Friday, August 30, 2019

No One Can Tell: On the Divine Style of Meher Baba

Divinity is not devoid of humanity. Spirituality must make man more human. It is a positive attitude of releasing all that is good, noble and beautiful in man. It also contributes to all that is gracious and lovely in the environment.
– Meher Baba

We want selfless design in life.
– Princess Norina Matchabelli

Throughout his dynamic and multi-phased life, Meher Baba (1894-1969) used various kinds of dress, both eastern and western, and exhibited distinctive manners, most conspicuously his signature pink coat, unique sign language, and forty-four-year-long silence.[1] First impression? The singular constellation of these three simple features spontaneously serves to accentuate the mystery of style as a gestural power at the boundary of speech and silence, a visible language grounded in the palpable presence of the invisible. As Max Picard writes, “silence is not visible yet its existence is clearly apparent. It extends to the farthest distances, yet is so close to us that we can feel it as concretely as we feel our own bodies.”[2] Meher Baba’s silence, as the primary medium of his supremely active life, presents a similar paradox—so natural and close as to pass unseen, so deep and vast as to astonish. Silence is the style of his style, the cloak of his fashion, so let us begin there, at this limitless boundary, like the hem of an infinite garment. As C. B. Purdom, Meher Baba’s first biographer, observes in The God-Man, “Is it not terrifying that Baba should have maintained silence all these nearly forty years? For silence is the abyss, or the very edge of the abyss. In the ordinary way in silence we come dangerously near the gap of meaninglessness, in which nothing has a name or a rightful place. To me it is astonishing that a man should look into the darkness so long, and should live; it shrouds Baba with the deepest mystery.”[3]
In the world of high fashion, around the mannequin silence of the model, absence of speech serves to foreground appearance, subsume individuality within the cosmopolitan power of a look, and guard the overall spell of glamour, which archaically means “the magic power of imposing on the eyesight of the spectators, so that the appearance of an object shall be totally different from the reality.”[4] As we read in the mission statement of Silent Models, a top New York agency, “Each and every one of our models is carefully selected by our international team, who ensure that each contributes in a significant and unique way to our aesthetic.”[5] Here silence is the sound of “glamour labor,” the captivated and captivating work of allure—an arachnid silence of enchantments spun in threads of relation, as Otto von Busch observes: “The fashionista is no victim of fashion, no slave, but a subservient and laboring worshipper of sensual esoterrorism with a beast stalking in pleasant guise . . . The allure, moment pierced, the silent stream of dark webs.”[6]
As glamour (cognate with grammar) and allure (from *lothran, ‘to call’), like spell (from *spel-, ‘to say aloud, recite’), both concern the threshold of speech, their concepts reflect the nature of fashion’s magic as grounded in the silence through which images speak, precisely by being both existent and non-existent, betweenly outside both subjects and objects, elsewhere.[7] Such is the “grand secret of . . .  mirrors,” that “every image—a sensate form as such—is the existence of a form outside of its proper place. Any form and any thing that ends up existing outside of its own place becomes an image.[8] The imaginal topology of fashion, as desire for lovely forms forever out of place (cf. Narcissus), for the ecstasy of being in fashion, is bound by the desire for beauty not accidentally or simply because beauty is desirable, but more precisely because beauty fills the space between silence and language: “Image are silent, but they speak in silence. They are a silent language. They stand on the frontier where silence and language face each other closer than anywhere else, but the tension between them is resolved by beauty.”[9] As every image, speaking in silence, both is and is not, so “Fashion’s question is not that of being, but rather it is simultaneously being and nonbeing; it always stands on the watershed of the past and the future and, as a result, conveys to us, at least while it is at its height, a stronger sense of the present than do most other phenomena.”[10] The extra presentness of fashion, the newness of its place, is possible only through a silent forgetting or tacit ignoring of the difference between the elsewhereness of images and the otherworldliness of beauty, in other words, the magical illusion—so easily broken—that this extra present moment, rapt in the glow of glamour, is eternal.
As surely in some fashion it is! For as Dante shows from Purgatory’s terrace of pride, inverting the ancient concept of painting as silent poetry in the mirror of his text, our enchantment with the novelty of images, inseparable from their power to speak, is in reality a relation to something unspeakably ancient, beyond time: “He in whose sight nothing is new produced this visible speech [visibile parlare], novel to us because it is not found here.”[11] The divinity of fashion, its putative ‘timelessness’, is a species of negative eternity bearing like a shadow or trace the true presence of the eternal as actus purus, the infinite actuality of reality itself. Thus Nietzsche, praising the profound superficiality of the Greeks, calls us back in The Gay Science to the paradoxically divine height of appearances: “They knew how to live: what is needed for that is to stop bravely at the surface, the fold, the skin; to worship appearance, to believe is shapes, tones, words—in the whole Olympus of appearance!”[12] And Meher Baba: “If you don’t want to be old before you really ought to become old, be cheerful in deed, thought, word and in appearance—most of all in appearance . . . It is a divine art to look always cheerful. It is a divine quality. It helps others.”[13] Fashion is forever, temporally eternal and eternally temporary, an irreplaceable medium whereby the world never ceases renewing itself in ways we can never properly anticipate. So in 1929, Meher Baba commented at length on the importance of his external style for his spiritual work: “mark my mode and taste for dressing. I wore that black [kamli] coat with a hundred patches for years. I also wore the chappals until the last moment when their original material had been totally replaced. And now you see that I have had a new coat sewn and wear it with new shoes and stockings, keeping myself well-dressed, spruce, and tip-top — quite the reverse of what I had been doing. And who knows, perhaps I may one day give up all these clothes and remain only in a langoti, or even stark naked! No one can tell. Sadgurus and Perfect Masters, even though Realized, have their own ways of living and working . . . So each one maintains some definite mode for a long time. My style is quite different. I often change my food and attire, and there are reasons behind it. Even this external mode of living has connection with my inner working for the world.”[14]
How then to measure the style of an individual who says of himself, “He who knows everything, displaces nothing. To each one, I appear to be what he thinks I am”?[15] Immediately one senses in the atmosphere of Meher Baba’s silence that withholding of voice indexes a totally different order of identity, the mystery of absolute individuality, of the One who is and tells all: “I tell you all with my Divine authority, that you and I are not ‘We’, but ‘One’.”[16] This silence is also the sound of a labor, not of absorption into an aesthetic, but of an all-inclusive behind-the-scenes universal activity which connects inner and outer, apparent and hidden: “I speak eternally. The voice that is heard deep within the soul is my voice, the voice of inspiration, of intuition, of guidance. Through those who are receptive to this voice, I speak. My outward silence is not a spiritual exercise; it has been undertaken and maintained solely for the good of the world. God has been everlastingly working in silence, unobserved, unheard—except by those who experience his infinite silence.”[17] Indeed the energy, attentiveness, and expressiveness of Meher Baba’s overall life-activity and manner, all the ways he communicated without speaking, often gave the impression that he did and there are many stories of people who “hardly noticed he was silent,”[18] just as Baba himself said, “How can I be silent? I don't speak with my tongue. I speak continuously with my heart.”[19]
High fashion vs. Highest of the High fashion. The silence of the former promises to elevate identity via participation in a transhistorical cultural medium that elitely speaks for it, as if selecting the subject from the noisy crowd of so many who are not so destined: “Not only is the consumer going to be reborn into a higher personal manifestation, but as the narcissist L’Oreal slogan goes, it is ‘because I’m worth it’ (and implicitly that means others are not). With each new fashion I am reborn, reincarnated into a higher form; more pure, more perfect. And only I am truly worth it.”[20] The silence of the latter, working to liberate one from illusory phenomena of births and deaths, reverberates with the imminent emergence of the divinity within every subject: “When I break my silence, the impact of my love will be universal and all life in creation will know, feel and receive of it. It will help every individual to break himself free from his own bondage in his own way. I am the Divine Beloved who loves you more than you can ever love yourself.”[21] The silence of the former is an invisibility whose presence tends towards disappearance, neither extending ‘to the farthest distances’ nor felt concretely ‘as we feel our own bodies’ but rather compressed and woven into the luminosity of the glamourous image or event whose texture and effect the breaking of silence threatens to unravel: “When models break their silence, their testimonies ‘dispel’ glamour as a carefully crafted fiction.”[22] Moreover, insofar as silent models and their images exist as aesthetic selections, their silence (as emblematized in the photo chosen for its perfectly parted/pouting mouth) echoes with the virtual noise of a sea of counter-actualities, just as every attempt at sprezzatura or spontaneous naturalness is haunted by its own intentionality and artifice. But the silence of the latter, of One beyond number, is absolutely natural, being identical with the true and actual silence of all images and identities, in unity with the essential unspeakability of the real self in all, the one only the breaking of that silence will reveal: “I am the Ancient One. When I break my silence, the world will know who I am. Let us play now!”[23] This is also maybe why it is impossible to find a bad photo of Meher Baba, because no camera ever caught him talking. High fashion silence promises itself to remain unbroken, but never does, always breaking its promise. Highest of the High fashion silence promises to break itself, yet never does, paradoxically keeping its promise alive by not keeping it, by letting the promise itself forever speak.  
