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A Little Death:
Hegelian Reflections on Body Piercing & Tattoos

Antonio Canova's "Amor and Psyche," 1793

Antonio Canova’s “Amor and Psyche,” 1793, Louvre

887 words

It is safe to say that urban youth culture in the contemporary West is pretty much saturated with hedonism. Yet in the midst of all this hedonism, tattooing and body piercing are huge industries, and they hurt.

It is, moreover, shared pain, broadcast to and imposed upon all who see it. It is natural for human beings to feel sympathy for people in pain, or who show visible signs of having suffered pain. Perhaps this is a sign of morbid oversensitivity, but I believe I am not the only person who feels sympathy pains when I see tattoos and piercings, especially extensive ones. Sometimes I actually shudder and look away. Furthermore, am I the only one who finds tattoos and piercings extreme sexual turn-offs?

Sexual sadism and mascochism fit into a larger hedonistic context, since the are merely intensifications or exaggerations of features of normal hetrosexual relations. But what is the place of the non-sexual masochism of body piercing and tattooing in a larger hedonistic society?

This question first occured to me when I saw Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, in which Jody, the wife of the drug dealer Lance, launches into a discourse about piercing. Jody, it is safe to say, is about as complete a hedonist as has ever existed. Yet Jody has had her body pierced sixteen times, including her left nipple, her clitoris, and her tongue. And in each instance, she used a needle rather than a relatively quick and painless piercing gun. As she says, “That gun goes against the whole idea behind piercing.”

Well then, I had to ask, “What is the whole idea behind piercing?” Yes, piercing is fashionable. Yes, it is involved with sexual fetishism. (But fetishism is not mere desire either.) Yes, it is now big business. But the phenomenon cannot merely be reduced to hedonistic self-indulgence. It is irreversible. And it hurts. And apparently, if it doesn’t hurt, that contradicts the “whole idea.”

For Hegel, history begins when a distinctly human form of self-consciousness emerges. Prehistoric man is merely a clever animal who is ruled by his desires, by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, including the desire for self-preservation. When we enjoy creature comforts, however, we are aware of ourselves as mere creatures.

But human beings are more than clever animals. Slumbering within prehistoric man is a need for self-consciousness. To see our bodies, we need a mirror. To see our self also requires an appropriate “mirror.” For Hegel, the first mirror is the consciousness of others. We see ourselves as we are seen by others. When the reactions of others coincide with our sense of self, we feel pride. When we are treated in ways that contradict our sense of self, we feel anger. Sometimes this anger leads to conflict, and sometimes this conflict threatens our very lives.

For Hegel, the duel to the death for honor reveals the existence of two different and conflicting parts of the soul: desire, including the desire for self-preservation, and honor, which is willing to risk death to find satisfaction. For Hegel, the man who is willing to risk death to preserve his honor is a natural master. The man who is willing to suffer dishonor to preserve his life is a natural slave. For the master, honor rules over desire. For the slave, desire rules over honor. Hegel sees the struggle to the death over honor as the beginning of history, history being understood as a process by which human beings come to self-understanding.

Of course not every road to self-understanding involves an encounter with death. But the primary means by which we understand ourselves is participation in a culture, and civilized life entails countless repressions of our physical desires, countless little pains and little deaths.

According to Hegel, if history is a process of self-discovery, then history can end when we learn the truth about ourselves and live accordingly. And the truth is that all men are free. Hegel’s follower Francis Fukuyama became famous for arguing that the fall of communism and the globalization of liberal democracy was the end of history. But he also followed Alexandre Kojève, Hegel’s greatest 20th-century interpreter, who argued that the end of history would not bring a society of universal freedom, but a society of universal slavery: slavery in the spiritual sense of the rule of desire over honor. And that is a perfect description of modern, hedonistic, bourgeois society.

But there is more to the soul than desire. Thus man cannot be fully satisfied by mere hedonism. The restless drive for self-consciousness that gave rise to history in the first place will stir again. In a world of casual and meaningless self-indulgence, piercing and its first cousin tattooing are thus deeply significant; they are tests; they are limit experiences; they are encounters with something—something in ourselves and in the world—that transcends the economy of desire. To “mortify” the flesh literally means to kill it. Each little hole is a little death, which derives its meaning from a big death, a whole death, death itself. Thus one can see the contemporary craze with body modification as the re-enactment of the primal humanizing encounter with death within the context of a decadent and dehumanizing society. History is beginning again.

