Skin: On the Cultural Border Between Self and the World

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Columbia University Press, 2002 - History - 290 pages
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"Only skin deep," "getting under one's skin," "the naked truth": metaphors about the skin pervade the language even as physical embellishments and alterations -- tattoos, piercings, skin-lifts, liposuction, tanning, and more -- proliferate in Western culture. Yet outside dermatology textbooks, the topic of skin has been largely ignored.

This important cultural study shows how our perception of skin has changed from the eighteenth century to the present. Claudia Benthien argues that despite medicine's having penetrated the bodily surface and exposed the interior of the body as never before, skin, paradoxically, has become a more and more unyielding symbol. She examines the changing significance of skin through brilliant analyses of literature, art, philosophy, and anatomical drawings and writings. Benthien discusses the semantic and psychic aspects of touching, feeling, and intellectual perception; the motifs of perforated, armored, or transparent skin; the phantasma of flaying; and much more through close readings of such authors as Kleist, Hawthorne, Balzac, Rilke, Kafka, Plath, Morrison, Wideman, and Ondaatje. Myriad images from the Renaissance, anatomy books, and contemporary visual and performance art enhance the text.

 

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Contents

Boundary Metaphors
17
Penetrations
37
Flayings
84
Mystification
111
Armored Skin and Birthmarks
133
g Blackness
163
Hand and Skin
185
Touchings
203
Teletactility
221
Conclusion
235
Different Skin
253
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About the author (2002)

Claudia Benthien is assistant professor of German at Humboldt-University, Berlin. She received the Tiburtius Prize from the Berlin senate for this work.

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