The difference is felt. In contrast to the austere silence of the fashion exemplar, whose affect is characteristically cold—“Style is a wave of frozen silence, the lamentation caused by the mating of humanity and eternity”[24]—Meher Baba’s silence flows with the sweetness of a being who stands freely at the center of all activity, inside and outside of time, who holds the line of the true boundary of all human talk. “If you were to ask me why I do not speak, I would say I am not silent, and that I speak more eloquently through gestures and the alphabet board. If you were to ask me why I do not talk, I would say, mostly for three reasons. Firstly, I feel that through you all I am talking eternally. Secondly, to relieve the boredom of talking incessantly through your forms, I keep silence in my personal physical form. And thirdly, all talk in itself is idle talk. Lectures, messages, statements, discourses of any kind, spiritual or otherwise, imparted through utterances or writings, is just idle talk when not acted upon or lived up to.”[25] In considering the fashion/silence intersection, we must always keep in mind the kind and degree of activity that moves through it, remembering that the nature of one’s appearance or species is itself vital to existence, that “living beings could almost be defined as the entities that constitute themselves in the medium of [self-presentation].”[26] In turn, self-presentation has everything to do with how one speaks and how one is silent, with the design of the heart which appears, however worn, on your sleeve.  
One of the most salient aspects of Meher Baba’s style of action was the deep sensitivity and sheer human warmth of his presence. An illustrative anecdote is provided by Don Stevens in his introduction to God Speaks: “God has never spoken to me, but I am sure that I have seen Him act in human form. That is the only manner in which I can explain the incredible sensitivity of action and reaction which characterized Meher Baba during those brief periods on a Saturday afternoon in New York when I first saw him in action.”[27] He goes on to describe how, in the midst of a busy and changing scene, Baba inexplicably mirrored a hand gesture (the circular sign of perfection) which Don had made three times outside of Baba’s line of sight, confirming in each instance his responding gesture with a more direct gaze, expressing his awareness of Don also when his back was turned. Far beyond the apparent magic, the moment indexes Meher Baba’s “complete ability not only to understand but, in some manner, to be one’s own self.”[28] So God Speaks, which Meher Baba dictated letter by letter in silence “to appease the intellectual convulsions of the mind of man” and dedicated “To the Universe—the Illusion that sustains Reality,” begins: “All souls (atmas) were, are and will be in the Over-Soul (Paramatma). Souls (atmas) are all One. All souls are infinite and eternal. They are formless.”[29] In the formless light of infinite individuality, all forms reflect each other. Or as Ibn Arabi says, “O marvel! a garden amidst fires! / My heart has become capable of every form.”[30]
Here we find a supreme form of “fanera . . . the secret capacity of every animal to transform its nature into fashion, to overturn its own substance into mannerism,”[31] a manner so divinely and lovingly complete that it gives itself to the other as the sensitivity of one’s own infinite self. Far beyond his charm, Meher Baba’s style is one that awakens into unfathomable affective unity seer and seen, as in an infinity mirror of recognition. “You and I remain divided by no other veil than you yourself, that is, the ‘I’ in you.”[32] Seeing that “fashion acts simultaneously as a prosthesis of the imagination and a physical extension of the body,”[33] a medium wherethrough seeing and being seen interface and play each other’s position around the simultaneously extro- and intromissive energy of the look, one glimpses here the potential of a gravitational order of attraction free from the duality of acceptance/rejection, one where the winner and loser of the fashion gamble both win because each is no less lost to the unitary play of life: “Is it anybody’s fault if one finds oneself on the right side of things or the wrong side of things? No! Every human being has come to serve and achieve a definite purpose, and by playing his part to perfection he automatically works out his own salvation.”[34]
Since fashion is a gamble, a game in which “my sense of self changes as it is set to play, from the deep body-schema of proprioception to the socialized ideal self,”[35] so the whole game itself is forever open to be being played on par with life—“The whole life is like playing the game of hide and seek, in which you must find your real self”[36]—and gambled upon its ultimate horizon, the impossible and inevitable limit where becoming what you are converges with being God: “When the soul comes out of the ego-shell and enters into the infinite life of God, its limited individuality is replaced by unlimited individuality. The soul knows that it is God-conscious and thus preserves its individuality. The important point is that individuality is not entirely extinguished, but it is retained in the spiritualised form.”[37] The unboundedness of fashion, the impossibility of saying where fashion begins or ends, is of a piece with the divine unity of life and the correlative interconnectedness of all things: “there is no unbridgeable gulf separating the finer aspects of nature from its gross aspect. They all interpenetrate one another and exist together.”[38] More specifically, there is no definitive separation in the sensible life of beings between clothing and embodiment: “Clothing does not stand opposite the body. It is merely a second or minor body, in the same way that the organic body, according to ancient Platonic theology, is the first clothing of the soul . . . The anatomical body and clothing . . . are two poles of the same reality.”[39] So there is no limit to the life of fashion, which is interwoven with the evolution of individualized consciousness or the soul as it undertakes the endless adventure of realizing itself via identification and disidentification with innumerable forms. As Krishna tells Arjuna on the battlefield, “Just as you throw out used clothes / and put on other clothes, new ones, / the Self discards its used bodies / and puts on others that are new.”[40] The universe is a fashion show. 

