Re: Mutilation and permanence

Timothy Mason (mason@CIE.FR)
Mon, 15 Jul 1996 21:38:36 -0500

-- [ From: Timothy Mason * EMC.Ver #2.5.02 ] --

>From : Timothy Mason

Adrienne Dearmas says

>I look at cosmetic surgeries from the same perspective as tattooing -
modifying the body permanently >to achieve a sense of self in relation to
other, or that which one does not want to be

This idea that mutilation is permanent whereas fashion is not appears to
have become a given. I would disagree ; in a number of modern uses of
mutilation, permanence is not at issue.
1. Heavy mutilation appears to have originated in the sado-masochistic
milieu that favoured some of the more outrageous San Francisco bath-houses.
Michel Foucault, who has cropped up from time to time on this thread,
remarked that the appearance of so-called gay cancer gave an added piquancy
to the bath-house scene. There may be a sense here that one is free to
mutilate one's body for the very reason that the long-term is no longer an
issue. Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful cadaver.
2. The idea of permanence as used here may itself be contingent upon the
concept of a career. Most of the people on this list see their lives as
oriented towards a future which will be different - they see their lives as
a progression. For a number of groups within capitalistic societies, this is
not the case. Prisoners, gang members and other inner-city young people see
forever as either very much the same as now, or as simply too inconceivably
far away to have any effect on present behaviour. In this case, getting a
tattoo may be very much like getting a new and neater hair-cut. Adrienne's
tattooed fashion models come to much the same conclusion the other way
around - they have an earning life-span of about five years. Afterwards is
another planet.

By the way, may I here register an objection to the typification of such
groups as prisoners, gang-members and homosexuals as 'marginal'. I would
argue that they lie at the very centre of our present culture. Durkheim
pointed to the importance that the criminal has for normal society, and it
is likely that he has taken on even greater importance, rather than lesser -
John Gerassi argues that crime is particularly important to American society
. Foucault sees the prison as emblematic of modernist modes of social
control. Today, somewhere between 20 & 25% of young black males in America
are under CJ control of some kind - marginal?

Best wishes to all
Timothy Mason