Monday, February 11, 2008

Does this count as Procrastination?

I'm completely enjoying a recent book by Judd Stitziel called Fashioning Socialism: Clothing, Politics and Consumer Culture in East Germany (Berg 2005). I picked it up at the public library when I was gathering sources for my current work on the rhetoric of women's plus-size sewing. There *are* a few references to clothing for big women (or, as the GDR's Institute for Clothing Culture called them, "stronger," "full-figured," and "chubby" women), but mostly the book details the ongoing dialogue between the East German government and the people who had to wear the (mostly shoddy) clothes put out by state-owned factories in the decades between the end of WW II and 1990. The disconnects between policy-makers, manufacturers, and consumers are fascinating: government officials had carefully-theorized approaches to the production and marketing of clothing, and they really wanted the public to look charitably on their efforts. But the manufacturers had awful materials to work with, and there was little economic incentive for them to make clothes that people actually wanted to wear, given that they were rewarded for high production rather than for satisfying consumers' needs. Piles and piles of never-worn clothes accumulated in East German warehouses, with more constantly being produced, while the majority of consumers could not find seasonally-appropriate shoes or outerwear that they could afford. Many moments in Stitziel's book make me think about similarly weird scenarios that I've seen documented in TV shows and websites about North Korea---for example, the impeccably neat "Traffic Girls" directing the movement of cars, whether the cars are there or not.

It's usually a bad sign for my scholarship when I get caught up in reading that's only tangentially related to the work I'm supposed to be the time I got distracted by an economic study of the origins of the Federal Reserve System (back when I was writing my dissertation, which had *absolutely nothing to do with the Federal Reserve*), or the time when I got obsessed with Henry Ford's anti-semitism and the archeology of Manhattan privies (actually, that time wasn't so bad, as I was hugely pregnant with Astrid and couldn't concentrate on "real" work at all). At times like these, I feel like Curious George....I can just hear The Man with the Yellow Hat call out to me as I step into the library: "Now, be a good little monkey." Ninety minutes later I walk out with three books I actually need and four that I just can't resist.

I guess it's fortunate that I don't care too much for novel-reading in my "spare time" (I know-- this is a scandalous admission, as I am a college English professor), because if I did, I'd probably never get any work done. I don't feel so bad if I read a chapter or two of a book on economics or history and then get back to the stuff I'm supposed to be doing.

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