And the more fashion penetrates technically into anatomical bodies (as it always already has at least since Adam and Eve were pierced with navels), the more visible and actualized the ancient analogy becomes, above all in the imaginal sphere wherein the “boundary, ostensibly dividing body and clothing, is permanently dissolved.”[41] Indeed in this present age where, as Baba says, “the mirror literally and figuratively has become such a seemingly indispensable part of modern life” and “the best that most can do is to try to look the part they play,”[42] fashion itself is revealed as a phantasmagoric reflection of the authentic, avataric narcissism of the divine: “There can be no doubt as to the narcissism of fashion’s project: this is an image of fashion incarnate . . . the synthetic ideal in the fashion photograph is the apotheosis of fashion, and from its deified position it creates an avatar of itself . . . it turns to itself as the ideal and creates something ‘nearer to its heart desire’. Something that is beyond perfection.”[43] Yet to see this, one need follow glamor’s glow beyond itself and step boldly into the mirror, beyond fashion’s circumscribed—and into its uncircumscribable—me-ness: “The fact that God being One, Indivisible and equally in us all, we can be nought else but one, is too much for the duality-conscious mind to accept. Yet each of us is what the other is. I know I am the Avatar in every sense of the word, and that each one of you is an Avatar in one sense or the other . . . God . . . is the Creator, the Producer, the Actor and the Audience in His own Divine Play.”[44]
Given that “to engage in fashion is to go for a quotidian adventure, challenge the world for a small quake of the soul,”[45] we must affirm all the more the spiritual infinity of fashion’s gamble, its being of a piece with the universal nature of life as play of a divinely sovereign Self for whom quality so rules over quantity such that everything is simultaneously totally expendable and utterly precious: “Spiritual infinity includes in its scope all phases of life. It comprises acts which are great as well as acts which are small. Being greater than the greatest, spiritual infinity is also smaller than the smallest, and it can equally express itself through happenings irrespective of whether they are outwardly small or great. Thus a smile or a look stands on the same level as offering one’s life for a cause.”[46] Above all, as entities divinely embodied in fashion by the miracle of existence—“Never was there a time / when I did not exist, or you, / or these kings; nor will there come / a time when we cease to be”[47]—all are called by the very fact of this embodiment to live fearlessly and honestly in one’s best carefree style. As Meher Baba said with reference to a longtime disciple who habitually preferred his old tattered and patched clothes: “People die in all sorts of ways but it is nothing to be upset about; they are born again and again in different gross bodies. But during one’s lifetime, one should do whatever one honestly feels without getting attached to actions. Changing bodies between lifetimes is similar to changing a coat. Some die young . . . some live long lives. They do not change their coats often, like Gustadji. But when Gustadji was with me on the recent trip to the West, he became well dressed and maintained a neat and clean appearance.”[48] The nature of eternal existence is simply such that it demands fashion, fresh styles, new manners of appearing.
What is the step of divine style that does not pump and build up the futile, limited ego but instead lights the path of the self’s passage to its own unlimited individuality? Whose is the glamour that glows with a power more your own than you, a beauty that dazzles no less without than within, specularly reversing the process of perception towards a vaster new viewpoint that need “not be overpowered by the spectacle of the multi-form universe”?[49] Where is the true fashion of absolute honesty, the pure scene where no one tries to pose as more or less than what he really is, the spiritually natural sprezzatura, neither proud nor modest, the simple manner of “true greatness . . . free from camouflage” and “true humility [which] is not acquired by merely donning a garb of humility . . . [but] spontaneously and continually emanates from the strength of the truly great”?[50] As Don Stevens wrote, and emphasized for the remainder of his life: “In the long run each one of us is searching for a deep inner sense of satisfaction and peace, a feeling of being contained in some presence which is trustworthy and loving, for a spontaneous understanding and response to our innermost needs. Above all we need to be ourselves and to be accepted completely for ourselves. The deep response which Meher Baba elicits from so many people is due to that undreamed-of sensitivity to one’s most profound self.”[51]
Following the impulse of this anecdote, I will in the course of this essay attempt to draw out the fashion lesson of Meher Baba’s style around the principles of simplicity, spontaneity, service, and simplicity, in order to think and imagine fashion in the direction of a divinely inverted selfishness wherein the fashion statement works less to uphold than to invert separative identities, suspending us in a mirror within the silent unity of reality—a no-one-can-tell fashion wherethrough the visible speech of glamor is folded through itself into the intimate horizon of limitless silence that silences no one and is never afraid to speak. At the same time, I am acutely aware of the futility of trying to capture this style in words, given the radical love and spiritual self-recognition which this divine human being, and simply his photograph, has inspired in so many individuals. What demands emphasis here is the sheer mystery which Meher Baba embodied, a mystery which again and again reappears in stories and testimonies as something simply inexplicable, a je ne sais quoi of divine style so enchanting that people found themselves loving and devoting themselves to him irrespective of any spiritual interest or lack thereof. As Chanji, Baba’s secretary for twenty years, wrote in his diary in the last year of his life: “Baba’s greatest hold on all is his love. Something indefinable and inexplicable that attracts all to him. In spite of his mysterious ways of handling things—which none can grasp; in spite of his various promises unfulfilled . . . through other difficulties in life . . . disappointments and dejections that at times render life meaningless and worthless. What is that subtle charm that attracts all, equally to him? None can define nor explain, yet it is a fact of facts!”[52] Norina Matchabelli’s experience of meeting Meher Baba in New York in 1931 is exemplary:  

I doubt whether that experience can be expressed in words. I had heard about him, but I remained skeptical . . . I entered the room in which Baba was sitting surrounded by followers and disciples. That very moment, an experience began, full of wonder and beauty. Suddenly I had to run across the room and I found myself weeping on the floor at his feet. Weeping, weeping! Oh, how I was weeping! But I also began to laugh, and the streams running down my cheeks and the outbursts of laughter became one. I was resting my head on Baba’s hand, and my whole body was shaking with terrific sobs of liberation. Eventually, I quieted down. Baba then took my face between his hands and looked at me for a long time into one of my eyes, and then into the other, and then back into the first eye. Then he spoke to me via the alphabet board. His first words were: “I am man and woman and child. I am sexless.” He then paused for a while, brought his face nearer to mine and spelled out, “Have no fear.”[53]

Jean Adriel recalls Norina’s transformation: “Something extraordinary had apparently happened to her since I had last seen her . . . She then told me that ever since the moment Baba’s feet had touched the shores of America she had done nothing but weep. She had been compelled to cancel all of her social engagements. The old hauteur of sophistication was replaced by child-like wonder.”[54]
The path of Norina’s life is itself an incredible crisscross of glamour and spirituality, a miracle on the threshold of divine silence well worth lingering over. A silent film actress (a.k.a. Maria Carmi) renowned for performing the Virgin Mary as a statue come to life in Max Reinhardt’s spectacular production of her first husband Karl Vollmöller’s The Miracle (1911), her spiritual-aristocratic beauty lent mystique to the perfume company whose iconic bottle she designed and later, after the death of Prince Georges in 1935, “spontaneously gave her share [of] to Baba.”[55]