 

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40 Comments

  1. Posted February 10, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Tattoos are an ancient and powerful semiotic tool signifying a spiritual “weltanschauung” as well as a cultural and aesthetic one. To assess the meaning of a tattoo solely by the aesthetic quality of the art or the perceived “message” the wearer is venturing to convey is missing the point. I noticed this about twenty years ago when I first observed the tattoo fad moving out of its traditional peripheral sub-culture or “anti-social” groups into the mainstream of the middle and upper educated classes.
    But what kind of spirituality? Original, primary paganism, quite obviously. Despite their claims of being sophisticated, erudite, and self aware, the more socially advantaged and supposedly “educated” (dare we say indoctrinated) tattooed throngs of today are unconsciously signifying their level of spiritual enlightenment. The old mainstream of ethical monotheism has been poorly taught to them (if taught at all) and material wealth cannot sate the deep spiritual need most humans seems to possess. The elitism of gnostic thought is well beyond them, and Classical paganism and its philosophy requires an intellectual application that few modern people can muster. Such individuals naturally fall back into primal paganism, man’s “natural religion” as has been said.
    I might recommend a lecture by Austrian architect Adolf Loo given in Vienna in 1910 entitled “Ornament and Crime” which attacked ornament in art at that time, specifically art nouveau. It doesn’t deal directly with our subject here, but he does mention tattooing as a form of ornamentation, concluding that “No ornament can any longer be made today by anyone who lives on our cultural level … Freedom from ornament is a sign of spiritual strength”. As you can see, Western, specifically American culture, has changed “levels”.
    At the danger of sounding elitist (and therefore profoundly “un-American”), I must conclude that the current tattoo trend of the last twenty years is a sign of cultural, aesthetic and spiritual regression.

  2. Posted April 2, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    It would be so easy to write the “Twenty Reasons Your Grandmother Didn’t Get a Tattoo.” Or even thirty.

    First one is that our people have ideals around purity. Going back further, God itself was described as pure (Pure Consciousness and other terms.) The unblemished, natural, and untattooed body of his wife can no longer be his field of dreams.

    She can no longer evoke an untouched snowfall, uplift his mind, give him his own moral aspiration — or visually evoke the idea of purity. Or even virtue. What a loss.

  3. Stronza
    Posted April 2, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    “M.”, I’m not ordering you not to get tattooed. Indeed it is your choice. Whether it’s a deep, instinctive attraction you have for your body to be permanently marked in this way – or not – isn’t my business, to be sure.

    But in my book, “going back to your traditions” doesn’t mean going back to them completely. We have to separate some things out, after assessing them all. Some things have to be understood as having been meaningful at certain points in history. It seems that today, though, some people just want to do something for other reasons, and then the “our ancestors did it!” is an after-the-fact defence and rationalization. I’m not saying you are in this category, but just as a general observation.

    • rhondda
      Posted April 2, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      I would agree with you. After all, we don’t go around with heads on spikes anymore either.

  4. M.
    Posted April 2, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    etype,

    “but in actually where was it that civilized people traditionally encountered tattoo’s [sic]? ”

    It was in Greece – where pederasty was prevalent – where slaves were tattooed.

    Pre-Christian Germanics however sported tattoos of Yggdrasills of Irminsuls and of what were likely runes and often to mark themselves for war and primary sources do attest to this. There is nothing remotely nihilistic about striving to uphold traditions.

    Regarding “civlised people” I direct you to Spengler.

  5. M.
    Posted April 2, 2013 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    “Pre-Christian Germanic, Celtic and other central and northern European tribes were often heavily tattooed, according to surviving accounts. The Picts were supposedly tattooed (or scarified) with elaborate dark blue woad (or possibly copper for the blue tone) designs, though only Julius Caesar described these tattoos in Book V of his Gallic Wars (54 BCE). Other contemporary sources omit any mention of Pictish tattooing.

    Ahmad ibn Fadlan also wrote of his encounter with the Scandinavian Rus’ tribe in the early 10th century, describing them as tattooed from “fingernails to neck” with dark blue “tree patterns” and other “figures.”[1] During the gradual process of Christianization in Europe, tattoos were often considered remaining elements of paganism and generally legally prohibited.

