The Book of Skin / Edition 1

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Overview

Skin, Steven Connor argues, has never been more visible. The Book of Skin explores the multiple functions of the skin in the cultures of the West. In this vividly illustrated book, Connor draws on evidence from a variety of sources, including literary and other forms of public and private writing (especially medical texts), as well as film, folklore, painting, photography, and popular song. Because of its newfound visibility, skin has never been at once so manifest and so in jeopardy as it is today. This dilemma becomes evident, in Connor's view, if we examine how skin is displayed and manipulated as a site of inscription. In order to trace our culture's anxious concerns with the materiality and mortality of skin, Connor's analysis ranges from the human body itself to photography, from Medieval leprosy, Renaissance flaying, and eternal syphilis to cosmetics, plastic surgery, and skin cancers.

Connor examines the chromatics of skin color and pigmentation, blushing, suntanning, paleness, darkening, tattooing, cutting, the Turin shroud, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man. He also offers engaging explanations for why particular colors are ascribed to feelings and conditions such as green for envy, purple for rage, and yellow for cowardice. Connor's insights into the obvious and yet unfamiliar terrain of the skin and its place in Western culture ameliorates the intensities and attenuations of touch in cultural history. The Book of Skin bears out James Joyce's claim that "modern man has an epidermis rather than a soul."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Professor Steven Connor's book, a rather gothic yet highly enjoyable history of human skin, finds new substance in Sartre's thoughts. Connor uses post-war French philosophy as the frame through which he views the long history of writing and reflecting upon skin, from Classical and Renaissance medical treatises through to our modern taste for tattooing and aromatherapy oils."—The Daily Telegraph, January 12, 2004

"This erudite discourse explores the various forms and functions of skin, including how it changes color and how those colors are ascribed to different feelings and conditions: green for envy, purple for rage. In passages that could make some readers' skin crawl, Connor considers why we itch and sometimes smell, as well as how our skin sheds. With cultural references, philosophy, and excerpts from archaic texts, he elaborates on these details."—Science News, March 20, 2004

"Connor ironically contributes to what he observes as a contemporary fascination with the skin as metaphor and literalized figure while nevertheless commenting on its power and ubiquity in literature, theory, and everyday language."—Maureen Malnyk, University of Western Ontario, Skandalon, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2005

"The largest human organ is the skin. It is so ubiquitous that we do not even think of it as an organ. Steven Connor's brilliant, readable Book of Skin makes you very uncomfortable in your own skin because in reading you become hyperaware of it. Connor spells out the myriad, often contradictory Western meanings associated with the skin, its biology, and its psychological implications. An exhaustive, fascinating look at an aspect of the history of the body little studied and still less understood."—Sander L. Gilman, University of Illinois, Chicago

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801488931
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Connor is professor of modern literature and theory in the School of Literature and Humanities at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is also the author of Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism and Fly.
 

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Table of Contents

Note on Editions and Photo Acknowledgements 6
Pregression: A Skin That Walks 7
1 Complexion 9
2 Exposition 49
3 Disfiguring 73
4 Impression 95
5 Stigmata 119
6 Off-Colour 147
7 Unction 178
8 Aroma 211
9 Itch 227
10 The Light Touch 257
References 283
Index 299
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