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On the figurative qualities of tattoos

An article by Margot Mifflin in the December/January issue of The Believer describes an intriguing writing project. American author Shelley Jackson announced in 2003 her plan to publish “Skin,” a 2,095-word short story, as a series of tattoos on 2,095 different people. No paper copy of the story will exist, reports Mifflin, and “the tattooees alone will read the story, which will be complete when the last commissioned word is inscribed on its bearer, sometime in the next few years.”

Mifflin’s project was greeted with enthusiasm from a variety of people, including “mother-daughter teams [and] friends who want to become a phrase or a sentence…. One participant is a book collector who saw the project as an opportunity to collect a rare manuscript…. [One person] liked the notion of “a text written on bodies and the idea that the text would encounter erasure with death and time.”

The subject of tattoos is figuratively ripe. Mifflin describes “Skin” as “a dramatic act of literary deconstruction … [that] pushes … words off the printed page onto the living body, marrying the reader and the text … visual art and fiction.” “Skin” is just one of the latest examples of the merging of tattoos and narration. Although Mifflin cites the first tattooed fictional character as being Melville’s Queequeg, she claims that the majority of tattooed characters have been women, adding that the practice of tattooing, associated with American Indians and low-brow sideshow entertainment, also connotes deviance and powerful transgression.

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Click here for the full story in The Believer