    According to Robert Graves in his book The Greek Myths tattooing was common amongst certain religious groups in the ancient Mediterranean world, which may have contributed to the prohibition of tattooing in Leviticus. However, during the classic Greek period, tattooing was only common among slaves.”

    If we modern-day heathens wish to acquire tattoos as just another step in upholding our ancestral integrity that is our choice.

  6. Posted April 1, 2013 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    It’s desecration of the body. It destroys the beauty of the women. The men who are doing this to women deserve severe punishment imo.

    It’s also sad. My reaction with the women thus defaced with this graffiti is pain and grief.

    You could analyze various depths of it. Unmated women needing, as women, to get “pierced.” They profoundly become the possessions and turf of these tattoo “artist” cruds who are doing things that even their fathers were not allowed to do: Permanently alter their bodies and change their destinies. But it’s also like a mental illness. Now they’re destroying their earlobes. As they continue to become Africanized their lips and other parts of their God-given bodies can’t be far behind. The next untouched “frontier” for these sick people and the criminals who foment and profit from their sickness — is the face. This is already starting.

    It’s truly the dark age.

    • Stronza
      Posted April 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      I like your comments, J-C-L.

  7. Junghans
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    A thought provoking article, as well as some well considered responses. I deplore tattoos in general, and body piercings in particular, especially on White females. There are no doubt many reasons for the current body defilement fads, everything I suppose, from latent tribal identity, to shock & awe protest, to raw hedonism, to egotistical machismo and/or immaturity. Not intending to disparage those who are WN (ideologically correct), and tattooed, (who doesn’t make some mistakes in life?), I really feel that tattooing is a form of anachronistic atavism.

    Many of our Indo-European ancestors indulged in the practice of tattooing, as well as other socially destructive vices such as smoking Cannabis, producing and consuming excessive alcohol, and cultivating and using poppy derivatives/opiates. A classic example of such a branch of our Bronze Age people were the Kelt-related Tocharians of the Tarim Basin, and unfortunately, they essentially went extinct. In this respect, I can’t help comparing our ancestors of 6,000 years ago with the nihilistic, hard drinking, chain smoking, drug indulgent, movie mesmerized, trend following, ‘tough guy’, tank-top & tattoo White crowd that that we are essentially talking about here. When I make this comparison in my mind, all I can conjecture, and really visualize, is that these hedonistic, foolhardy Whites of today, may well be the ill fated Tocharians of the 21st Century. That is, carelessly and rapidly heading towards their racial extinction too.

  8. Vacant Serif
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Tattooing is decorative, but it also serves as a cultural semiotic. Of course this has changed as it has become more mainstream over the past 20 to 30 years. It can be a subcultural signifier as in the Hardcore subculture, gangs, etc. it also can issue the not very subtle command to be left TF alone. They were more common in among the working class and the military and the crimminal element, but they still maintained an air of the transgressive among the middle class that were daring enough to start getting them. I dont think this is so anymore as its become so common. “For Hegel, the duel to the death for honor reveals the existence of two different and conflicting parts of the soul: desire, including the desire for self-preservation, and honor, which is willing to risk death to find satisfaction. For Hegel, the man who is willing to risk death to preserve his honor is a natural master. The man who is willing to suffer dishonor to preserve his life is a natural slave. For the master, honor rules over desire. For the slave, desire rules over honor. Hegel sees the struggle to the death over honor as the beginning of history, history being understood as a process by which human beings come to self-understanding.” what if these two desires are in constant struggle, a dialectic is this possible or is this binary? Also The Prussian dueling scar was a sort of a desired decoration derived from ritualized combat was it not. It seems to have served an analogous function as tattoo. Personally I find it disturbing when I see people with deliberately uncomfortable looking piercings. I find them esthetically unappealing. Especially those stupid barbells in the eyebrows.

  9. Jaego
    Posted March 29, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Forget the all the details, but there was a White Sailor shipwrecked on a Pacific Island. The Natives accepted him but wanted to tatoo him. He didn’t feel he could say no. They tatooed his entire body. He never knew if this was some kind of humiliation, honor, or just the Native Artists enjoying such a clear White canvas to work on. Finally they wanted to do his face and he refused. They accepted the refusal. He was rescued a while after that and thus the tale.

