Unreal Nature

October 16, 2018

In Pursuit of Redemption

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… One could observe that a plethora of wearers of the same badges becomes its own conformity.

This is from the essay ‘Tattoo and Piercing: Reflections on Mortification’ by Phebe Shih Chao, found in Rhetorics of Display edited by Lawrence J. Prelli (2006):

In such cultures, it might be argued , the skin, the border zone between the bounded self and the social world thought to encompass that self, a membrane that protects but may also conceal, must be a zone of fascination and danger of a particularly charged kind. — Susan Benson

… The convict’s racist epithets and the schoolgirl’s rose, the barbell in the tongue and the ring in the nose, are enactments of a symbolic mortification ritual that purifies those who wear them and leaves a lasting display of their identification with and place within some desired tribe.

… [Kenneth] Burke would contend that human communication is predominately a symbolic drama enacted to alleviate guilt and to achieve redemption. Humans as symbolizing beings are “goaded by a spirit of hierarchy” and “moved by a sense of order.” Hierarchy involves authority, levels of authority, and individuals up and down those levels.

[line break added] Individuals caught in the pull of hierarchic impulses to move up, down, across symbolic “orders” are simultaneously moralized by the negative, by the incompatible and often competing rules, norms, and strictures that define their relationships to the hierarchies that permeate their daily lives. Since, as Burke points out, it is impossible to obey all hierarchical “thou shalt nots,” individuals find themselves caught between competing commitments, desires, and values.

… One suffers guilt, as Burke would have it, and the guilty turn to symbolic acts of identification in pursuit of redemption.

… Following Burke’s model, a person who acquires tattoos identifies with those who wear tattoos; one who pierces, with those who are pierced. The putative tattooer wants to transform himself, not just to acknowledge some inner change, but to make a noticeable statement, to display what I later call a “corporeal emblem of transformation.”

… Body decoration is a site where one can observe what happens when (old dichotomies of) civilized and primitive coincide, when (old dichotomies of) bourgeois and fringe classes seem in collusion, when high art and popular — even low — art come together. In an unexpected way, body decoration has become a visual rhetoric of liberty, equality, and fraternity, at the same time that it is an expression of globalization.

… The tattoo began as a visible sign of the rebel, a badge of difference. One could observe that a plethora of wearers of the same badges becomes its own conformity.

… a Burkean perspective on the symbolic acts of tattooing and piercing inescapably implicates both those who exhibit them and those who behold them within symbolic drama. Those of us who might react negatively to the exhibition are ourselves performing purifying symbolic acts, perhaps in the form of victimage or scapegoating. I am right thinking, clear thinking; she is not. And of course, others might see the display as exemplary of a path to transformation of the self and, perhaps, pursue redemption through similar purifying acts of mortification manifested in the corporeal form of a tattoo or a piercing.

… Even as I acknowledge that we all are caught within the implications of perspective, I also insist that all of us — the tattooed and the pierced and the untattooed and the unpierced — are participants in symbolic dramas. Displays of tattoos or of piercings and responses to those displays are symbolic actions laced with attitudes. If Burke is at all right — and I think that he is — those symbolic actions, however variable, implicate us all in the dramatic cycle of expiating guilt in pursuit of redemption through symbolic acts of mortification, victimage, or both.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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