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On flaying skin:

Apollo killed the satyr Marsyas, a follower of the goddess Cybele. This was how it came about. One day, Athene made a double flute from stag's bones, and played on it at a banquet of the gods. She could not understand, at first, why Hera and Aphrodite were laughing silently behind their hands, alt-hough her music seemed to delight the other deities; she therefore went away by herself into a Phrygian wood, took up the flute again beside a stream, and watched her image in the water, as she played. Realizing at once how ludicrous that bluish face and those swollen cheeks made her look, she threw down the flute, and laid a curse on anyone who picked it up. Marsyas was the innocent victim of this curse. He stumbled upon the flute, which he had no sooner put to his lips than it played of itself, in-spired by the memory of Athene's music; and he went about Phrygia in Cybele's train, delighting the ignorant peasants. They cried out that Apollo himself could not have made better music, even on his lyre, and Marsyas was foolish enough not to contradict them. This, of course, provoked the anger of Apollo, who invited him to a contest, the winner of which should inflict whatever punishment he pleased on the loser. Marsyas consented, and Apollo empanelled the Muses as a jury. The contest proved an equal one, the Muses being charmed by both instruments, until Apollo cried out to Marsyas: 'I challenge you to do with your instrument as much as I can do with mine. Turn it upside down, and both play and sing at the same time.' This, with a flute, was manifestly impossible, and Marsyas failed to meet the challenge. But Apollo reversed his lyre and sang such delightful hymns in honour of the Olympian gods that the Muses could not do less than give the verdict in his favour. Then, for all his pretended sweetness, Apollo took a most cruel revenge on Marsyas: flaring him alive and nailing his skin to a pine (or, some say, to a plane-tree). It now hangs in the cavern whence the Marsyas River rises.

Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 1955, Sections 21F and G.

On skin, language and meaning:

Language has always preserved the close relationship among identity, self-consciousness and one's own skin, as reflected in countless idiomatic expressions, sayings and metaphors. When someone says, for instance, that she is "jumping out of her skin", "is trying to save her own skin", or "is getting under someone's skin", that person is most intimately speaking about herself. These kinds of colloquial expressions are well known from everyday language, but we rarely reflect on them. Moreover, the fact that they are an important element in the shaping of poetic texts has also been overlooked until now. Speech about one's own skin is speech about oneself as body. This insight is by no means self-evident in European culture, which, beginning with Greek enlightenment, through the Cartesian division into mind and body, and on to modern subject theories, has stood in the tradition of subjectivism. [...] Culturally, the perception of the skin was increasingly turned into a perception of distance as a consequence of being reduced to the visual impression of the bodily surface. This development has had far-reaching consequences: only as the observed skin of the other with whom I come face to face does skin become a sign, only through this separation can the other truly become a recognizable and classifiable object. The skin is constantly interpreted, read, invested with or emptied of semantic meaning, recoded, neutralized, and stylized. To give just one example, as late as the nineteenth century, people in the Western cultural orbit still considered a pale complexion refined and noble, while today there is a tendency to see such coloring as unhealthy and nonathletic (the dangers of skin cancer notwithstanding).

Claudia Benthien, Skin: On the Cultural Border between Self and the World, Columbia University Press, 2002, p. 9 and 11.

On wide-open skin and the plague:

Behind the fear of social contacts lurked a host of other anxieties, amongst them fear of the frailty of the bodily shell. The skin was seen as porous, and countless openings seemed to threaten, since the surfaces were weak and the frontiers uncertain. Behind the simple refusal of proximity lay a very specific image of the body: heat and water created openings, the plague had only to slip through. These images were potent and far-reaching, and their consequences for classical hygiene need to be assessed. It is in this context that the prohibitions we have described assume significance. Baths and steam-baths were dangerous because they opened up the body to the atmosphere. They exercised an almost mechanical action on the pores, temporarily exposing the organs to the elements. It was no longer touch, or a principle of proximity, which was at issue, but a principle of openness. The body had less resistance to poisons after bathing, because it was more open to them. It was as if the body was permeable; infectious air threatened to flood in from all sides. [...] Comparing the body to familiar objects only rein-forced this image of penetration. The architectural metaphor played a central role, with the body seen as a house invaded and occupied by the plague. You had to know how to shut the doors. But water and heat undid them at will, opened them up and maintained the breach. The plague had only to move in.

