Of Tattoos, Piercings, and Other Augmentations: The Modified Body in Literature and Culture (Panel)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Comparative Literature

Christian Ylagan (Western University)

Over the last few decades, body modification in its many forms and guises has experienced an apparent visibility, appropriation, and revivalism in mainstream media and culture. Spanning centuries of history, body modification can range in intensity and craftsmanship from “normal” (such as earlobe piercings or bodybuilding) to “hardcore” (such as full bodysuit tattoos, surgical modifications, transdermal implants, and even amputations). Underpinning practices of body modification are numerous individual and group motivations that impel enthusiasts to transform their bodies: jumping on aesthetic or beauty trends; laying out narratives of selfhood and uniqueness; demonstrating endurance and resistance; claiming community affiliations; and experiencing spirituality and culture, to name a few.

While there is much scholarship on body modification as a means of inscribing the body as text in a process of identity construction, the overarching narrative is that of a reduction of body modification into what Matthew Lodder calls a “chronological tourism," that is, that every tattoo merely speaks of “internal truths” that chronicle milestones in one’s personal mythmaking (i.e., in response to questions like “What does your tattoo mean? What were you going through when you got it?”). This panel aims to look at literary and cultural artifacts that engage and possibly challenge such a discourse on body modification, rethinking its various processes and forms as perhaps emblematic of larger frameworks of social, cultural, and political power. By analyzing the modified body and its intermedia representations in literature, art, and critical theory, this panel aims to examine the body as both a product of forces that socially construct it, as well as a site for the negotiation of individual, aesthetic, and cultural meaning.


While there is much scholarship on body modification as inscribing the body as text in a process of identity construction, the overarching narrative is that body modification is a “chronological tourism," that is, that every tattoo merely speaks of “internal truths” that chronicle milestones in one’s personal mythmaking (i.e., in response to questions like “What does your tattoo mean? What were you going through when you got it?”). This panel aims to look at literary and cultural artifacts that engage and possibly challenge such a discourse on body modification, rethinking its various processes and forms as perhaps emblematic of larger frameworks of social, cultural, and political power.