The performance, which cured Norina of tuberculosis and which she would repeat over a thousand times, was experienced by her as a process of communicating or channeling divinity via imitation: “I became the medium of the unfathomable will of the Mother principle, performing through me in ways I was unconscious of . . . The compassionate Mother so often spoke within me in verse while moving on the stage. The verse, prompting emotion, increased the intense experience, and her word in love released in me a rhythm that created the aloof step for which so many artists, teachers, interviewed me and tried to understand and wanted to adopt . . . This performance arose unexpected soul benefits—the Compassionate Mother through me healed. I have seen with my own eyes the blue light’s vibrations pouring out of my inner core and reaching some unknown subject in the audience and be consciously received. I have been through her grace—throughout the performance of this long-lasting play—her imitation.”[56] Revealing the spontaneous turn of divine style in the mode of “spiritual pantomime,”[57] we see here an artistic-contemplative process of mystical fashion marked by a series of steps: posing silently as a sacred statue, hearing a divine voice within, being moved by the verse it speaks, receiving a rhythm from those words, turning the rhythm into a step, transmitting through this movement a healing light to others. The way of these steps is the façon whereby Norina embodied in medieval fashion the ancient luminescent ideal of sartorially divine beauty: “Thou art clothed with honor and majesty, who coverest thyself with light as with a garment” (Psalms 104:1-2).[58] That is, the spiritual experience is not merely a private or subjective passion within the playing of the role, but its very manner, precisely how she played the part which called for “standing perfectly still, statue-like, for extended periods of time, and then convincingly enacting the transformation from hieratic statue to the warm, feeling figure of Mary, a metamorphosis conveyed entirely through silent movement.”[59] And this inner-outer transformation is also essentially about dress, for the Madonna comes to life by laying aside the robes adorning her statue and putting on the habit of a nun in order to take her place in the convent after she runs off with a knight.[60] As the Holy Mother effectively incarnates as the wayward nun, playing her role in life by dressing her divinity in the nun’s outward form, so was Norina’s performative experience a kind of miraculous conception of her own spiritual self, a “tremendous shock given to my creative urge of living,” a “shock-like event brought [which] about the turning point in my life.”[61] Decades later, Meher Baba would reveal to Norina that she had twice been his mother and once his father (St. Joseph) in previous lives, nicknaming her Noorjehan (‘Light of the World’) and addressing her in maternal terms, “Beloved Mother, Noorjehan darling,” as well as assuring her, in 1934, “You have to share in my suffering,” as later transpired, most intensely in the period of Meher Baba’s car accident in 1952.[62]
The continuing steps of Norina’s experience appear to reverberate with echoes of this shock, to glow with the spiritual glamour of a performative instrumental power, a capacity for communicatively embodying the light of the divine in a stylish form paradoxically expressed through the loving laying aside of her statuesque, sophisticated status. In 1926 she co-founded, with  Frederick Kiesler and Bess Mensendieck, the Brooklyn International Theater Arts Institute, contributing “theories on psychoanalysis and autosuggestion to the institute’s acting program,” believing “acting to be an art of ‘co-relation’ between the brain, soul, and body modeled through an art of training where ‘inborn unconscious talent’ can be studied and enacted ‘consciously.’”[63] After travelling and working with Meher Baba during the 1930s, Norina returned to America in 1941 with only one of the fifty dresses she had taken with her (a black one from Vionnet’s). Her lifestyle had changed, as she explained to the press: “Once I couldn’t sleep on a bed unless it cost a certain price. Now, I turn as a flower toward the sun . . . When I look back on my former life with all of its complications and worries I can see I was a crazy old fool. Through Meher Baba I have become an entirely different world citizen. I’m a young and happy woman.”[64] Living now with two other Baba-lovers in a Manhattan apartment, “Norina took the smallest room in the house, wore very simple clothing, often in black, and dedicated herself to Meher Baba’s work.”[65] Her changed state—simplified, rejuvenated, happy, turning like a black flower to the sun—conveys, in keeping with Baba’s statement above about the ‘divine art’ of cheerful appearance, a sense of the spiritual paradox of divine style as a form of authentic, absolutely honest artifice. During this period, in addition to scouting locations for and co-founding the Meher Spiritual Center, Norina devoted herself to writing and lecturing in New York City via “thought-transmission,” a method or practice of receiving divine messages through what she termed “White Light Short Wave.”[66] The public presentations, given with Baba’s approval and blessing, were a kind of mediumistic communication introduced by Norina on one occasion thus: “I am transmitting to you a direct message which is just as simple as a radio message. It is from my beloved Master, Meher Baba, in India through me here in New York . . . His voice comes through the etheric ear which is above the physical ear . . . I might be said in this moment to become Divine as he transmits his voice through me. Unfortunately I am unable to change faces or temperament . . . he uses me as I am. My nature and subtler intellectual intuition are definitely useful to him. The only difference is that instead of me using me in my temperament, he uses it. He wills my temperament and other spiritual characteristics.”[67] Again one sees here the stylistic pattern of the divine as something invisible that spontaneously speaks all at once in gross, subtle, and mental form, via image, gesture, affect, thought. During her lectures, for which “she required the use of a high-backed Italian chair, with large wooden arms, covered in a yellow-olive velvet”—and a taxi that could fit it—Norina’s “facial features were suffused with a spiritual beauty, which one observer likened to the head of Christ in Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper.”[68] As Agamben observes, “One must consent to Genius and abandon oneself to him; one must grant him everything he asks for . . .  Even is his—our!—requirements seem unreasonable and capricious, it is best to accept them without argument . . . a certain special pen . . . that blue linen shirt.”[69]
It is written in The Cloud of Unknowing that the work of contemplation has the power to “suddenly and graciously” transform the appearance of even “the ugliest man or woman alive.”[70] The charm of Norina’s story in this context concerns how such inner spiritual work interfaces with a person of great natural beauty, grace, and sophisticated elegance, how inner and outer glamour truly intercommunicate and harmonize, not seamlessly or perfectly as in an ideal actualized, but more naturally and spontaneously across the abyss of real longing, in the midst of living on the bridge of sighs, through all the cosmic and social tensions of high and low. The painter Anita de Caro recalls of her close friend, “Norina . . . had great beauty, she had culture, she had a romantic theatrical attitude towards things. Everything for her had to have style . . . But really, in her heart there was the longing and desire for something that she herself didn’t know . . . because of always wanting the high and not realizing it had to be low, you can see what she had to go through . . . the God she was looking for was a God she saw only in the high, and she couldn’t see it in the low, so how difficult it was for her, only for Baba could she accept it.”[71] Similarly in the account of Rom Landau, who met Norina in the early 30s, we see a subtle but unmistakable tension between the heavenly and earthly, eternal and temporal—the beauty of a fading beauty unfading: “She had been celebrated for her beauty, and she still possessed one of the most striking appearances I had ever encountered. She had an infectious zest for life, but she also revealed a certain spiritual quality . . . When I met her in New York the passion of the great actress had not left her . . . Even her eyes and her hands were vocal. A disciplined rhythm controlled the movements of her body; her black silk dress clung tight to her figure, and to relieve the sombreness of her dress there were ropes of pearls round her neck.”[72] In sum, Norina’s style, informed by the intensity of love, is that of someone who divinely plays the game of life, the role of oneself, a part perforce performed in the blindness of unknowing who one is, in the joy and suffering of not being who one really is, of living in the separation of self from Self. One of her manuscripts, entitled “I Am Blind of God,” begins and ends, “The life that we live is small and unreal . . . LIFE is the ROMANCE of I with GOD.”[73] So her telegram with Anita to Baba, received in Paris after his departure from New York in 1931, both calls across and closes the gulf between finitude and infinity, as if desperate for an impossible agency already underway: “LOVE SPEAKS US LOVE ACTS US WE TRY TO USE IN ALL WAYS ITS USE STOP . . .  MOTHERS SPIRIT ILLUMINATED TOWARDS BABA STOP COMPLETELY IN YOU NORINA ANITA.”[74]
