The Modified Body in Media and Literature (Panel)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
contact email: 

While the overarching narrative that frames scholarship on body modification seems to reduce it—especially in the case of tattoos—into what Matthew Lodder calls a “chronological tourism,” that is, that every tattoo merely speaks of “internal truths” that chronicle milestones in one’s personal mythmaking (as a response to questions like “What does your tattoo mean? What were you going through when you got it?”), such a view eschews the discursive potential of body modification as a social act in favour of pure radical individualism. As many societies and cultures remain inhospitable to body modification practices, the choice of whether or not to be tattooed becomes as much a performative index that reinforces or challenges the regulation of the individual Body as what one is tattooed with. Agency in the context of tattooing thus extends neither just to the aesthetic elements of one’s tattoo designs nor to the psychological value of tattoos as a form of inscriptive catharsis, but also to the undeniable capacity of tattoos and tattooing to limn the borders of social imaginaries. As signifiers in an inherently social communicative system, tattoos are at once concrete externalizations of the tattooed individual’s subjectivity, interpretive manifestations of the tattoo artist’s craft, visual media that convey a message, and textual messages that invite a response.

This panel seeks presentations that interrogate this dynamic of body modification in light of what Jack Halberstram identifies as the “metronormativity” of discourses of modernity, which emphasizes the false dichotomies of urban/rural, liberal/conservative, normal/queer, and in the context of this panel, the supposed divide in modernity between conformity and deviance. Of special interest are presentations that provide insight on literary and cultural representations of body modification as a modern phenomenon that can signify co-inherence with or resistance against one’s social imaginary, or otherwise serve a dialectic function whereby these instances of liberatory agency become both products resulting from, and tools instrumentalized in, the perpetuation of dominant discourses of biopower.

Please submit proposals of 250 to 300 words, with a bio of at most 100 words, on how you intend to address one or more of the talking points above. For inquiries, you may contact Christian Ylagan at