    The Face is the most intimate part of our selves, the essence of both our humanity and individuality. That’s what makes the University of Wisconsin’s and Minnesota’s writing on White People’s faces so insulting. The Communists used to make people wear placards around their necks. Now we write on people’s faces. What’s next? Tatooing these “messages” on White People?

    • rhondda
      Posted March 29, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Yes indeed a white canvas. You have to have day glow for a black canvas.

  10. Albion Myway
    Posted March 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Not into it myself, and I have ambivalent feelings about tattoos on others. (I have designed them for other people in the past).

    Although many people bearing body modifications today are lost souls, the custom is not as alien to the European tradition as some make out. It’s also quite universal. Tattooed mummies have been found in Ancient Egypt, and wall paintings show other apparently Caucasian N. Africans with tattoos, they are a feature of Egyptian representations of Libyans. Berbers bear similar tattoos to this day, (especially women) similarly the Bedouin, despite the fact that Islam discourages this.

    As someone said, Otzi the ice mummy from the Alps proves that tattooing was a feature of Stone Age Europe. The Scythians, the Picts, and, according to Arabic sources, the Vikings were also covered in tattoos. Ear studs have also been found from Ancient British sites. The Greeks and Romans don’t seem to have gone in for this sort of thing. Judaism and Christianity frowned on tattooing (although Christians were often known to hurt themselves for penitential reasons). Christians in Egypt and the Balkans have traditions of being tattooed with crosses as a measure to deter forced conversion to Islam.

    British sailors seemed keen enough to get tattooed when they encountered the custom among Pacific Islanders in the time of Captain Cook. I’ve also heard of Spanish Conquistadors going native in MesoAmerica, and getting tattoos like those of the Maya.

    Circumcision in Judaism (although copied from Egypt) may have been a substitute for ritual child sacrifice. The associating of the custom with Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of Isaac seems to support this theory. So it was a little death in that sense.

  11. Posted March 29, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    From Hesse’s Demian. Plus ca change….

    Two men slowly walked past behind me. I caught a few words of their conversation.

    “Isn’t it just like the young men’s house in a kraal?” said one of them. “Everything fits down to the tattooing which is in vogue again. Look, that’s young Europe.”

    The voice sounded strangely and admonishingly familiar. I followed the two of them down the dark lane. One of them was a Japanese, small and elegant. Under a street lamp I saw his yellow face light up in a smile. …

    The other was now speaking again.

    “I imagine it’s just as bad where you come from, in Japan. People that don’t follow the herd are rare everywhere. There are some here too.”

    I felt a mixture of alarm and joy at each word. I knew the speaker. It was Demian. I followed him and the Japanese through the wind-swept streets; listening to their conversation I relished the sound of Demian’s voice. It still had its familiar ring; the same old beautiful certainty and calm had all their old power over me. Now all was well. I had found him….

    By the time I reached my distant house and was preparing for bed, all these thoughts had vanished and my entire being clung expectantly to the great promise that this day had brought me. As soon as I wished, even tomorrow, I was to see Demian’s mother. Let the students have their drunken orgies and tattoo their faces; the rotten world could await its destruction — for all I cared. I was waiting for one thing — to see my fate step forth in a new guise.

    • rhondda
      Posted March 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      I loved that book. It jumped off the self into my hands one day. I must have read it ten times. Maybe I should again.

  12. Jamie
    Posted March 29, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    More females than males get tattoos these days. The ones at the base of back, i read someone refering to them as ‘slag tags’, due to porn stars having them. Always think of that now when seeing one.
    Never got one myself, although often thought of it. Finding the right one i suppose. Too late now though

  13. etype
    Posted March 29, 2013 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Greg, you miss the obvious reason tatto’s have become du jour. People make all kinds of references to exotic savages and pagan pasts – but in actually where was it that civilized people traditionally encountered tattoo’s? – slaves.
    Just as punks adopted a style of complete degeneracy as a statement to society – ‘this is what you want us to be.,’ (however, the original punk movement was self aware of the why of what they were saying) – today’s punk, poseur or what have you is not aware of whose style he is imitating – that of slaves.
    Today’s piercing and tattoo victim robotically volunteers to be a slave, and thinks of this as ‘self expression’ and is totally unaware of what he or she is saying.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted March 29, 2013 at 2:40 am | Permalink

      I find this dubious on historical grounds as well as on psychological grounds. Can you cite some evidence?