The divine style we are stepping towards is less a style of self-adorning consumption and display than a style of loving service and action. Yet in the spirit of play, there is space for the opposition to disappear, precisely because the glamour of the self’s divine game is all about the emergence, or coming into external form, of something other than one’s action or its result, something found in the depth of silence. Perhaps Meher Baba had in mind his “darling mummy” when he spoke of this mysterious element in terms of a scent: “To penetrate into the essence of all being and significance and to release the fragrance of that inner attainment for the guidance and benefit of others, by expressing, in the world of forms, truth, love, purity and beauty—this is the sole game which has intrinsic and absolute worth. All other happenings, incidents and attainments in themselves can have no lasting importance.”[75] In light of the ultimate unimportance of all activities other than this penetration and release, the competitive currency of fashion, high and low, is utterly and immediately free from servility to itself, from being a cultish worshipper of its own reification, to serve as an instrument of divine fragrance. It is always the energy, the expressive activation of an inner power, that counts, as seen in the perfect polysemy of bomb as applied to acts of fashion, denoting the detonation of either total failure or total success. For the sphere of fashion, as in spiritual life which “is not a matter of quantity but of inherent quality of living,”[76] is precisely where success and failure, winning and losing, may spontaneously become each other. “Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). Leaving twenty hats in India, Norina returns to New York bareheaded, buys a cheap one on the street, and bumps into an old acquaintance: “She was elegant in the latest hat, the newest style dress. She asked me where I’d bought my hat. She said it looked so chic.”[77] Correlatively, Meher Baba spoke of the spiritual power of his words as working independently of whether or not they are understood, in other words, as the pure and total fashion of their own divine silence: “You must understand that whenever Baba [referring to himself] gives out words for his lovers to use and read, he attaches a spiritual energy to them—something like an atomic spiritual bomb! Then, when one reads those words, even if he does not understand even one word of what he reads, a part of the spiritual energy will be absorbed by that person. And this energy will be very important for that person in his spiritual progress.”[78] It is similarly senseless to speak of spiritual fashion in the sense of the development of a spiritual style in fashion. Fashion embraces all of life and there lies its profound affinity with the life of the spirit, which “knows no artificial limits” and like fashion is never  bound to any particular style: “True spirituality is not to be mistaken for an exclusive enthusiasm for some fad. It is not concerned with any ‘ism.’ When people seek spirituality apart from life, as if it had nothing to do with the material world, their search is futile. All creeds and cults have a tendency to emphasise some fragmentary aspect of life, but true spirituality is totalitarian in its outlook.”[79] Highest of the High fashion is not the opposite of high fashion—it is the highest. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
What is the fragrance of fashion’s ‘frozen wave of silence’ melting in the light of Meher Baba’s style, dissolving in tears of love like Princess Matchabelli into his Noorjehan? “Walking through the streets, the Princess wonders if it can be she. ‘I am an entirely different person,’ she declared. ‘I am liberated.’”[80] What are the forms of real connection or vital flows between the sphere of fashion and Meher Baba’s mysterious charm? Following Norina’s example, we are seeking here the spirit of a divine style through which fashion channels itself 1) in spontaneity, according to an inner, intuitive rhythm—“love released in me a rhythm,” 2) in simplicity, according to a proper and pleasing measure—“I turn as a flower toward the sun,” and 3) in service, according to the practical, living unity of life—“Love speaks us, love acts us, we try to use in all ways its use.” A glamour that comes alive, giving life, awake to the rhythm of own healing gift. As Norina wrote in her Manifesto of 1936, “We want the world’s New Awakening. / We want the world to be without dispute. / We want tolerance. / We want selfless design in life. / We want union between mind and heart.”[81] Fashion itself is inherently a manifestation of freedom, of life living as it pleases. It concerns essentially how we play our corporeal existence, dressing the body that grounds us to this world in forms which do not merely adorn but actually determine one’s nature: “Life gives itself always and only as costume, dress, habit . . . Fashion is not an accessory, not a luxury, but the most profound and intense nature of everything that participates in the sensible.”[82] Likewise these three principles, as states of being, correspond to dimensions of spiritual freedom. Spontaneity is freedom from habit, from all that renders one mechanical and predictable. “The Religion of Life is not fettered by mechanically repeated formulae of the unenlightened, purblind and limited intellect. It is dynamically energized by the assimilation of Truth, grasped through lucid and unerring intuition which never falters and never fails, because it has emerged out of the fusion of head and heart, intellect and love.”[83] Simplicity is freedom from desire, from all that renders one attached and entangled. “People always make a mistake when they talk of leading a simple life. To live such a life is infinitely difficult. Outwardly, a person may wear plain garments and have a simple diet, but this is not living a simple life! The spiritual life is lived when a person is free of all desires, thus becoming completely open and guileless.”[84] Service is freedom from self-absorption, from all that renders one slothful and futile. “Among the many things which the aspirant needs to cultivate there are few which are as important as cheerfulness, enthusiasm and equipoise, and these are rendered impossible unless he succeeds in cutting out worry from his life. When the mind is gloomy, depressed or disturbed its action is chaotic and binding.”[85] Obviously, all three principles, as affective states, are also very familiarly felt through our dress, as brought into relief by the discomfort of their opposites, as when our clothing feels too rigid/formal/constricting, too fancy/complicated/fussy, or too sloppy/disfunctional/unappealing.         
            How does this loose sketch of divine style fit with Meher Baba’s personal manner of dress? The first thing that comes to mind as a truth to shape all three terms around is the sheer naturalness of his style. As Eruch Jessawala said, after thirty years of living in his company and serving as his interpreter, “everything Baba did, always seemed completely natural. That is the hallmark of the Avatar, His naturalness.”[86] Naturalness is also a principle that Meher Baba repeatedly emphasized, usually in connection with honesty. “Be pure and simple, and love all because all are one. Live a sincere life; be natural, and be honest with yourself.”[87] “Be natural. If you are dishonest, do not try to hide yourself behind the curtain of honesty.”[88] “A spiritual life leads one toward naturalness, whereas a virtuous life, in the guise of humility, inflates the ego and perpetuates it!”[89] The spiritual paradox of naturalness, like honesty, is how ‘unnatural’ it is to the identity trapped in self-concern, the so-and-so entranced by the double glare of self-image and appearance. There are countless anecdotes of Meher Baba suddenly asking someone what they are thinking at the moment they were having embarrassing or inadmissible thoughts: ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘Nothing, Baba.’[90] Fashion broadcasts on an adjacent channel, concealing-revealing, haunting all of its own statements with the fact that someone is making them as if they were not. Through dress, we want to be noticed, appreciated, to fit in and/or stand out, but not to be stared at or seen through. We want clothes that bespeak us yet guard our silence, that form a place to be safe in the open, a zone of extimate communication where we can have it both ways, being ourselves yet reserving our secrets, taken for what we are not without having to hide. Clothing, in the broadest sense, is like an inside out confessional, a con-fashional of open concealments and closed announcements where something else, a detail outside of the shared design always slips through. Hence fashion’s predilection for perfect imperfection and imperfect perfections, which is analogous to the symmetrical impossibility of perfect honesty and perfect deceit. However honest one is it is never totally honest, never honest enough, and however deceitful one is, it is never deceitful enough, never totally deceitful. As Augustine said, the word that a liar has in mind is the truth “I am lying”—nothing, Baba.[91] Thus the prospect of a natural fashion—spontaneous, simple, of service—is far from easy, being like honesty never a question of either/or, and yet always exactly that: “It is very difficult to be natural and to express what you feel within. The false ego is the stumbling block.”[92] Yet the difficulty of it, seemingly impossible, is exactly its necessity and means, just as there is a kind of indispensable dependability to the negativity of the ego which interferes with natural honesty by demanding a central position in all affairs, above all the illusory privilege of being an honest person. Ask someone if they want to be good or to appear good and they will say the former—for the sake of the latter! The stumbling block, the scandal, correlative to fashion’s risk of falling, rising only on the failure of having always already fallen for fashion, is exactly where the spirit lives and works and slips, learning to climb where it cannot walk. As Meher Baba said, echoing his most famous dictum, “Trying not to worry is almost impossible—so try!”[93] Likewise a divinely natural style is less something to be achieved than attempted, first and foremost in the sphere of appearances where everyone—so much more than their eyes can see—gives themselves away regardless.     
