The desire to inscribe

one’s thoughts into the surrounding world is innate. From birth, we begin marking surfaces around us: crayons on walls, finger paints on paper, chalk on sidewalks. We learn soon after that the skin is a surface good for remembering – for recording phone numbers, recalling addresses, reminding us of appointments and places to be. Occasionally the marks on the hands take the shape of funny faces, cartoon characters and other playful amusements. As our years grow, simple recreations fade from priorities and the hands become less and less a place for recalling anything at all. We mark instead paper with fine pointed ink, day timers are filled with new priorities to remember, and the finger tips are worn more then the flesh of the finger as typing takes precedent over the act of manual inscription.

A few years ago, well, in 1996, a film came out called The Pillow Book. The female lead character was Japanese and much of the emotion of the film centered around a birthday tradition she held with her father: each birthday he would paint Happy Birthday wishes in Japanese characters on her face. As she grew older, the tradition continued, but with changing sensations brought on by her sexual experiences with other men in her life. The pure physicality of the act of writing – and the intimacy established between one’s writing another’s text – is a pleasure often overlooked. When we write, we are literally drawing our thoughts onto paper, using the same tools of the artist; there is no difference between the artist and the writer at the moment of executing a creative act; the high is the same high.

I recently went to a tattoo convention in Tampa, Florida (after delivering a conference paper; not my main trip motivation, unfortunately). After coming back, tattoo-less, my cousin and I had a debate over “what to wear” on one’s skin for the rest of life. She told me of a project called “The Tattoo Book,” or something like that. Apparently there is a woman who is tattooing one word on one person – each a stranger – and photographing the tattoo, eventually comprising her novel from the photos and producing her text. I do not like this idea at all. What a violation to be marked by another for another’s own project. (I am still undecided about this tattoo-based art piece by Santiago Sierra...) Even with consent, and laser tattoo removal, to create such a mark on another’s body in such a way without intimacy…I don’t think I could live with it. A girl I knew in college tattooed “hope” in her own handwriting on her body, location undisclosed. That idea I like much more since there is such a stronger connection between the meaning of the word (not definition, but personal value) that will be a part of the visible skin for such a long period of time. No, I don’t have any tattoos, and I cannot think of a single word with that much value to me, personally.

Barthes, in A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, said that when we are in love we are really only speaking to ourselves, about ourselves, for ourselves, and therefore the language of love is one of solitude; in love we are only projecting outward our own desire to hear ourselves. This voice should be constantly enacted in a process of self-inscription, so that the mind sees the words it wants to hear reflected on its own flesh, rather than obscuring the voice that the one we might love may wish to speak. We should give the words we desire to hear to ourselves first: a contract in which we bind ourself to ourself, in writing. At least pen and paint can wash away over time, as feelings and priorities change -- as our self-discourse evolves.

Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire. —A Lovers Discourse: Fragments

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