      • etype
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        The historical ground of my statement would be that for millennia tattoo’s and body modification were
        mainly encountered in tales of natives from Africa, and later Polynesia. In Rome – tattoo’s were only encountered on prisoners of war and the resulting slaves, both Herodotus and Tacitus describe the tatoo’s of prisoners taken on the frontier and sent into slavery as the marks of uncivilized nations fit for slavery.
        It is undeniable that it was considered savagery to mutilate and mark the body of a civilized man, who seeks expression through intellect, not mutilation of the body. Also Rome, and in Greece – the body was considered not only aesthetically ideal, but of the highest ideal. The concept of scarification, tattooing or modification of what would be considered an idea product of a cultivated nature was thought of as an abomination against that nature and against civilization in harmony with the heavens.
        Among the Germans – the only body modification considered honourable were battle wounds and duelling scars, which were highly prized. The body was sacrosanct and communication or invocations that were not direct and open were mistrusted and shunned.
        I think it obvious that today’s body modification and tattooing is only superficially oriented towards identification with the outliers of society – as the outliers of today is not the outlaw – but the ‘victim’ of western civilization – who is understood as anyone outside of western civilization, even eskimoes, (excepting women who, if not victim, are the victim as ‘ideal’ or at least ‘fashion victims’
        The prevailing attitude among today’s rebelling youth is passivity. The endless recycling of previous trends, where mainstream movements such as feminism and culturally marxist products such as ‘pc’ and globalism are considered daring rebellion, while they are in reality complete co-option of the dominant narrative… while what this means for the future is met with irony.
        And globalism, as spelled out in ‘Brave New World’ and ‘1984’ motto is ‘freedom is slavery’…and other inverse narratives, (I’m speaking here of the cultural psychology that points to the habit of tattoo’s etc. as a signifier for slavery, as ‘freedom’ or rebellion….as the ‘outrage’ of the offended victim…made by students in courses intended as pacifiers of various self-proclaimed marginalized sectors of our society who seek a ‘voice’.)
        It’s Sunday afternoon, and I can’t write much longer or dig out my Tacitus and Herodotus where the tattoo’s of slaves are described in terms of tprimitive mentality, but I’m surprised you find this theory dubious – please explain why you find this dubious so I can direct myself to those points.

  14. Deviance
    Posted March 29, 2013 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Very interesting thoughts.

    There is evidently a trend of willing to indulge in hedonism among young Westerners today — for those who didn’t already know it —, and this is the reason nearly all of them, even liberal hipsters who rant all day about capitalism, secretly or openly admit they would have liked to be born in a rich family — wealth suppresses impediments to a hedonistic life, this is well-known and does make sense.

    But at the same time, and this is something I have observed among (mostly ex-) friends, hedonism never manages to entirely capture their soul. The desire to belong, the desire to be respected, the desire to find love and create offspring, are common obstacles to hedonism in both girls and boys. As to boys, there is still a latent desire to “live great things” and “do great things”, which is almost never fulfilled because of the Zeitgeist-induced apathy and neurasthenia.

    The average Western youngster is therefore schizophrenic and torn apart, as well as dilettante and volatile, and thus highly vulnerable to potential predators. If France (which is where I live) was invaded tomorrow by a foreign army, defeat would materialize quasi-instantly, not so much because of a refusal to fight than because of total confusion and a deep sleep that is shaked off too late. A 1940 redux, in other words. Except quicker.

    My personal opinion on tattoos : a big turn-off when it comes to girls, since it is associated in my mind to a low-class lifestyle. Even beautiful and meaningful ones, for some reason. As to men, I find the act of getting a tattoo indicative of a refusal of Reason, doubt and scepticism — you admit your opinions of today will still follow you when you are old.

    The only acceptable tattoos in my mind are those linked to kinship or ethnic brotherhood, because genes do stay all your life.

  15. Brian
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Hating on tattoos is for Semites. Getting inked up is the expression of a healthy soul battling a profane existence.

    If it weren’t for the freaks, this would be the left-wing Truman Show, where all things, no matter how terrible, are approached with great alacrity by the ever-contented masses of mole people.

