ACLA Panel: Tattoos as/in Literature: Beyond the Semiotic and the Bodily.

deadline for submissions: 
September 20, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
James Martell / Lyon College
contact email: 

CFP for the 2018 ACLA Panel: Tattoos as/in Literature: Beyond the Semiotic and the Bodily.  After the “linguistic turn,” and at the intersection of (post)structuralism, deconstruction, and the evolving series of critical discourses on materiality, bodies, the non-human, theory and literary criticism have discovered a need to read beyond words and purely linguistic signification in general. Images and bodies appear no longer as limits of discourse, or as what needs to be translated into words, but as surfaces of signification in themselves. Derrida’s own spatial and visual experimentation in his writing pointed towards the need to consider the inseparable links between words, images, and bodies, not only in literature, but also in theory and philosophy. In On Touching, Derrida describes the unavoidable moment when any word gets inscribed on both the pronouncing and the addressed bodies: “Without even being watched over or pointed out, each word speaks in tongues to the skin, each word has a word on the tongue with the skin. Before a deictic is showing, before an auto-deictic shows itself, by pointing its finger toward itself, before and in view of narcissistic speculation, it touches.” (303) As with tattoos, written discourses are essentially entangled with images and the bodies and surfaces where they are inscribed.Tattoos can be seen as metaphors, figures, or images of discourses, fictional or theoretic, as well as of other art forms. But they can also be considered as the primal metonymy for all of these acts of signification, and thus, as the best way to describe how metonymy functions: by partaking of and creating words and images as well as the bodies upon which these are inscribed, while at the same time showing the constant contamination of borders, and especially between the inside (blood) and the outside (ink) flows of both, signification, and effacement. Tattooing’s tactile demonstration of the contamination inherent to writing, when thought in the context of Western culture’s general prohibition against tattoos, makes them rich sights from which to explore the physical and psychic remainders that modern Western regimes of bodily life produce. Writing of this prohibition, Deleuze and Guattari suggested that tattoos gesture to senses of signification and sensation that explode traditional understandings of the human and its other: “Paintings, tattoos, or marks on the skin embrace the multidimensionality of bodies.”At a time when critical and literary discourse is searching for a novel understanding of signs and the extra-semiotic, tattoos provide an exemplary source for new theoretical reflection. This panel invites presentations analyzing tattoos as both unique phenomena and as schemes to understand or read visual, textual, or mixed-media texts. Proposals investigating the varied ways tattoos reveal links, caesuras, and differences between the semiotic and the bodily are especially welcome. Proposals may reflect on literary, theoretical, cinematic, and philosophical works from any period or cultural context. If you are interested, please send an email with an abstract and short bio to me at or to Erik Larsen at