Life in Consumer Catalogues (For Irina Ratushinskaya*)
November 1987Iris Rozencwajg
Iris Rozencwajg is a writer and teaches English at Monmouth College in West Long Branch, New Jersey.
Dreams are for sale.
Catalogues arrive unbidden, offering raw material. The contents, chaotic like dreams, hide a latent significance not wholly unfamiliar to the dreamer, who has only to meditate on them, and buy.
Two kinds of catalogues ring the right bells - they speak to one who takes for granted life membership in the American middle class.
The first kind of catalogue depicts Country Life. A Ph.D. in English Literature couldn't make you look like these girls - ivory pale, heavy-browed, poetic, sensitive heroines that they are. They walk in beauty, like the night; they have the clothes for it.
Nature here is not fallen - not in this catalogue. Nature is redemption. Hence the importance of natural fibers. Chemistry is sham - chemists are mortal, after all. Only God can make a sheep. Wool is therefore the ultimate redemptive covering.
The catalogue is, strictly speaking, unnecessary. The stores have the merchandise in greater abundance than these pages indicate. And mail orders can take weeks to fill. In the store, gratification would be instant. But so would confrontation with a mirror. Mirrors are hostile to dreams. Photographs are not.
In this catalogue the photographs are serious indeed. No smiles.
Up against the walls these girls stand, arms akimbo. This can't be frivolity. Look at the stone, the grass, the boots, the weathered board of the barn door. The country is real - locus of history, of values worth bearing on one's back at any price.
Inside this catalogue are trees, streams, and flowers, the promise of love and loyalty, the lightness of life with no exploitation, no men. (Outside the catalogue are avarice, envy, hatred, poverty, age, and sadness. In life anything is possible. That's the problem with life.)
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