    I want desperately to believe that there are other people who reject modernity as strongly as I do. I want to feel assured that there are other souls as starved for spiritual nourishment. And while there are a handful of writers that really draw out and actualize some greater force within me, nothing screams giant middle finger to modernity like a hideous, gargantuan, permanent tattoo, self-imposed and self-motivated as spiritual rite and initiation. It seems so anti-modern and anti-Semitic and so ugly and so human. It’s totally Aryan and badass.

    This article is genius.

    • Lew
      Posted March 29, 2013 at 1:39 am | Permalink

      Oh, nonsense. Human beauty is symmetry, balance, proportion, noble and regal bearing. Like Greek or Roman statuary, a Da Vinci drawing, or a work by Breker. Can you imagine a tattoo or a piercing on Michealangelo’s David? I find the thought of it repulsive, and not just because it would be ugly but because of what it would represent: nihilism. Warping the human form on purpose is nihilistic and therefore very much in line with the spirit of Judaism and modernity. Modernity is ugly, not just spiritually but at an aesthetic level too. Surely there a better ways to give the middle finger.

      • Brian
        Posted March 29, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Nah. Folks like Gianluca Iannone or Ian Stuart Donaldson are not nihilists. It’s easier for me to look up to these sorts of men than to men who say they reject modernity but who appear to be hardly affected by it.

        Anyone who is too well adjusted to the circumstance is suspect. The significance of tats shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.

      • Jaego
        Posted March 29, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        Unless they mean something – like the Marine Tatoo. Or the emblems burned into the arms of the Shaolin Monks in the Kung Fu series. But yes – people who cover themselves are desperate and its ugly.

      • Stronza
        Posted March 29, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        Tattoos and other markings done by paleolithic people for aeons is one thing. I think it has some deep inherent meaning to them stemming from day one.

        Here in the west, somebody came along and said being tattooed is cool, and it stuck. A fad was started. That’s all it is. More than anything in the universe (except for riches), we here, especially the younger ones, want to be cool. To fit in yet stand out. Can you imagine when all those silly babes and old geezers are in their 70s or so, with their skin sagging and wrinkled, with their worn-out tattoos. Thank god I won’t be here to see it for real but in the meantime there are images on the internet. I’m warning you, though. http://www.alternativelook.net/tattoos-on-old-people/

      • Lew
        Posted March 29, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        Brian, just to be clear, I’m not censuring you. If you have tattoos, I’m cool with it.

        My wife actually has a pagan symbol for a tattoo. She picked it because that symbol has meaning for her. Most people have no idea what it is, however, and some people probably think “tramp stamp” even if they never say it. Because, fair or not, in this sick modern context any tattoo on a woman has come to connote dumb slut with no forward thinking skills. Fair? No? True in all cases? Of course not. True in enough cases for the slut stereotype to gain popular currency? Yes, if you read the gamer sites. This is modernity after all.

        Reasonable people can disagree, but I think rejecting modernity is first and foremost psychological, intellectual, and spiritual. Then, second, it is about translating anti-modern values into action and conduct.

        I don’t really understand how rejecting modernity could possibly have anything to do with outward appearance. Aesthetics are important, but ascribing too much importance to physical appearance is also superficial.

        I think it’s fair to say Nietzsche and Evola rejected modernity and both probably had utterly conventional dress and appearance by the standards of their day.

  16. NoTattMan
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    @Verils
    I couldn’t agree more.

    @Flavia
    You have the coolest website!

    @Everyone
    Great comments so far. And I reiterate: no tattoos on girls.

  17. JuleighHoward-Hobson
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    The Iceman’s skin is tattooed. Tattooing is as ancient a European custom as worshipping the Aesir and Vanir is. I have tattoos. I have them because I am not Jewish, Christian or Muslim—three religions that spring from the same foreign source, a source that explicity denies its followers tattoos:
    The biblical verse, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:28) is the foundational text upon which later Rabbinic scholars developed the prohibitions against tattooing. Rabbinic law clarifies the biblical statute and states that only tattoos of a permanent nature are considered impermissible.
    Maimonides, a leading 12th century scholar of Jewish law and thought, explains that the prohibition against tattoos originates as a Jewish response to paganism. Since it was common practice for ancient pagan worshippers to tattoo themselves with religious iconography and names of gods, Judaism prohibited tattoos entirely in order to disassociate from other religions. (1)

    I am heathen, my tattoos are heathen, my values are heathen. Every drop of ink needled into me is a moment I spent hanging on the windy tree. There is no mistake, and there is no need to wonder. I am European, I am heathen, I am traditional–foreign values do not dilute me. It is sad that so many of our people need to remember who we really were before unindigenous values and aesthetics became superimposed upon the European folksoul.

