6/9/12

Are Tattoos Evidence of Essentialism?


Are Tattoos Evidence of Essentialism?

I went to a Rockies baseball game recently; walking around, I felt as if I had stumbled into a tattoo convention. They were (are) everywhere. And this got me to wondering: what does this act of self-expression say about the underlying view of human nature?

There are two kinds of reactions people give me when I ask about their tattoos. One is pride that they chose a design (or words) which capture who they are and expect to always be. The other is regret (sometimes more than mild) that they got the tattoo--it bespeaks either a rash choice or an earlier understanding of themselves which they now have outgrown. (It's like looking at your marginalia on a Herman Hesse book that you read in high school. "Wow." "So true." "Meditation=Truth." You get the idea.) Both point--perhaps--to a motivating philosophical urge behind the choice for a tattoo which denies (consciously or unconsciously) the reality of change. The tattoo is a gesture at expressing and declaring one's essence, once and for all. Change of mind (about aesthetics, sentiment, etc.) and change of physical state (the effects of weight gain or loss, wrinkles, etc.) are implicitly denied by the act.

If this is all wrong, then my question has to be: If you got a tattoo and did not expect it to always speak a truth, why did you get it? Did you intend to remove it or do you have a "second act" explanation for what it means?

10 comments:

Jason Hills said...

David,

Many of the heavily tattoo'd that I've met, including my partner, just see it as natural as having your ears pierced. It seems to vary quite a bit by culture. So, I notice that it's not a big deal in Chicago, but down here in Houston, it's a really big deal. That said, locally, I've seen more heavy-industrial body mod down here than I've seen in awhile ... right next to some really conservative peeps. It's entertaining.

Lance Barnette said...

Being fearful that I might one day have to support myself by turning to crime in my old age, I have avoided adorning my body with any unique identifying marks, so I have no first hand insights. With that said, I've known of those who get multiple tattoos to commemorate special events in their lives. For those who choose that path, tattoos aren't a denial of change, but rather a record of it.

Lance Barnette said...

Being fearful that I might one day have to support myself by turning to crime in my old age, I have avoided adorning my body with any unique identifying marks, so I have no first hand insights. With that said, I've known of those who get multiple tattoos to commemorate special events in their lives. For those who choose that path, tattoos aren't a denial of change, but rather a record of it.

Purple Kale Kitchenworks said...

For some people, I think, it's just another canvas, another medium, for play. It's about expression, too, I imagine, but it can also just be a more adult form of drawing with pen on your arms. Which my kids do all the time.

Purple Kale Kitchenworks said...

I wonder if skin is sometimes just another medium of play. The way my kids like to draw on their arms with pen.

hilde said...

What would you say if they told you they wanted to play with a real tattoo? Would you need to explain that it's more than play?

hilde said...

I'd add that "play" is no simple phenomenon, and so calling it play doesn't avoid the complications about what it means and whether its permanence is fully understood.

Jason Hills said...

I think that the obvious answer is correct, no.

Purple Kale Kitchenworks said...

Yes, I agree. But maybe for some people permanence isn't that big a deal.....?

hilde said...

Agreed--permanence isn't a big deal if they have stopped growing and are "ok" with that. Atrophying as a way of life--we're perfecting that, perhaps?