“I think of tattooing as scratching off the surface and revealing what’s really under there" Mr. X
A bus went past me this morning with a huge ad plastered all over it for the Microsoft tablet, Surface. I have never used anything but Apple products, so I have no idea of it's quality or functionality, but I do think it's name captures something of the times in which we live in a canny way. I mean let's face it, the whole 'i' this or that feels a little dated to me. Steve jobs had a fascination with skeuomorphic design--bringing unnecessary elements from one iteration of a design into a new version in order to naturalize the experience--so the notepad app on your device looked sort of like a yellow legal notepad, etc. One of the big complaints about the iOS7 upgrade was its 'flatness.' That skeuomorphic tendency continues to be reflected in the names of Apple products--I doubt it can or will change because it has become the brand marker, but again, your iphone isn't really a phone, its a mobile device that has phone capabilities but it's not a phone--nor for that matter is my ipad, a pad--its a surface. So kudos to Microsoft for capturing what's going on in the name of a device.
I think I probably have a heightened awareness to surfaces at the moment because I have been reading Mark C. Taylor's Hiding, in the theology book group I participate in. Taylor views his work as 'a surface play' rather than a book, and it is a celebration and critique of the surface of things.
"Surface has never been accepted and embraced as such but is always justified in terms of the heavens or the depths. When height and depth collapse, we are left with nothing more and nothing less than the proliferation of fleeting surfaces. To insist that these surfaces obscure more secure depths is to flee the creative-destructive effervescence that is our condition." MCT
My interest in surface goes back a long way, it crystallized during my PhD work, where I explored the new cultural implication for Christianity. I used this term, rhyzomic sacralization, to mark the way in which ideas move across the surface of the culture, linking, and forming webs of connectivity as we attempt to negotiate the new digital realities. My thinking on this was influenced by things like Kevin Costner's Waterworld, and the work of artist Mark Tansey, and other explorations of things that flat on the surface of culture, often viewed as inconsequential, but in my mind, of import both in terms of reflection and reaction to how the world shapes us even as we shape it.
I'm also fascinated by tattoos and, as part of my field research component, explored tattooing as means by which we could understand the cultural shifts that were literally being inscribed upon the surface of us, upon our skin. I think the broad embrace of tattooing by mainstream society, and the use of dermis as a site for inscribing meaning is very interesting and again, comes back to this shift to surface idea. Of course, it is more than tattooing on the surface of skin, there are other elements that go deeper--body-piercings, modifications etc., but those still remain slightly further on the margins than tattooing. I was inspired to this by the work of shelley Jackson, whose Skin project I came across in Cabinet magazine. She had a story and wanted to write it on skin, so she invited people to volunteer to be tattooed with a single word from the story. Only those who signed on would know the whole story, and they had to be willing to get any word they were given tattooed on the body in a classic book font and in black ink--over 2000 have participated,
I am not dystopian, surprising given my tendency toward depression and melancholy, but I pursue a positive trajectory across the cultural surface--surface is depth--and meaning is made here. That doesn't mean I am optimistic, because optimism is hard for me. But this resistance to dystopian positioning has often put me at odds, or at least on a different trajectory, with many of my peers who approach culture through the lens of religion. There seems to be a tendency to lead with critique, a product of certain religious conditioning I believe, whereas, to echo the other Taylor, I go with celebration. It's not that I won't, or don't critique, it's that I won't hold up the past as a model for something to return to--I see no benefit in reaching back, reflecting back sure, but the times are what they are, and they need to be critiqued and celebrated on their own terms, and critique is easy-the making is the hard part. Celebration has 'respect' as part of it's definition, so perhaps I should say, I respect and critique.
"What I am trying to do is to articulate the conditions of alternative cultural practices. I'm convinced that in the twenty-first century, the domain of social and political contestation will be the symbolic order or the imaginary register. That is where what once was called "reality" will be constituted. I see it as incumbent upon us to understand these structures and processes and to develop strategies and tactics that will enable us to intervene effectively." MCT
This fascination with surface has also affected the way I think about the inner/outer components of religion. The positing of going inward as going deeper versus allowing the surface to be the site of religious interface. What I mean is we tend to what to plumb the depths of our humanity by ignoring the skin, the flesh, the surface, in fact, we don't just ignore, we demonize, negate and repress the surface in the quest for religious depth and authenticity and I am not sure this is either necessary or helpful in the interplay of surfaces which is life in the 21st century. In Waterworld (I know, but it's good:)), Kevin Costner's character has developed a set of gills, which enable him to go below the surface and bringup artifacts that can still have life on the surface. There is a whole world down there, under the water, it used to be the 'real world' now it's the ghost of a past that is no longer viable. He doesn't want to live there, he just brings up what can be used on the surface. This for me is the shift we must make with our religion, we cannot live in the depths, submerged in an old world, we have to find ways to live on the surface in new ways, floating across the seas, building new networks of being and relations. some artifacts from the old world can be utilized, most of them can't--this is particularly true of religion for me.