Georges Vigarello, Concepts of Cleanliness: Changing Attitudes in France since the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 9.

On eating skin:

Eating skin: the phrase immediately forefronts the consumption of difference. More often than not, this is taken to be the eradication of difference, difference turned into commodity. Yet such interpretations ignore the ways in which one is changed by eating, made bigger, smaller, healthier, sicker, happier, fear-ful. Skin is the most obvious of social markers, yet it evades attempts to speak of it in terms both socio-logical and desirous. Despite being a touchy subject best avoided in certain contexts, we must none the less learn to grapple with it, get our hands sticky with questions not easily answered. Eating skin is that fine line that divides and brings together so many categories and incongruities: the bruising of violence and intensity, the clichés of inner and outer. But what of skin as a way of thinking through difference, to some place beyond the triteness of self-same, self-other, to a space where eating skin unravels statements about assimilation and authenticity? Could we make eating skin an act of such intensity that it burns out the fear that makes us hide behind abstraction? More precisely, and within a clashing arrangement of contexts, I want to know how to eat skin, the skin of the other: to eat skin well, and to hope for my skin to be well eaten.

Elspeth Probyn, "Eating Skin," in Sarah Ahmen and Jackie Stacey, Thinking Through the Skin, London Routledge, 2001, p. 91.

On facial skin and cosmetics:

Woman is quite within her rights, indeed she is even accomplishing a kind of duty, when she devotes herself to appearing magical and supernatural; she has to astonish and charm us; as an idol, she is obliged to adorn herself in order to be adored. Thus she has to lay all the arts under contribution for the means of lifting herself above Nature, the better to conquer hearts and rivet attention. It matters but little that the artifice and trickery are known to all, so long as their success is assured and their effect always irresistible. By reflecting in this way the philosopher-artist will find it east to justify all the practices adopted by women at all times to consolidate and as it were to make divine their fragile beauty. To enumerate them would be an endless task: but to confine ourselves to what today is vulgarly called "maquillage", anyone can see that the use of rice-powder, so stupidly anathematized by our Arcadian philosophers, is successfully designed to rid the complexion of those blemishes that Nature has outra-geously strewn there, and thus to create an abstract unity in the color and texture of the skin, a unity, which, like that produced by the tights of a dancer, immediately approximates the human being to the statue, that is to something superior and divine. As for the artificial black with which the eye is outlined, and the rouge with which the upper part of the cheek is painted, although their use derives from the same principle, the need to surpass Nature, the result is calculated to satisfy an absolutely opposite need. Red and black represent life, a supernatural and excessive life: its black frame renders the glance more penetrating and individual, and gives the eye a more decisive appearance of a window open upon the infinite; and the rouge which sets fire to the cheek-bone only goes to increase the brightness of the pupil and adds to the face of a beautiful woman the mysterious passion of the priestess. Thus, if you will understand me aright, face-painting should be used with the vulgar, unavowable object of imitating fair nature and of entering into competition with youth. It has moreover been remarked that artifice cannot lend charm to ugliness and can only serve beauty. Who would dare to assign to art the sterile function of imitating Nature? Maquillage has no need to hide itself or the shrink from being suspected; on the contrary, let it display itself, at least if it does so with frankness and honesty.

Charles Baudelaire, "In Praise of Cosmetics," in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, translated by Jonathan Mayne, Phaidon Press, p. 33-34.

On crucifixion and scratching skin:

There is a grotesque relationship between crucifixion and scratching. One of the fiendish things about crucifixion is not that the skin is laid open, but that the skin is made inaccessible to the victim himself. Crucifixion makes you an object and marks you as one, because it prevents you touching yourself. Christ is not hung on the cross so much, as spread out or unfolded across it. Not to be able to touch yourself, to be an entirely explicated existence, would be the greatest excruciation, and it is no wonder that the crucifixion is remembered in the making of the sign upon the body which flutteringly undoes its torturing work. The multiple piercings of the skin in crucifixion, the scourging, the crown of thorns, and the piercing of hands and feet, themselves communicate ironically with the impossibility of scratching an itch. The fact that the hands which normally apply the consummating nails to one's itch are themselves nailed (for all the fact that, as we know, victims of crucifixions were usually not nailed but roped to crosses), cruelly highlights this non-communication between hand and body.

Steven Connor, The Book of Skin, Cornell University Press, 2004, p. 233.

