely.
  2. Development of suitable infrastructure to collect and process compostable fibres
  3. Better information and labelling for biodegradable fibres, specifying composting routes and differences from oil-based degradable or non-degradable synthetics.

People-friendly fibre issues:

  • health and safety issues
  • better working conditions
  • access to unions and living wages
  • larger questions on business models, domestic & global trading practices

Fairtrade is market-based response that emerged from need to maintain industrial production within safe limits – organisational fix. Challenge is for designers to develop relationships themselves.

If virgin fibres are compared on energy profile:

natural fibres < regenerated natural fibres eg viscose < synthetics


Goal -> Action

  • make wise use of natural resources -> minimise # processing steps
  • reduce risk of pollution -> minimise # & toxicity of chemicals
  • minimise energy consumption -> use low temp and/or combine processes
  • minimise water consumption -> eliminate water-intense processes
  • reduce landfill -> minimise waste at all stages

Interesting ideas to incorporate at design stage:

  • utilise natural variation in colour of fibre
  • utilise natural dyes
  • design patterns to minimise/eliminate waste – Sam Forno, Timo Rissanen, MATERIALBYPRODUCT
  • avoid usage of electroplated trims


Designers need to think about both where products are produced as well as how they are transported.

Consumer Care

Focus on cooler temperatures and line drying.


Almost 75% of textiles end up in landfill in UK.

Reuse < Reconditioning < Recycling < virgin fibre production

Take-back schemes oblige manufacturers to accept products for reuse/recycling

Transforming Fashion Systems


  • in a business context
  • trans- and multiple functions
  • trans-seasonal
  • modular
  • changing shapes

Optimised Lifetimes

“A discarded product is not an indicator of poor product quality, but rather of a failed relationship between the product and the wearer” – focus on building emotional response in wearer

Low-impact Use

  • low launder
  • no wash
  • design to stain
  • low iron

Services and Sharing

  • design for repair
  • leasing systems
  • design services


  • locally produced materials
  • utilising skills/heritage/culture local to material production


  • nature as a model – imitation
  • nature as measure – standard of comparison
  • nature as mentor – what can we learn from it?


  • steady state economics
  • rethink concept of fast fashion
  • slow fashion – small-scale production, traditional craft techniques, local materials etc. Focus on diversity


Max-Neef’s taxonomy of fundamental human needs:

  • subsistence
  • protection
  • affection
  • understanding
  • participation
  • leisure
  • creation
  • identity
  • freedom

Little brown dress project – Seattle mum wore one brown dress for an entire year.


  • co-design – with users
  • craft
  • fashion hacking

Transforming Fashion Design Practice

Designer as communicator-educator

“A society that talks about creating jobs as if that is something only companies can do, will not inspire the great majority of its people to create jobs for themselves or anyone else” Donella Meadows

Designer as facilitator

  • enabling action and change
  • co-design
  • clothes swaps
  • ready-to-wear vs readiness-to-make
  • act as intensifier – eg use of craft

Designer as activist

working independently, with NGOs or government

Designer as entrepreneur

changing ways of thinking and acting, using new media

possibilities for fashion in a sustainable future:

  • impact rather than trend led
  • pluralistic aesthetic – regionally available materials etc
  • raw materials become scarcer -> other aspects of fashion dominate?
  • products and services adapt to regional/seasonal variation
  • optimise energy/water use
  • work alongside economists, policy makers, ecologists, business etc
  • reference psychology, sociology etc to develop new business models
  • business success measure in social, cultural and environmental value
  • scale of production will be proportional to community
  • scale of production will be defined by ecosystem
  • educational establishments involved in new business models

Organisations and certifications:

Fletcher, K. & Grose, L. (2012) Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd

Research: Christian Boltanski’s Personnes

Christian Boltanski’s Personnes (2010) at Grand Palais







Personnes was an installation consisting of an enormous pile of clothing and a large red mechanical grabber which would periodically descend and pick up a selection of the clothing and lift it up high before dropping it back onto the pile.

The clothing forms a large scale pile that dominates the room even from a distance. The repetition of individual items of clothing gives a sense of scale as it encourages the viewer to imagine how many items must make up the pile and by extension the number of people in the world. The red of the mechanical grabber is often used in warning signs and as it picks up a selection of clothing, the viewer is lead to think of how many people are dying at that moment. It could not be predicted in which order the items are picked up in and so there is an element of chance, perhaps reflecting the chance evident when a death occurs

The soundtrack of a heartbeat can be heard at the same time and this seems to add to an element of fear or suspense as it is reminiscent of being able to hear your own heartbeat.

Christian Boltanski can be seen here discussing how his idea was to represent the hand of God selecting people for death. The textiles are an appropriate representation of death as once someone dies, their clothing is left behind and must be disposed of.

What did the critics have to say?

Laura Cumming says in her review that ‘The austerity of the scene is overwhelming, compounded by the booming heartbeats that seem to emit from nowhere and yet all around – time being measured out by human life.’ This interpretation is emphasised when she explains that at the end Boltanski asks each visitor to record their own heartbeat saying ‘All the world’s heartbeats stretching out until the last syllable of recorded time: that should stand against oblivion.’ Cumming also comments that each viewer interprets the work differently, whether fearfully or as something uplifting. Describing the surroundings of the main pile, Cumming explains that there are ‘Sixty-nine camps, but there are no tents and no living people, only thousands of old clothes lying face down on the floor’. Again the viewer’s temperament and perspective are relevant as there are many interpretations of this configuration. Are they ‘mass graves, or corpses arrayed for identification in the school gym’ or perhaps ‘they also constitute a kind of cemetery’?

Adrian Searle’s review emphasises the extreme cold of the installation and how Boltanski postponed the installation to take advantage of the colder weather and the temperature’s association with the dead. Although this installation at first glance appears to be intended to be viewed from a distance rather than immersive, Searle comments that Boltanski stresses ‘the importance and place of the ­spectator, and their ­relation to objects and spaces’ and how the artist is ‘also ­preoccupied by repetition and ­difference, a sensitivity to the ­conditions of place and time’.

Devika Singh notes that ‘The work’s title, Personnes, is a play on words: it means ‘people’ in French but is pronounced the same way as ‘nobody’.’ Singh comments that ‘Personnes was about survival, as are all memorials’ and in this way, visiting a memorial in effect collapses time by reminding the viewer of events of the past whilst viewer and memorial will move on through time. The installation itself was only temporary in its physical form however the recording of heartbeats was intended to endure.


Boltanski, C. Personnes (2010)

Cumming, Laura (2010) The Guardian ‘Christian Boltanski: Personnes’

Searle, A. (2010) The Guardian ‘Christian Boltanski: It’s a jumble out there’

Singh, D. (2010) Frieze ‘Christian Boltanski’

Christian Boltanski discussing his motivation for Personnes (2013) YouTube

Video of the Personnes installation (2010) YouTube

[All links accessed 6/4/18]