        The possible impossibility of divine style is evident in the singular, extraordinary order of Meher Baba’s naturalness, a humanity so human that it appears divine. Delia De Leon said of her time with Baba in 1931, “During the week of his stay in London I saw him every day . . . He alone seemed real—the Perfect Human Being. Compared to him everyone seemed like a shadow.”[94] The natural power of Meher Baba’s presence was such that he typically concealed himself during his movements, which were frequent and extensive, not to avoid being recognized but to prevent arousing wonder as to who he is.[95] As Eruch Jessawala recalls, “he travelled all over India incognito. This was especially so when he had to do his work. He would go to lengths to disguise himself, to cover as it were, his personality. His personality or presence was so arresting that people would single him out amidst the crowds and just stop and gaze at him. So Baba would cover his face with scarves, wear goggles or wear a turban or a felt hat; he would wear the headgear that suited the conditions and fashion of that area. In this way he remained incognito.”[96] At the same time, concealment may reveal all the more, intensifying the question of identity by calling attention to its secrecy. Thus the fashion-play of Meher Baba’s incognito presence is no less visible as a spiritual hide-and-seek game perfectly suited to spin heads and capture hearts: “That night, Baba went to Monte Carlo with the mandali, Norina, and Elizabeth to see the casinos. Dressed incognito, he looked stunning; wearing a cape of Norina’s and a French beret of Mercedes’ [de Acosta].”[97] The spiritual sense of the game is brought into relief by a brief encounter, aboard the SS Conte Verde in 1933, with one of the chicest style icons of the day, Sanyogita Devi, the Mahrani of Indore, famous for her (and her husband’s) avant-garde tastes and beauty, as captured in portraits Bernard Boutet de Monvel and Man Ray.[98] The Mahrani wanted to meet Meher Baba for his darshan and caught up with him taking a walk on the deck in Western clothes, despite Chanji’s efforts to communicate that an appointment is preferred. Baba explained, “As I do not wish to meet anyone while outside on deck, I dress like an ordinary man to avoid being recognized. No one knows me as I really am. For those who want to know my Real Self, I have no need to put on such a show. But I am afraid of those who have no longing to know me truly and have to hide my identity from them. I therefore must go about incognito.”[99] This admission of fear is fascinating in light of the conventional sense of celebrity glamor as precisely about the projection of image and not a person as they really are, and thus the correlative need for personal time free from the pressure of recognition and the burden of one’s image. Meher Baba’s concern seems to have been precisely the reverse, a desire to appear only as his natural, everyday self, and only to those with a sincere interest in his divine reality. Baba later met with the Mahrani in his cabin: “Baba was dressed in a sadra at the time and his long hair was down. Baba informed the queen, ‘This is my customary dress. It is the clothing I wear in front of those who come to know me. To those who take me for a foreigner, I become a foreigner. I did not wish to meet you as a foreigner, so it is good that you have come today. Do I not look like a fellow countryman now?’ The maharani laughed.”[100] Here we see a kind of hyper-naturalness that stands at once inside and outside the cultural nature of convention, turning each on their heads. On the one hand, Baba follows cultural norms, dressing like a foreigner in foreign contexts and appearing familiarly in the traditional Zoroastrian dress which he wore routinely throughout his life. On the other hand, he stands beyond cultural tradition, cloaking himself within the outsideness of Western modernity (not in order to fit in but as if in order not to) and accentuating symmetrically his own normal dress as a special garb worn for those who truly want to see him—especially hilarious given the Maharani’s elite cosmopolitan mastery foreign fashion codes. No wonder she laughed! Whatever the ultimate reasons or non-reasons for the play of dress, the overall effect, the humanly divine weather atop “the whole Olympus of appearance,” is clear: the Maharani gets to see Meher Baba more than once, a heart is touched, and we are telling the story in an essay on fashion and spirituality. Maybe Sanyogita laughed in a moment of simply seeing herself in Meher Baba, not a countryman, not a spiritual master whose auspicious sight she desired, not this or that, just a sweet silent someone—only the (infinite) reflection of her own infinite self playfully trapped in the dress-up game of divine illusion.
            Meher Baba explains that the universe emerges out of Reality’s spontaneous desire to know itself, a universal “original whim [which] can also be called the first ‘WORD’ uttered by God—‘WHO AM I?’”[101] Following suit, his style dramatizes the specular infinity of eternal self-recognition, appearing “to each one . . . what he thinks I am,” forever appearing as the self’s own appearing, impossible to pin down, the direct evidence of its own impossibility and the mirror image of beauty itself, beautifully defined by Simone Weil as “experimental proof that the incarnation is possible.”[102] With inexplicable sprezzatura, his manner exhibited the divine, sublimely comic proportions of human identity. When asked by Eruch, on behalf of a bewildered group of Baba-lovers, how to explain to others who Baba is, Baba was amused and replied, “tell them that when someone asked, ‘Who is Meher Baba?” they should reply, ‘He is the one who provokes this question in you—the being of all beings.’”[103] Here the paradoxical specularity of spiritual naturalness comes into view, just as a mirror always both never and only lies, pointing both beyond itself and back at viewer. “The mirror is changeless, immovable and always steady. I, too, am like a mirror. The change you observe is in you—not in me. I am always so constant and still that it cannot be imagined.”[104] As mirror between humanity and divinity, Meher Baba wore his own form as fashion, like an image in the universal mirror of cosmic illusion: “All this is imagination and exists only in imagination. What you see physically is not Baba; it is only my body—a mere piece of clothing! Baba is infinite, and you cannot see him with these eyes.”[105] The mysteriously captivating naturalness of Meher Baba’s manners and movements is thus no less perceivable as a form of perfect ordinariness, a mere-ness reversely reflected in the fashion-being of the model who comports herself as a simple wearer of clothes and becomes a kind of living image of no one in particular. As top model Clotilde once said, “I am an optical illusion.”[106] But whereas behind the supermodel there lurks a normal human being presumably more or less like ourselves, behind Baba’s form is something one cannot be oneself and see: “I am bliss personified. This five-foot, six-inch physical form you see is not real. If you could see my Real Form, you would not be yourself.”[107] On one occasion, Jeal Adriel felt Meher Baba literally taking his body on and off like clothing: “I had an opportunity of witnessing the facility with which Baba uses his body ‘like a garment.’ . . . Suddenly he threw over his head the blue cloak which lay on his lap. The next moment his body became lifeless. Baba—that dynamic, radiant embodiment of spirit—was no longer beside me . . . During this amazing ten-hour trip to Boston Baba must have gone in and out of his body a dozen times. He explained to us later that there are constant calls on his inner counsel from all over the universe, often requiring of him urgent work of a nature which necessitates his presence elsewhere.”[108]
Moving between being the only one present and being totally elsewhere, the trace of Meher Baba’s style silently spells out a space for fashion that might be conceived as a kind of Avataric normcore, just as he set ‘no precepts’—“I have come not to teach but to awaken. Understand therefore that I lay down no precepts”—and emphasized above all the practice of love and honesty in the midst of ordinary life: “The best way to cleanse your heart and to prepare for the stilling of the mind is to lead a normal life in the world.”[109] In his conduct and guidance of others, Meher Baba likewise eschewed forms of exclusiveness and signs of distinction, encouraging all to practice spirituality in the midst of ordinary existence as that is where the action is. Referring to the idiosyncratic masts or God-intoxicated individuals with whom he worked extensively, Baba said, “Have that intensity of love for me and be as normal as you are now. Then see the fun—that is real life!”[110] Confirming the practice of this wish, Ray Kerkhove has explained the “curious obscurity-amidst-popularity” of the worldwide Baba-lover culture as rooted in Meher Baba’s own ways: “In 1924, some of Meher’s early disciples moved that the group devise their own religious symbol. Baba immediately vetoed the notion: ‘We are not a society. Any mark of distinction would rob us of our independence and would prove a binding to restrict our minds.’ . . . Followers of Meher Baba today are camouflaged by a similar ‘normalcy.’”[111] Comparable to the late medieval mystical ideal of the common life, which as Ruusbroec says, takes “Christ as our model, for he gave himself completely to all in common,”[112] the naturalness of divine style as Avataric normcore is obviously not about conforming to conventions nor some kind of deflated or ironic elitism. Rather it must be thought on the side of the inherent unity of life, as a way of freedom and independence that stands outside false and identitarian divisions, a manner of being at once here and beyond: “I am whatever you take me to be. I am what I am, and, in fact, I am beyond that too!”[113] Naturally there can no limits set on divine style, no way to fashion it into a look, or not to, just as the spiritual permutations of service, simplicity, and spontaneity are infinite.
