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books modernism quotidiana

Homage to Jay

from Blast 1, edited by Wyndham Lewis (1914)

Largely indifferent to my hair, I went to cheap barbers most of my life. After an emotional crash a couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to spend money on a haircut, more money than I would usually.

I found a salon – it’s the only word – and although in part this was about asserting a new identity and look to try and do away with the immediate past, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted, and ended up spending more on the same haircut.

Certainly more than sixpence.

It was a good haircut though. It made me feel a little better and grew out well, and I’ve gone back ever since. In fact I had my haircut there just this morning.

The quality of the haircut has varied according to the person doing it.

But since I found Jay, he is the only one who can cut my hair. Jay is golden.

He is meticulous in his attentions, and carefully formal in how he approaches the different areas of my skull.

He pins up the longer hair on the top of my head with clips, and attends to the sides with his scissors and razor, so that in the mirror, with my widow’s peak pattern baldness growing more evident with every day, I appear like a corrupt or hapless middle-aged character in a Kurosawa film.

And most important of all, apart from a greeting and one or two efficient queries to do with my wishes, he says not a word.

As my haircut is not at all complicated, and in fact rather dull, it is impossible to say whether what I perceive to be the quality of the haircut is perceptible by others, though as in art, I suspect small efforts and details add to an overall effect without being perceived.

Increasingly I feel the value to be one of ritual however. The attentiveness and care, and the returning to an area to clip, cut and lightly grazed until it is satisfactory, is what comprises the value.

Like shoes, haircuts seem to me to have an intrinsic value greater than some other elements of style and presentation.

This is late 19th C bourgeois ideology, and while Wyndham Lewis’ interest is that of the modernist artist bringing formal processes of delineation, division and abstraction to the wild and incoherent Nature of the Romantics, the page in Blast represents an intersection of modernism with that late 19th Century bourgeois/imperial ideology.

Bless Jay. I live in fear of the day he goes.

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