    1 ) http://www.hillel.org/about/news/2007/jan/tattoos_19Jan07.htm

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted March 28, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

      Circumcision is the Jewish version of the tattoo, and of course theirs is a jealous God, so all other modifications are not permitted.

  18. me
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of piercings – I’ve seen little metal balls on the tongue. Since I read lips to carry a conversation, it is certainly distracting for me to see such items as they talk to me.

    I suppose those ball bearings on the tongue helps the person speak faster and smoother.

  19. rhondda
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have any tattoos, but I see them as a kind of language. For example, there is a young man at the butcher shop who has a lovely Celtic Triquetra on the inside of his forearm. One day I remarked about it and named it and he was so pleased that I recognized the symbol. All if a sudden I was no longer just a customer and he the kid behind the counter. We had an actual enjoyable conversation. But there are others that I do wonder about. This other clerk in another store had numbers on her forearm. I asked about them and they were the birthdays of her kids. I did not ask if she got the idea from Angelina Jolie and I also did not say that they reminded me Auschwitz because they were all numbers and no words. So in some ways they are a conversation starter.
    Some indeed just make me think of atavism and regression beyond the mean. There is this politician in Eastern Europe that has his whole body tattooed. I think he won his election too, but I didn’t check. Does that say something about those who elected him? His only regret was that it scares his kid. The funniest one though was this guy who sold space on his face and got logos tattooed there, the majority of which were porn sites. He really regrets that now as he tries to earn money to get them removed.
    When I ask if it hurt. They always say yes, and they are very proud of enduring that pain.
    It is too bad we do not have initiation ceremonies for kids, other than cars and proms. I guess they invent their own.

    • Stronza
      Posted March 28, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      If young males were made to endure meaningful initiation rites, they wouldn’t likely need meaningless “art” on their bodies to prove they’ve experienced pain. As to the women – just have a baby or two (the normal way if possible, no drugs, etc.) You’ll feel pain if that’s so damn important to you. Have some children, raise them. That’s all the pain anybody could need. What kind of people seek out artificial, unproductive pain, for christ’s sake.

      • rhondda
        Posted March 28, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

        I think you should go tell them. It is not meaningless to them. This society is meaningless to them because there are no meaningful rites for them other than what parents happen to arrange. There is nothing that welcomes a young man or woman into adulthood in a societal way.
        I have had two children and had hardly any pain at all. In fact it was rather ecstatic, once I got over the fear that there would be pain. And raising them was an absolute delight for me, not painful at all.

        Personally, I would rather wear jewelry than have a piercing or a tattoo.

  20. Lew
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Or maybe it’s just herd-like conformity, basically the same dynamic that drives millions to Lady Gaga’s ” music” ? I see nothing to admire in self-mutilation. My father and wife, incidentally, have tattoos, as well as a number of friends. Although I wish they didn’t have them in my father and wife’s case, they’re at least tastefully done. My wife’s is a pagan / celtic religious symbol.

    Some tattoo/piercing extremists appear to derive meaning or value in their lives by trying to shock people and flout social conventions. Modernity seems to produce such people in droves. To me, there is something sad and desperate about them, sorta like people who are into serious BSDM. You have to be psychologically sick on some level to find that appealing.

    A very long time ago a friend of mine talked me into going see the Dead Kennedys. The “music” sucked, and it was a real freakshow. Some guy had a collar tattooed around his neck. So I guess I don’t get why this trend should be viewed in any way as positive, at least not here in circles that tend to deride things like spectator sports as evidence of shallowness, decadence and misplaced priorities.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted March 28, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      Personally, aesthetically I think these trends are bad things. I don’t think anyone’s appearance is improved by them.

      But now, instead of regarding them merely as signs of psychological disturbance, I see them as signs of psychological health gone awry. I am sure these phenomena are a lot of things. But among them, they are a sign of restlessness, negativity, naysaying in a world that should not be affirmed.

