In a print based society, we’re trained from an early age to find meaning in marks. I’m going to look at some of the ways that we ‘read’ bodies today.
When you look at the first page of a book, do you see a printing press? Do you imagine ink hitting paper when reading the first sentence? I don’t. I think, “What does this mean? What is the text saying?”
When I look at a tattoo I think “What does that mean (for you)?”
When I look at a scar I think, “How did you get that? Where did it come from?”
I think it’s interesting that while all marks function as sites for meaning, the reading of marks is largely determined by their perceived intentionality.
Intentional marks (i.e. tattoo practice in the contemporary U.S.) are expressions of consciousness that imprint the body. Unintentional (or perceived as so, “Who would want pain?”) marks like scars are bodily imprints that influence consciousness. These relationships aren’t ‘point A to point B’ linear, the productive ‘have a body / am a body’ connection allows you to view a personal mark, have the viewing change you, look at the mark differently afterwords (and etc. over a lifetime).
While careful deep readings of any mark will generate a wide range of meanings, I’m interested here in the casual social reading of bodies.
When the body is erased as a source of knowledge, bodily marks are read through ‘the self’ (what is your thought process around this tattoo) or the other (what outside thing or circumstance marked your body this way). Both systems paradoxically read and refuse the body. Imagine facilitating an article from ‘The Body Reader’ by describing the ways that the paper was cut and imprinted, or the trucks that moved the books to the bookstore. Imagine standing in front of the class and describing the way the book feels in your hands. Which mechanisms are we constantly overlooking? Where is the printing press? What is your body?