Skin: On the Cultural Border Between Self and World

Skin: On the Cultural Border Between Self and World

by Claudia Benthien, Thomas Dunlap
     
 

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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

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.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231125031
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
09/29/2004
Series:
European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism Series
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Werner Sollors
Benthien's fascinating study illuminates historically changing notions of 'skin'in literature, art, and anatomical and other scientific discourse since the eighteenth century. The reader of this book gains a new understanding of the cultural significance of skin.

Avital Ronell
A stunning meditation on cultural codifications of skin, examining the hierarchies of color, discursive grids and fantasmatic cathexes, some of which are bound to make one's skin crawl. Claudia Benthien produces a crucial skin archive of masks, bandages, and the residue of an unbearable history of flaying.

Sander Gilman
It is important that Claudia Benthien's history of skin has finally appeared in English. Benthien's is the best and most comprehensive study of the wide and contradictory meanings associated with the largest organ of the body (yes it is an organ and it is huge)! Hers is a work of cultural history of importance to students of gender and race as well as to any one who believes that this is a problem merely 'skin deep.'A must read!

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.

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