      But I don’t see how Canova’s Cupid and Psyche would be improved by being covered with dayglo floral patterns copied from Mexican piggybanks. Which is why I chose the picture.

  21. Posted March 28, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    1) Tattoos are a cheap way to attain a sense of meaning in someone’s life. For one, humans are not meant to sit behind a desk twiddling away…men especially are meant to conquer and run and DO shit. I think that the lady from Pulp Fiction did have a point. There must be pain for it to have meaning, even if it is in a harmless and sterile environment. To a certain degree, humans need danger.

    2) The culture is increasingly narcissistic and self-exploitative. Body modifications are a way to show off how special and unique you (think you) are.

    3) Pre-emptive rejection of society. We have been taught we are all so special and beautiful, but society still tends to operate among biological rules. Hence, people who want to stand out in general society but do not “have the goods” to do so, fall into these subcultures. Sort of like being the valedictorian of summer school. It is absolutely no coincidence that tattoo/body modification people are generally ugly, even the models. Kat Von D is unattractive by conventional standards, but is a model in the tattoo world. Same with goth, rockabilly, punk, etc etc etc.

  22. Micronaut
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Another thing in the category of tattoos might be those big disk like earrings you see in coffee shop workers. They typically require surgical correction on their ears when they decide to rejoin respectable society. This is an intriguing topic. I don’t think anyone gets tattoos to attract sexual mates. It’s something done for peers, other males, and to designate oneself a part of a peer group or subculture. Their is a spectrum of commitment to various counterculture. Clothing is the first step. Haircut (eg emo, head shave) is more committing. Tattooing and scaring is the ultimate act of identification. This is closely related to the phenomenon of hazing, which can range from minor humiliation, to pain, and in rare cases disfigurement, for example branding of the butt. These people are giving all they can give to be accepted into an identity group.

    The common thread seems to be a desire for identification with a group. These practices represent emergent tribal instincts striving to manifest themselves under the leveling haze of modernity. Practices of ornamental body mutilation seem most prevalent in primitive African tribal groups, with the big plates in the lips and all. Circumcision is a more discrete form of tribal and religious identification which persisted into more sophisticated periods. SS underarm tattoos may have been another example.

  23. Verlis
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Furthermore, am I the only one who finds tattoos and piercings extreme sexual turn-offs?

    Hell no.

    I’m hardly the Isaac Newton of aesthetic sensibility, but I know ugly when I see it and these things are as humanly ugly as it gets.

    I’m not sure I fully understand the last paragraph or that I agree with what I do understand of it. As I see it, piercings and tattoos are just further attempts at self-indulgence. Yes, they are attempts at achieving significance in the world, but they are self-indulgent attempts because they are intended only to benefit the individual in question. (Indeed, they are sort of libertine one-upmanship: “You think you’re cool/free/etc, huh? Well check this out!”*) Real and lasting significance is achieved through belonging and being duty-bound to a collectivity, but self-indulgent libertines shun such ties and reject duty as an intolerable constraint on personal freedom. So I’m inclined to be skeptical of just how much of a real ‘test’ the fad constitutes.

    *I like to sarcastically mock people with tattoos and piercings. “Badass tats, man! You are just so cool. You are just such an individual.” (These remarks are addressed to a third party, btw. I wouldn’t address anyone directly this way.) If any discussion of social mores is generated, I like to make the point that being a ‘rebel’ in today’s culture would actually require one to take stand for things like tidiness, good manners and sexual restraint (and, if the moment is propitious, white people/racialism/race-realism/nationalism depending on which I think would go down best).

  24. NoTattMan
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Don’t care for either of these fads. Women especially, no tatts or piercings (save ears). Tatts on girls are especially a turn off, don’t care so much what guys do.

  25. me
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I’ve never understood why would whites cover their beautiful white skin with ink. I note that some people do place a small tattoo in some inconspicuous spot where they themselves can’t see ’em, such as the back of the neck or somewhere on the back. Or some place where it’s likely going to be covered 95% of the time.

    Like Greg, I’m turned off by tattoo-covered body.

    I suppose it’s predominantly a white thing, since it’s hard to see a tattoo on a black skin. In third world cultures, skin art is in the form of bumps on the skin.

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