Tattoos for ELit

“From this time on, participants will be known as “words”. They are not understood as carriers or agents of the texts they bear, but as its embodiments…. As words die the story will change; when the last word dies the story will also have died. The author will make every effort to attend the funerals of her words.”

Shelley Jackson’s description of her unique and unprecedented project “Ineradicable Skin” really speaks for itself. Her story, which is currently still underway, will be printed on the skin of over 2000 volunteers upon completion The author of works like “Patchwork Girl” and “My Body, A Wunderkammer” has truly created a living, breathing work of literature that ebbs and flows with the patterns of life and death as we know them. Each participant receives one word to tattoo on their skin, and upon the tattoo’s completion, they receive a full copy of the work that they have become a part of. 

“Ineradicable Skin” currently has around 500 words floating around out there somewhere, with at least 1500 left to be claimed. In the status section of the work’s website, Jackson stated that she has had over 21,894 emails regarding the work- something I find surprising given the amount of people who have actually become a part of this project. 

To me, and perhaps to may, this project represents a movement in literature that deserves much more attention. The words in this story are literally alive and breathing, connected to their carriers forever. As an English major, I strongly believe that the literature I have read becomes a part of who I am, and I have often considered tattoos of my favorite quotes from the many works I have studied throughout my college career. “Ineradicable Skin” tattoos, however, hold with them more than just an important or moving meaning- they hold the story itself. Without each single tattoo, the story would not exist. As participants die, the story changes and will eventually cease to exist. I have never come across something as fleeting as Jackson’s project, and this is the main reason why I am so drawn to it. It lives with us, it breathes with us, it dies with us. It is a secret society of words and skin and art.

Most works of literature live on for consumption long after the author dies, the pages of the first book decompose, and the publishing company is bought out. “Ineradicable Skin,” however, will one day cease to exist. Of course, the idea of it will live on. Perhaps people will know of it, will remember their distant relatives with random word tattoos, but only the living participants will have access to the work, and when they die, the work will die with them. One by one, the words will disappear from the story until there is nothing left but a legacy. It is a true testament to humanity, mortality, and art.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a word in Jackson’s story, please follow the steps listed on her website! I would love to see the story completed some day.



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