The Earnestness and Whimsicalness of an American Grandee
Who are you?
No—who are you, really?
Whimsy, Victor Allen Crawford, III, That Degenerate with the Opera Glasses Behind the Rhododendrons—I answer to many names. It comes with the burden of being interesting. Nyez.
Of whom or what are you the lord?
Why, whimsy, of course!
Why “Lord Whimsy?”
There are numerous ways to respond to this question, so I will give multiple replies; one of which might best suit the reader's temperament, and the sum of which might best approximate the truth of the matter:
(Vague) When it comes to my writing, I prefer to use a euphemism instead of a name.
(Cryptic) "Whimsy" is a face that is often taken for a mask.
(Strategic) A peculiar or presumptuous name adds interest and latitude to one's life, confers both preposterousness and dignity, and gives one something to both live up to and live down.
(Culinary) I decided that the name "Bananas Foster" (a favorite desert of mine) was perhaps a bit much (as if calling oneself a "lord" isn't, right?)
(Cautionary) The name "Whimsy" is a form of public service, in that people are immediately put on notice that they are in the midst of a crackpot, possibly even a flaming jackass. Your call.
(Pragmatic) I grew weary of constantly explaining my habits and proclivities to others, so I simply started replying, "I'm Whimsy." Now I can wear my ridiculous shoes and ride my highwheel in relative peace, since others have stopped asking "Who are you supposed to be?" and now simply say, "Oh, that's just Whimsy."
(Artistic) Prose forms like fiction and non-fiction don't really have much to do with my writing (many would agree); it has more in common with theatrical forms like rhetoric, sage writing, and poetry. What all three of these forms have in common is that a persona is implied.
(Apocryphal) Actually, my nom de plume originally began as a good-natured jibe, one of many names bestowed upon me over the years by my friends (I seem to be the sort of person who accrues nicknames wherever he goes). For whatever reason, “Whimsy” seemed to suit me, and has clung to me like a barnacle ever since.
(Coy) As for the title of “Lord,” well, it's just a wry little emblem that somehow hitched itself to "Whimsy" under hazy circumstances now lost to the passing of time. That said, I do find that being a so-called lord is quite edifying in that such a title compels one to live up to it (unless one is born an actual lord, of course; then, it seems even trousers and sanity are negotiable). I do find that I iron my socks more often. Can’t be a “lord” with floppy ankles, now can we?
(Plausible) I like to imagine that I'm continuing a tradition established by the likes of Lord Buckley. Anyone who thinks I employ "lord" with a straight-faced arrogance must also wonder where all the little people go when the television is turned off. There have been Whimsies before me, and I've seen other Whimsies here and there, and hopefully there will be more Whimsies after me. I say bully for them all--it's a fine thing to be. Being a Whimsy should be an occupation that one can list on a tax form. It's like being a time lord, but with a better haircut.
(Informative) I should also add that I am not the first American grandee; that honor goes to a fellow by the name of Lord Timothy Dexter. There is a long tradition of Lords, Dukes, Kings, and Emperors in America—all rascals to a man, just as they are in Europe. Nothing new under the sun, it seems.
Hasn’t the name been taken, though?
Oh yes--a very similar name has been taken for quite some time. I should state at this point that any relation to the fictional Lord Peter Wimsey of the Dorothy Sayers books is a coincidence, an example of convergent evolution: things that develop independently of one another, yet arrive at a similar form. I do apologize for any confusion, but there are plenty of Joneses in the world, and they all seem to get along (well, most of them, anyway). Like my grandmother once said: “Sneer not at dolphins because they look like sharks.” Or was it marmots and hamsters? I forget.
One can take me at my word when I say there was a dearth of people reading wry British mystery novels in my working-class neighborhood when I was growing up. In fact, I confess that I've never read any of Ms. Sayer's books, and for obvious reasons I'm not likely to in the forseeable future (which is a pity, since I've heard nothing but complimentary things about them). How the name drifted onto the lips of my friends, I cannot say; maybe one of them saw a dramatic adaptation of a Sayers novel on public television while flipping through the channels one evening, who knows. Of course, it would be fitting if such a plebian origin turned out to be the case.