Meher Baba offered himself to all, claiming to be none other than all are: “To me saint and sinner, high and low, rich and poor, man and woman, young and old are all just the same. Why? Because I am in everyone. No one should hesitate to embrace me and to meet me with all love.”[114] At the same time, he asserted the distinction of being the Avatar, God in human form, “the same Ancient One who alone is eternally worshiped and ignored, ever remembered and forgotten.”[115] And naturally he claimed no special status for this distinction: “You are bothered about the idea of Avatar. There is no need to be, for we are all Avatars.”[116] Indeed, as Meher Baba explains in his Discourses, the Avatar is simply “the first individual soul” to emerge through the process of evolution and involution, the one by whom “God first completed the journey from unconscious divinity to conscious divinity”—an idea that robs the distinction between the individual and God of all reality.[117] Befitting the mystery of who he is and reflecting the question of everyone’s own individuation, Meher Baba’s unique style and mode of being both manifested his radical individuality and participated seamlessly in the most various forms of environment and activity. On the one hand, as medium of his enchanting divine humanity—“I am the Universal Thief! I steal the hearts of all!”—this style is ungraspably graspable, always slipping through our hands: “Remember, I am the most divine and, at the same time, the most human, so much so that no one . . . can fathom my depth, because I am infinitely slippery.”[118] On the other hand, as medium of his suffering human divinity—“The Avatar is crucified every moment of his life on earth”—this style is graspably ungraspable, always caught but never possessed, as per Baba’s last words: “Remember this, I am not this body!”[119] Between these two hands of Meher Baba's style is found, like fashion itself, that which one can hold and must never let go of: “Beloved God, help us all to love you more and more, and more and more, and still yet more until we become worthy of Union with you. And help us all to hold fast to Baba’s daaman [hem] until the very end!”[120]


[1] On Meher Baba’s silence and his methods of communication, see C. B. Purdom, The God-Man: The Life, Journeys, and Work of Meher Baba, with and Interpretation of his Silence and Spiritual Teaching  (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1964), 407-14; José Sanjinés, “Meher Baba’s Silent Semiotic Output,” Signs and Society 2 (2014): 121-59 and Hillel Schwartz, Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond (New York: Zone, 2011), 620-5
[2] Max Picard, The World of Silence, trans. Stanley Godman (Chicago: Regner, 1952), 2.
[3] Purdom, The God-Man, 413.
[4] Sir Walter Scott, quoted in Benjamin Moser, “Glamour and Grammar,” in Clarice Lispector, The Complete Stories, trans. Katrina Dodson (New York: New Directions, 2015), ix. “The perception of models as ‘dumb’ or mute objects has been a common theme in scholarly work on visual culture” (Joanne Entwistle and Elizabeth Wissinger, “Introduction,” in Fashioning Models: Image, Text and Industry, eds. Joanne Entwistle and Elizabeth Wissinger [London: Berg, 2012], 4).
[6] Otto von Busch, Moda Maleficarum, or, The Dark Allure of Fashion (New York: Self-Passage, 2016),
[7] Ibn Arabi uses the example of a man looking into a mirror: “He is neither a truth-teller nor a liar in his words, ‘I saw my form, I did not see my form’ . . . So the cosmos only became manifest within imagination. It is imagined in itself. So it is, and it is not” (cited in William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-Arabi’s Metaphysics of the Imagination [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989], 118).
[8] Emanuele Coccia, Sensible Life: A Micro-ontology of the Image, trans. Scott Alan Stuart (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016), 18.
[9] Picard, World of Silence, 80.
[10] Georg Simmel, “The Philosophy of Fashion,” in Simmel on Culture: Selected Writings, eds. David Frisby and Mike Featherstone (London: Sage, 1997), 192.
[11] Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Volume 2: Purgatorio, ed. and trans. Robert M. Durling (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 10.94-99. On painting as silent poetry and poetry as voiced painting, see R. W. Lee, “Ut Pictura Poesis: The Humanistic Theory of Painting,” The Art Bulletin 22 (1940): 197-269.   
[12] Friedrich Nietzsce, The Gay Science, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 9.
[13] Meher Baba, quoted in Ivy O. Duce, How a Master Works (Walnut Creek, CA : Sufism Reoriented, 1975), 625, my italics.
[14] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 1050.
[15] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 3960.
[16] Meher Baba, “Final Declaration,” in Purdom, The God-Man, 223.
[17] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 5288
[19] Meher Baba, quoted in “November 1: Morning Session,” The Awakener 9 (1963), 21. For an explanation of Baba’s gestural language and the inimitable style of its expressive flow, see “Mandali Moments: Meher Baba’s Gestures,”
[20] Otto von Busch, Vital Vogue: A Biosocial Perspective on Fashion (New York: Self Passage, 2018), 71.
[21] Meher Baba, “Universal Message,” in Purdom, The God-Man, 344.
[22]  Patrícia Soley-Beltran, “Performing Dreams: A Counter-History of Models as Glamour’s Embodiment,” in Fashioning Models, 115.
[23] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 4001.
[24] Sato Sato, Style and Steel: Fashion and the Endurance of Supremacy (New York: Self Passage, 2016), 21. Cf. Vanessa Brown, “Why fashion models don’t smile,”
[25] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 3555-6.
[26] Coccia, Sensible Life, 80. Hence fashion’s internal war with being fashionable, the inevitable impossible fight to fashionably free fashion from fashion as such, which only intensifies the problem of fashionableness as the mode of self-presentation wherein the fact of self-presentation supervenes over its substance, as if breaking the silence of every fashion statement with I am fashionable.       
[27] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 2nd edition (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1973), xi.
[28] Meher Baba, God Speaks, xii.
[29] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 1, 190.
[30] Ibn Arabi, Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, trans. Reynold A. Nicholson (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1911), 67.
[31] Coccia, Sensible Life, 81.
[32] Meher Baba, Life Is A Jest, ed. A. K. Hajra (Jabalpur, India: R. P. Pankhraj, 1969), 63.
[33] Otto von Busch & Daye Hwang, Feeling Fashion: The Embodied Gamble of Our Social Skin (New York: Self Passage, 2018), 16,
[34] Meher Baba on War, ed K. K. Ramakrishnan (Pune, India: Meher Era Publications, 1972), 33.
[35] Otto von Busch & Daye Hwang, Feeling Fashion, 55.
[36] Meher Baba, Listen, Humanity, ed. D. E. Stevens (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1957), 179.
[37] Meher Baba, Discourses, 6th ed., 3 vols (San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1973), II.174.
[38] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.55.
[39] Coccia, Sensible Life, 92.
[40] Bhagavad Gita, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Harmony, 2000), 2.22.
[41] Karen de Perthuis, “Beyond Perfection: the Fashion Model in the Age of Digital Manipulation,” in Fashion as
Photograph: Viewing and Reviewing Images of Fashion, ed. Eugénie Shinkle (London: I. B. Taurus, 2008), 176.
[42] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 4350.
[43] Karen de Perthuis, “Beyond Perfection,” 180.
[44] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 3555.
[45] Otto von Busch & Daye Hwang, Feeling Fashion, 23
[46] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.168.
[47] Bhagavad Gita, II.16.
[48] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 3163.
[49] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.98.