On Jesus and "Noli Me Tangere":

Christ expressly rules out the touching of his arisen body. At no other moment had Jesus either prohib-ited a touch or refused to let someone touch him. Here, though, on Easter morning and at the time of his first appearance, he suppresses or prevents Mary Magdalene's gesture. What must not be touched is the arisen body. We could just as well understand that it must not be touched because it cannot be: it is not to be touched. Yet that does not mean that it is an ethereal or immaterial, a spectral or phantas-magoric body. What follows in the text [...] clearly shows that this body is tangible. But it does not pre-sent itself as such here. Or rather, it slips away from a contact that it could have allowed. Its being and its truth as arisen are in the slipping away, in the withdrawal that alone gives the measure of the touch in question: not touching this body, to touch on its eternity. Not coming into contact with its manifest presence, to accede to its real presence, which consists in its departure. In the original Greek of John, Jesus' phrase is given as Me mou haptou. In a similar usage, the verb haptein ("to touch") can also mean to hold back, to stop". Christ does not want to be held back, for he is leaving. He says it immediately: he has not yet returned to the Father, and he is going toward him. To touch him or to hold him back would be to adhere to immediate presence, and just as this would be to believe in touching (to believe in the presence of the present), it would be to miss the departing according to which the touch and presence come to us. Only thus does the "resurrection" find its nonreligious meaning.

Jean-Luc Nancy, Noli Me Tangere: On the Raising of the Body, translated by Sarah Clifi, Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 14-15.

On seeing and touching:

And as, conversely, every experience of the visible has always been given to me within the context of the movements of the look, the visible spectacle belongs to the touch neither more nor less than do the "tactile qualities." We must habituate ourselves to think that every visible is cut out in the tangible, eve-ry tactile being in some manner promised to visibility, and that there is encroachment, infringement, not only between the touched and the touching, but also between the tangible and the visible, which is en-crusted in it, as, conversely, the tangible itself is not a nothingness of visibility, is not without visual existence. Since the same body sees and touches, visible and tangible belong to the same world. It is a marvel too little noticed that every movement of my eyes—even more, every displacement of my body—has its place in the same visible universe that I itemize and explore with them, as, conversely, every vision takes place somewhere in the tactile space. There is double and crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and of the tangible in the visible; the two maps are complete, and yet they do not merge into one. The two parts are total parts and yet are not superposable.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, translated by Alphonso Lingis, Northwestern University Press, 1968.

On prosthetic skin and becoming posthuman:

To touch is to become posthuman. It is prosthetic because it is associated with a surplus or excess of the biological organism. Touch involves a departure from my organs as organs. Touch is a movement-toward that relates my body to the excess of your body. My body is always more than one. This relation cannot simply be thought as a skin-to-skin encounter. Certainly, often I touch skin. But the untouchability inspired by my desire to touch is based on the fact that you are reaching from my body as much as I am reaching from yours. Together we become prosthetically entwined. We touch an incorporeal body that is created through our reaching-toward. The body does not pre-exist the relation. Touch is a pros-thesis through which our bodies make contact. Touch is the manner in which I navigate from a subject position (an imagined stability) to an in-betweenness where the line between you and me becomes blurred. To touch is to become posthuman.

Erin Manning, Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty, University of Minnesota Press, 2007, p. 155-156.

On the caress and the shaping of others:

The caress does not want simple contact; it seems that man alone can reduce the caress to a contact, and then he loses its unique meaning. This is because the caress is not a simple stroking; it is a shapIng. In caressing the Other I cause her flesh to be born beneath my caress, under my fingers. The caress is the ensemble of those rituals which incarnate the Other. But, someone will object, was the Other not already incarnated? To be precise, no. The Other's flesh did not exist explicitly for me since I grasped the Other's body in situation; neither did it exist for her since she transcended it toward her possibilities and toward the object. The caress causes the Other to be born as flesh for me and for herself. And by flesh we do not mean a part of the body such as the dermis, the connective tissues or, specifically, epidermis; neither need we assume that the body will be "at rest" or dozing although often it is thus that its flesh is best revealed. But the caress reveals the flesh by stripping the body of its action, by cutting it off from the possibilities which surround it; the caress is designed to uncover the web of inertia beneath the ac-tion-i.e., the pure "being-there"-which sustains it. [...] By each caress I experience my own flesh and the Other's flesh through my flesh, and I am conscious that this flesh which I feel and appropriate through my flesh is flesh-realized-by-the Other. It is not by chance that desire while aiming at the body as a whole attains it especially through masses of flesh which are very little differentiated, grossly nerveless, hardly capable of spontaneous movement, through breasts, buttocks, thighs, stomach: these form a sort of image of pure facticity. This is why also the true caress is the contact of two bodies in their most-ly fleshy parts, the contact of stomachs and breasts; the caressing hand is too delicate, too much like a perfected instrument. But the full pressing together of the flesh of two people against one another is the true goal of desire.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, translated by Hazel E. Barnes, Routledge, 1984, p. 390 and 396.