Do you expect yourself or the book to be taken seriously?
I don't even know anymore.
Why do you dress like a poppinjay?
One's life is a brief thing—an occasion—so one may as well dress for it.
Most of us would like to become what we imagine as the finest version of ourselves, if our circumstances would only allow—and my circumstances do. Not having a day job affords me the ability to indulge my proclivities to a greater extent. One might say that I have the luxury of being myself, only more so.
Isn’t worrying about your appearance a pretty superficial thing to do?
Dress is only superficial if one hasn’t invested any thought in it. If one’s appearance is an outer expression of one’s inner state, then it is deeply personal—and far from trivial.
What's with all this banal, insipid sweetness and light? Get real!
I'm not naive and sheltered enough to think that light and pleasure are so common in this world as to be deemed banal. As far as I'm concerned, it's aggression and darkness that are truly insipid: both are far too easy, and far too common. My friend Momus has some interesting thoughts on these prevailing toxic values: Read this. And this. Maybe even this.
Are you a narcissist? Do you think you are better than other people? Are you trying to pass for old money?
What's worse: the kind of open narcissism that gives pleasure and invites others to play, or the furtive narcissism that takes itself too seriously to proclaim itself?
Wealth itself doesn't interest or impress me, although the beauty that wealth leaves in its wake does: art, finery, antiques, architecture, gardens, etc. Cliche as it may sound, I do think that class is a quality, not a tax bracket. That said, I don't expect to be mistaken for a member of society's upper echelons—I could never pass. Besides, being a fastidious dresser doesn't fool anyone; old money hasn't felt the need to dress up for at least a couple generations. If anything, my dress is the mark of a rascal on the make, a suspect character—which of course, I am. Unlike the blue-blooded brahmins, I have little to lose by being something of a peacock on occasion.
Like most creatures of my ilk, I'm what my friend James calls a working-class dreamer—an aesthete of modest means. I now manage to support myself as a creative jack-of-all-trades, but before this happy circumstance came to be, I held jobs that have left me with an assortment of minor physical complaints which inflict me to this very day: unloading trucks, cleaning toilets, running printing presses, nabbing shoplifters, flipping waffles and hamburgers, washing dishes, etc. Oh yes, dear reader: I've spent years in the gutter looking up at the stars. (Cue the sappy violin sweeps...)
I try to express my regard for others by not being an eyesore. If I thought I was making people feel small by way of my demeanor or appearance, I would be sincerely dismayed.
Our world is geared more towards working than living, so dressing in a relatively flamboyant yet formal manner will often surprise or confound the average person. I obviously don't work in a conventional office, nor am I a student or day laborer; I'm neither fish, nor fowl. This pleases Whimsy.
All that having been said, I'll always feel superior to cynics who immediately stomp on anything wholesome or gentle that crosses their path, likewise with overgrown teenagers who willfully act like perfect pigs because they think it's somehow daring or clever. (Not that it's a pet peeve, mind you.)
Aren't you trying a little too hard?
By contemporary standards, yes. The sartorial bar is presently set so low, that trying at all is going to be seen as "trying too hard." At the present time, a tee shirt and jeans is what's truly inconspicous, so dressing well in any way is going to call attention. Brummell's old adage that equated dressing well with being inconspicuous no longer holds true, if it ever did.
That said, I do think sprezzatura is sound policy. I observe it (except when I don't), but I am often annoyed that this ideal of effortless grace is misinterpreted as permission to be either an insufferable bore or a slob in expensive clothes. I feel that this lowering of expectations—this mandatory, aggressive casualness—has in itself become confining, for to dress in anything other than default attire or casual frumpwear is now viewed as "trying too hard" (even though it probably takes far more time to squeeze into a tight pair of designer jeans than it does a pair of nice trousers).
I oppose this cynical anti-aesthetic that forbids any effort at all: If one carefully maintains their appearance and is not harming a soul, what of it? Granted, one doesn't want to always overcook the ham, but dress is one of life's pleasures, and adding a touch of showmanship to one's attire can be great fun at times. It's good to artfully violate our own rules from time to time; it keeps things interesting.
