Skin: On the Cultural Border Between Self and World

Overview

"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 ...

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Overview

"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.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

The Guardian - Joanna Briscoe

[Benthien] deftly illuminates her findings, and she is quite brilliant. This is historical anthropology at its best.

The Guardian
[Benthien] deftly illuminates her findings, and she is quite brilliant. This is historical anthropology at its best.

— Joanna Briscoe

Translation Review

This cultural study examines the relations among self-consciousness, subjectivity, and skin from the 18th century to the present.... Benthien discusses the semantic and psychic aspects of touching, feeling, and intellectual perception; the motifs of perforated, armored, or transparent skin.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

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

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface to the American Edition1. The Depth of the Surface: Introduction2. Boundary Metaphors: Skin in Language3. Penetrations: Body Boundaries and the Production of Knowledge in Medicine and Cultural Practices4. Flayings: Exposure, Torture, Metamorphoses5. Mirror of the Soul: The Epidermis as Canvas6. Mystification: The Strangeness of the Skin7. Armored Skin and Birthmarks: The Imagology of a Gender Difference8. Different Skin: Skin Colors in Literature and the History of Science9. Blackness: Skin Color in African-American Discourse10. Hand and Skin: Anthropology and Iconography of the Cutaneous Senses11. Touchings: On the Analogous Nature of Erotic, Emotive, and "Psychic'' Skin Sensations12. Teletactility: The Skin in New Media

Columbia University Press

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