On the caress and the future:

The caress, like contact, is sensibility. But the caress transcends the sensible. It is not that it would feel beyond the felt, further than the senses, that it would seize upon a sublime food while maintaining, within its relation with this ultimate felt, an intention of hunger that goes unto the food promised, and given to, and deepening this hunger, as though the caress would be fed by its own hunger. The caress consists in seizing upon nothing, in soliciting what ceaselessly escapes its form toward a future never future enough, in soliciting what slips away as though it were not yet. It searches, it forages. It is not an intentionality of disclosure but of search: a movement unto the invisible. In a certain sense it expresses love, but suffers from an inability to tell it. It is hungry for this very expression, in an unremitting in-crease of hunger. [...] Beyond the consent or the resistance of a freedom the caress seeks what is not yet, a "less than anything", closed and dormant beyond the future, consequently dormant quite other-wise than the possible, which would be open to anticipation. [...] The caress aims at neither a person nor a thing. It loses itself in a being that dissipates as though into an impersonal dream without will and even without resistance, a passivity, an already animal or infantile anonymity, already entirely at death.

Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, translated by Alphonso Lingis, Martinus Nijhoff, 1979, p. 257-259.

On profane love:

To give or give back to the other the possible site of his identity, of his intimacy: a second birth that returns one to innocence. A garment that isn't one, a kind of an envelopment that keeps continual watch over a space for birth-becoming other than a return to self. A becoming in which the other gives of a space-time that is still free. In which he re-entrusts me to a genesis that is still foreign to what has al-ready taken place. This gesture is more modest than the caress. A caress that precedes every caress, it opens up to the other the possible space of his respiration, his conception. Greeting him as other, en-countering him with respect for what surrounds him – that subtle, palpable space that envelops each of us like a necessary border, an irradiation of our presence that overflows the limits of the body. Capable of more than the "I can" of the body itself. This caress would begin at a distance. Tact that informs the sense of touch, attracts, and comes to rest on the threshold of the approach. Without paralysis or violence, the lovers would beckon to each other, at first from far away. A salutation that means the cross-ing of a threshold. Pointing out the space of a love that has not yet been made profane. The entrance into the dwelling, or the temple, where each would invite the other, and themselves, to come in, also into the divine.

Luce Irigaray, Ethics of Sexual Difference, translated by Carolyne Burke and Gillian C. Gill, Cornell University Press, 1993, p. 206.

On kissing and biting:

What, then, is a treatise of touch that says nothing about this: "Who touches whom? And how?"; "Who strikes whom? Who strokes whom? And why? And how?" Let us insist again that various causes or qualities do not come and modify or modalize one single, selfsame, presupposed generality of what we conveniently term the "caress" and the "blow". There again, they constitute a multiplicity without the horizon of a totalizable unity. For, let us not hide this from ourselves, by this stroke, and with a caress- a caress may be a blow and vice versa-it comes down to the conceptual condition of concepts. And let us not exclude either that certain experiences of touching (of "who touches whom") do not simply pertain to blows and caresses. What about a kiss? Is it one caress among many? What about a kiss on the mouth? What about a biting kiss, as well as everything that can then be exchanged between lips, tongues, and teeth? Are blows wanting there? Are they absent in coitus, in all the penetrations or acts of homosexual or heterosexual sodomy? Is a "caress," more so than a "blow," enough of a concept to say something of this experience of "touching" of which Aristotle, followed by all those who came after him in the great traditional philosophy of touch, hardly breathed a word?

Jacques Derrida, On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy, translated by Christine Irizarry, Stanford University Press, 2005, p. 69.


An archive of writings on skin, otherwise known as a dermatography, selected by Apostolos Lampropoulos, Philadelphia, 2014