The care I take towards my appearance is my admittedly quixotic way of making my own little corner of the world a more agreeable place; if nothing else, people can smile or chuckle about the odd, “overdressed" man they saw on the street that day. I can hardly take issue with people for occasionally finding me humorous when I too often find myself humorous. The laugh is on me. Enjoy.
Don’t all these flourishes and affectations make you a phony?
Interesting, this fixation people have on the ideal of authenticity--especially when authenticity itself is often just another kind of pose, and possibly the most insidious of them all.
So yes—I am a sincere phony. I am fully aware of the artifice I employ, but I hide myself in plain sight. Artifice is often born of deeply heartfelt impulses. One can be both inauthentic and sincere. One could say I'm more 'real' than most people, because the mask I wear was made by me, to fit the contours of my own personality. Most other people—artists, doctors, teachers—must wear masks that have been assigned to them.
As to the affectations and flourishes I employ, they are no more egregious than when Samuel Clemens started dressing in white suits and took up the riverboat-inspired pen name, “Mark Twain,” or when Benjamin Franklin played up the role of the avuncular rustic colonial by wearing beaver skin caps to charm the French out of their money. These men were playful in the way they presented themselves, but whatever airs they had adopted were based on what was native and essential to their personal character. There’s a difference between self-embellishment and the outright misrepresentation of oneself.
We all employ masks, which often reveal more than our faces ever could, because the masks openly declare to others what we love, and what we yearn to become.
Are you being ironic, or are you in fact just a complete turnip?
Irony would imply some sort of contempt on my part. I suppose that leaves the turnip option, eh? A naughty, wiggly turnip am I. (For those who are interested, this Frieze article written by Charlotte Taylor sheds a bit of light on the subject of “intellectual whimsy,” which differs from kitsh, irony, and camp. I think it comes close to describing the sensibility I try to express.)
Do you wish to return to the past? With the anachronistic garb you sometimes don, aren’t you trading in nostalgia?
I'm not a "neo-Victorian," and I'm not trying to live in some idealized past: The late Owen Jones sums up my own attitude towards nostalgia in his classic book, The Grammar of Ornament, in which he writes: "The principles discoverable in the works of the past belong to us; not so, the results."
It's about the qualities of a thing, not its age. For example: I don't view a highwheel bicycle as an antique or a nostalgic fetish. To me, it's a sculpture that can be propelled by a human being. I look past its period associations and take note of its qualities—healthy, quiet, sculptural, environmentally friendly—so to me, the highwheel is very modern, because it has qualities that are useful and desirable. The textures that attract me are fairly constant—light, humane, introspective, elegant, playful, etc—but I'm always looking for new ways to express them. If it intrigues, it sticks. If it nourishes, it stays.
My grievances against our current day should not be seen as a plea to return to the past, but rather as a call to adopt that which has worked well in the past, and create for ourselves a richer vision of the future than is currently offered us. I have a chapter in the book that deals with this topic, entitled Continuity vs. Nostalgia.
I see myself as a very modern person. I do enjoy donning anachronistic items on occasions when a little theatricality is called for, such as readings or a particularly festive party—but most of my wardrobe is quite modern. I’m not personally interested in walking the streets in head-to-toe period garb; to me, reenactment and dandyism are very different things.
Eclecticism is the soul of modernity, and it really matters little what the mix consists of. I feel we all have as much right to use antique items as we do the brand-new frock hanging in a shop window, so why not enjoy them and mix them up a bit? We must use what already exists to get to the new, don't we?.
(You're still reading this nonsense? Really?)
Isn't this website a kind of shrine to yourself and your own self-absorption?
Yes. Welcome to the internets.
Did you know from an early age you would end up the way you are now?
Yes. I was equal parts Huck Finn and Little Lord Fauntleroy—a feral sissy.
Do you practice any sort of spiritual/philosophical discipline?
I sometimes claim to be an agnostic druid, or a particularly gaudy quaker. Being in thrall of the natural, I do not profess any belief in the supernatural—unless doing so is very, very funny.
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Tuesday, 26 August 2008
The Earnestness and Whimsicalness of an American Grandee