Skinning the surface : exploring the textuality of the skin through figurations of wounding and healing

Van der Merwe, Nicholas Geoffrey (2015-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis is an exploration of the textuality of the skin, and how we approach and read wounds and scars. My discussion approaches the skin through the frame of surface reading to address three interconnected but seemingly disparate areas; namely American slavery, atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, and self-mutilation. These areas all share the trope of the wound, and my approach is thus interdisciplinary in nature. I begin my discussion with Toni Morrison’s Beloved, focusing on the manner in which the extreme violence the characters suffer plays an instrumental role in their ability to reconcile themselves with their pasts. I focus specifically on the scars on Sethe’s back that resemble a tree, and how this tree links all of the characters together in their desire to re-member themselves. I then move to the Lord’s Resistance Army and how their mutilations of the civilian population serve a communicative function. I explore how we read images of atrocity, and how many of these images are framed and manipulated in order to garner attention. From there, I move to Kony 2012, the viral ‘documentary’ that drew the world’s attention and criticism for its gross misrepresentation of Africa and its indulgence in the stereotypes that present Africans as passive victims in need of saving. Finally, I discuss the phenomenon of self-mutilation and how the cuts and scars reveal how language is rendered incapable of expressing the inner pain and suffering of cutters. Often, these wounds and scars are misinterpreted as failed suicide attempts, an interpretation which completely ignores the expression of the symptom revealed on the surface. The negative stigma attached to self-mutilation hinders communication between those who cut and those who do not. In order for communication to be successful, all preconceived notions of what self-mutilation is need to be abandoned.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis is ʼn verkenning van die tekstualiteit van die vel, en hoe ons wonde en littekens benader en lees. My bespreking benader die vel deur die lens van oppervlak-analise om drie onderling verbonde dog uiteenlopende areas aan te spreek, naamlik, Amerikanse slawerny, gruweldade wat deur die Lord’s Resistance Army gepleeg is, en self-mutilasie. Dié areas deel saam die troop van die wond, en my benadering is dus interdissiplinêr van aard. My bespreking begin met Toni Morrison se Beloved met die fokus op die manier wat die uitermatige geweld waaraan die karakters onderwerp word ʼn integrale rol speel in hul vermoë om vrede te maak met hul verledes. Ek fokus spesifiek op die littekens op Sethe se rug wat soos ʼn boom lyk, en hoe dié boom al die karakters aan mekaar skakel in hul begeerte om hulself te ‘her-versamel’ en her-onthou. Ek beweeg dan aan na die Lord’s Resistance Army en hoe hulle verminking van die burgerbevolking ʼn kommunikatiewe funksie vervul. Ek verken hoe ons beelde van gruwel lees, en hoe baie van dié beelde geraam en gemanipuleer word om aandag te trek. Van daar beweeg ek aan na Kony 2012, die gewilde web-dokumentêr wat die wêreld se aandag en kritiek uitgelok het as gevolg van die totale wanvoorstelling wat dit van Afrika getoon het, asook die onnadenkenheid van die documentêr in terme van Afrikane wat as passiewe slagoffers wat redding benodig gestereotipeer word. Oplaas bespreek ek die fenomeen van self-mutilasie en hoe die snye en littekens ʼn openbaring maak van die ontoereikendhied van taal om innerlike pyn en lyding van snyers uit te druk. Dikwels word die wonde en littekens verkeerd geïnterpreteer as mislukte selfmoordpogings, ʼn interpretasie wat die uitdrukking van die simptome wat op die oppervalk blootgelê word ignoreer. Die negatiewe stigma wat aan self-mutilasie gekoppel word belemmer kommunikasie tussen snyers en nie-snyers. Kommunikasie kan net suksesvol wees as alle vooropgesette idees van wat self-mutilasie is agtergelaat word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/97158
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