Garments of Paradise
Wearable Discourse in the Digital Age
336 pp., 7 x 9 in, 103 figures
- Published: June 13, 2014
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A historical and critical view of wearable technologies that considers them as acts of communication in a social landscape.
Wearable technology—whether a Walkman in the 1970s, an LED-illuminated gown in the 2000s, or Google Glass today—makes the wearer visible in a technologically literate environment. Twenty years ago, wearable technology reflected cultural preoccupations with cyborgs and augmented reality; today, it reflects our newer needs for mobility and connectedness. In this book, Susan Elizabeth Ryan examines wearable technology as an evolving set of ideas and their contexts, always with an eye on actual wearables—on clothing, dress, and the histories and social relations they represent. She proposes that wearable technologies comprise a pragmatics of enhanced communication in a social landscape. “Garments of paradise” is a reference to wearable technology's promise of physical and mental enhancements.
Ryan defines “dress acts”—hybrid acts of communication in which the behavior of wearing is bound up with the materiality of garments and devices—and focuses on the use of digital technology as part of such systems of meaning. She connects the ideas of dress and technology historically, in terms of major discourses of art and culture, and in terms of mass media and media culture, citing such thinkers as Giorgio Agamben, Manuel De Landa, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. She examines the early history of wearable technology as it emerged in research labs; the impact of ubiquitous and affective approaches to computing; interaction design and the idea of wearable technology as a language of embodied technology; and the influence of open source ideology. Finally, she considers the future, as wearing technologies becomes an increasingly naturalized aspect of our social behavior.
Garments of Paradise gives an impressive overview of wearable technology as an evolving set of ideas within a range of historical and social contexts. Susan Elizabeth Ryan investigates wearables as part of a complex language of dress that has always involved technology and establishes a critical context by drawing on the writings of theorists and philosophers. The book makes an invaluable contribution to shaping the discourse on wearable technologies as a cultural phenomenon embedded in social behavior, communication, and display.
Christiane Paul, Associate Professor, School of Media Studies, The New School; Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts, Whitney Museum of American Art
With Susan Elizabeth Ryan, we're leaving behind fashion retromania for techno-textile designs. Ryan gives us a break from the guilt over sustainability and the obsession with new materials, exposing us to the aesthetics of technology itself and its multiple prehistories. Equipped with the latest theoretical insights, Ryan delivers a who's who of the wearable tech scene. Garments of Paradise teaches us to distinguish wearables from smart phones, Google Glass devices, and Twitter Dresses.
Geert Lovink, Institute of Network Cultures
Susan Elizabeth Ryan weaves an n-dimensional critical analysis of wearable computing that is extensive and highly researched. She presents a multiperspective approach to knowledge production focused on the body in relation to the multifaceted potentials of computation—from function, to form, to erotics. She articulates a technomadic continuum that moves from the affective to mentions of medicine, the military, miniaturization, and on to the material interface, always with a focused and refocusing accretive critical eye. From fashion to pure function, to hybrids and beauty—all is in an authored/coded becoming.
Bill Seaman, Media Researcher and Artist; Professor, Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Duke University
Susan Elizabeth Ryan's impressive critical analysis conveys multiple perspectives that enable imagination to travel across time. Garments of Paradise extends and updates knowledge of the forces that transform social ideology, behaviour and consumption, along with our primal instinct to ward off evils: to look and feel good.