[50] Meher Baba, Meher Baba’s Call, Given on occasion of Mass Darshan Programme at Ahmednagar on 12th September 1954 (Ahmednagar, India: Meher Publications, 1961). Cf. “The greatest greatness and the greatest humility go hand in hand naturally and without effort” (Meher Baba, quoted in Purdom, The God-Man, 222).
[51] Meher Baba, God Speaks, xii. See “Don Stevens Interview – In Meher Baba’s Presence,”
[52] Chanji (Framroz Dadachanji), quoted in Lord Meher, 2389.
[53] Norina Matchabelli, quoted in Rom Landau, God is My Adventure: A Book on Modern Mystics, Masters, and Teachers (London: Faber and Faber, 1935), 112.
[54] Jean Adriel, Avatar: The Life Story of the Perfect Master Meher Baba: A Narrative of Spiritual Experience, 2nd ed. (Santa Barbara: J. F. Rowny Press, 1947), 17-8.
[55] Filis Frederick, “Heroines of the Path,” The Awakener 20 (1983): 16.
[56] Norina Matchabelli, quoted in Norina’s Gift: Messages from Meher Baba, Received through Princess Norina Matchabelli, intro. Christopher Wilson and Charles Haynes (Myrtle Beach, SC: EliNor Publications, 1997), 6.
[57] Ibid., 4
[58] See Sarah-Grace Heller, “Light as Glamour: The Luminescent Ideal of Beauty in the Roman de la Rose,” Speculum 76 (2001): 934-959.
[59] Norina’s Gift, 3.
[60] For a brief summary of the story, see “John Julius Norwich – ‘The Miracle’ – a play by Max Reinhardt,”
[61] Norina’s Gift, 4.
[62] Norina’s Gift, 13, 16.
[63] Stephen, Philips, “Toward a Research Practice: Frederick Kiesler’s Design-Correlation Laboratory,” Grey Room 38 (2010): 93
[64] New York World Telegram, September 10, 1941, quoted in Norina’s Gift, 23-4.
[65] Norina’s Gift, 24.
[66] Norina’s Gift, 25.
[67] Norina’s Gift, 26.
[68] Norina’s Gift, 25, 27.
[69] Giorgio Agamben, Profranations, trans. Jeff Fort (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2007), 10.
[70] “Whoso had this werk, it schuld governe him ful semely, as wele in body as in soule, and make hym ful favorable unto iche man or womman that lokyd apon hym; insomoche that the worst favored man or womman that leveth in this liif, and thei mighte come to by grace to worche in this werk, theire favour schuld sodenly and gracyously be chaunged” (The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Patrick Gallacher [Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 1997], 81). 
[71] Anita de Caro, quoted in Filis Frederick, “Heroines of the Path,” 17.
[72] Landau, God is My Adventure, 112.
[73] Avatar Meher Baba Trust Digital Archives – Meherabad,
[75] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.110, my italics.
[76] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.168.
[77] New York World Telegram, September 10, 1941, quoted in Norina’s Gift, 23.
[78] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 5100.
[79] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.123.
[80] New York World Telegram, September 10, 1941, quoted in Norina’s Gift, 23.
[81] Norina’s Gift, 117.
[82] Coccia, Sensible Life, 93-4.
[83] Meher Baba, The Religion of Life [pamphlet], (USA: Universal Spiritual League, 1948), 5.
[84] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 1305.
[85] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.121.
[86] Eruch Jessawala, That’s How It Was: Stories of Life with Meher Baba (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 1995), 168. Cf. “Frequently mentioned by observers was Baba’s naturalness, his way of putting everyone at ease, of being a friend and superb host. Even those who accepted him as God incarnate felt extremely comfortable around him. He wore no religious markings and mixed freely with everyone. Baba was physically affectionate, preferring his followers to embrace him lovingly rather than bow down to him. In films he is seen clapping backs, tweaking ears, gently grasping hands, equally natural with men, women, and children . . . Baba’s naturalness was reflected especially in his playfulness and humor” (Allan Cohen, The Master of Consciousness [New York : Harper & Row, 1977], 16).
[87] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 3554.
[88] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 3840.
[89] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 3668.
[90] For example, see Lord Meher, 314 and “Mandali Moments Meher Baba's Gestures,”, 17:30.
[91] “Quod cum facimus, utique volentes et scientes falsum verbum habemus: ubi verum verbum est mentiri nos; hoc enim scimus” (Augustine, De Trinitate, XV.15.25,
[92] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 4685.
[93] Meher Baba, The Path of Love (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Press, 2000), 98.
[94] Jean Adriel, Avatar, 135.
[95] On Meher Baba’s movements, see David Fenster, “Chronology of Meher Baba’s Movements” (Meher Nazar Pulications, 2018),, which lists approximately 2700 trips.
[96] It So Happened . . . : Stories from Days with Meher Baba, ed. William Le Page (Bombay: Meher House Publications, 1978), 17. For example, Baba’s interactions with the passengers aboard the SS Conte Rosso in 1932 are described as follows: “As usual, Baba preferred to remain unnoticed and in seclusion, and hence the very first order he gave the mandali was: ‘No interviews with anyone on board.’ They were instructed not to tell anyone about him unless asked and in general to keep his identity undisclosed. In spite of all the observance of strict privacy, Baba’s personality was so powerful that he immediately impressed those who happened to cast a glance at him or casually pass by him. Almost all who saw him wanted to know who he was and insisted upon being told, though the mandali could not reveal much and had to be careful of what they said . . . The ship’s Italian stewards, sailors, purser and other officers especially seemed to ‘scent’ Baba’s presence, and they were all deferential toward him. They vied with one another to render assistance and tried to approach Baba on one pretense or another whenever an opportunity arose. As the voyage continued, in spite of trying to keep Baba's identity a secret, he became known to most of the passengers, officers and crew, who looked at him with a sort of reverence which perhaps they themselves hardly understood or could explain” (Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher: Online Edition, 1549,
[97] Lord Meher, 1860-61.
[98] See Meera Ganapathi, “How the last king of Indore left a mark on the world of style and the arts,” and Angma Dey Jhala, Courtly Indian Women in Late Imperial India (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2008), 147.
[99] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 1549.
[100] Lord Meher, 1552.
[101] Meher Baba, God Speaks: The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1973), 78.
[102] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Emma Crawford and Mario van der Ruhr (London: Routledge, 1999), 150.
[103] Eruch Jessawala, That’s How It Was: Stories of Life with Meher Baba (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 1995), 178, punctation modified to reflect the pause before “the being of all beings” which Eruch emphasized when relating this incident.  
[104] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 1062
[105] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 3971.
[106] Quoted in Soley-Beltran, “Performing Dreams,” 106.
[107] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 1039.
[108] Jean Adriel, Avatar, 28.
[109] Meher Baba, quoted in Purdom, The God-Man, 343, 286. The former statement is especially important, being the first sentence of Baba’s “Universal Message,” given in 1958.
[110] On Baba’s work with masts, see William Donkin, The Wayfarers: Meher Baba with the God-Intoxicated (Ahmednagar, India: Meher Publications, 1948).
[111] Ray Kerkhove, “Multi-faith Invisibility – The Case of Meher Baba (1894-1969),” Paper presented at the Annual Conference of AASR (Australian Association for Study of Religions), Griffith University (Brisbane), July 2003,
[112] John Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals and Other Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 106.
[113] Meher Baba, quoted in Bal Natu, Glimpses of the God-Man, vol. 5 (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Press, 1987), 179.
[114] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 4301.
[115] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 4581.
[116] Meher Baba, quoted in Purdom, The God-Man, 391.
[117] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.14.
[118] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 4035, 3554.
[119] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 2020, 5399.
[120] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 4580. Meher Baba used this expression of holding onto his damaan  throughout his life and dictated this prayer 1959. 

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