Fashion and Death

A conversation on fashion, loss, and mortality, from Socrates to Alexander McQueen


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions


Contributing Institutions

Department of English, University of Pennsylvania


Jean-Michel Rabaté

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought and the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce "Fashion and Death, from Socrates to Alexander McQueen," a conversation with Gwenda-Lin Grewal, Jennifer Yusin, and Jean-Michel Rabaté, on Wednesday April 26, 2023 from 6:30-8pm. How, in these times of losses and heightened awareness of mortality for our loved ones and ourselves, can philosophy help when it returns to Greek meditations on this topic? Moreover, what has fashion, often seen as the art of the frivolous, to do with such serious and dramatic questions?

This conversation will move between Plato's meditation on the death of Socrates in dialogues like Euthydemus and Phaedo, and the question of fashion as explored by Grewal's Fashion | Sense: On Philosophy and Fashion, a genre-defying book that explodes our common assumptions about fashion. In her book, Grewal investigates fashion's connection to time, and the use of clothing, makeup, and style, including, the shrouds of words and thoughts, as both a shield against and herald of mortality. Indeed, fashion is deeper than it looks, and philosophy perhaps rather shallow in its suspicion of fashion's superficiality.

The same questions underpin Thinking of Death in Plato's Euthydemus: A Close Reading and New Translation. In Plato's dialogue, rhetoric and punning, the linguistic analogue to fashion, emerge via two diva sophists, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus. The sophists attempt to harness the power of speech so as to circumvent death in argument, and then they assassinate their interlocutors with laughter. Extreme sophistry appears like the frightening double of pure philosophy. Plato suggests that our longing to understand is soaked in a wish to transcend time with the perfect expression, as with the perfect outfit. Is it possible to think of human beings—or even to think—without fashion?

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Gwenda-lin Grewal is the Onassis Lecturer in Ancient Greek Thought and Language in the Department of Philosophy at the New School, New York. She is the author of Fashion / Sense: on philosophy and fashion (Bloomsbury, 2022), and Thinking of Death in Plato's Euthydemus: A Close Reading and New Translation (Oxford University Press, 2022).

She translated Plato's Phaedo, Center for Hellenic Studies, in 2018, and her translation of Plato's Cratylus, New Alexandria, is forthcoming. She has edited Poetic (Mis)quotations in Plato, Center for Hellenic Studies, 2022, and has published many essays, among which "A punk by any other name would smell as rotten" in Punk Rock and Philosophy, eds. Josh Heter and Richard Greene (Carus, 2022), "How Philosophers Look," Review of Nickolas Pappas's The Philosopher's New Clothes: The Theaetetus, the Academy, and Philosophy's Turn Against Fashion, Ancient Philosophy, 41, Spring 2021. She has been the recipient of the Blegen Research Fellowship in Greek and Roman Studies (Vassar College, 2019-20), the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Humanities (Yale University, 2010-12) and H.B. Earhart Doctoral Fellowship (2006-10).

Jennifer Yusin is a Professor in the department of English and Philosophy, and the Director of Women's and Gender Studies at Drexel University. She is a specialist psychoanalytic studies, LGBTQ+ studies, trans studies, and global modernisms. She has authored The Future Life of Trauma (Fordham UP, 2017), in which she studies traumatic experiences following the 1947 Partition of British India and post-genocide Rwanda. Her second book, forthcoming with Routledge Press, Transformations of Sexual Difference, presents a psychoanalytic interpretation of the differences between sex and gender. She has worked as an editor at the Journal of Modern Literature and translator of multiple texts on psychoanalysis published by Hermann Press in Paris. She is also a psychoanalyst in private practice in Philadelphia.

"For thinking of death has much to do with the death of thinking, understood not only as Socrates' conviction but that of our highest thoughts."

-- Gwenda-lin Grewal,Thinking of Death in Plato's Euthydemus: A Close Reading & New Translation (2022)

"Thanks to fashion, immortality has gone out of fashion, too."

-- Gwenda-lin Grewal, Fashion | Sense: On Philosophy & Fashion (2022)