Ramblings & ephemera

A living story, tattooed on flesh

From The New York Times Magazine‘s “Skin Literature“:

Most artists spend their careers trying to create something that will live forever. But the writer Shelley Jackson is creating a work of literature that is intentionally and indisputably mortal. Jackson is publishing her latest short story by recruiting 2,095 people, each of whom will have one word of the story tattooed on his or her body. The story, titled ‘Skin,’ will appear only on the collective limbs, torsos and backsides of its participants. And decades from now, when the last of Jackson’s ‘words’ dies, so, too, will her tale.

As of November, Jackson, the Brooklyn-based author of a short-story collection called ‘The Melancholy of Anatomy,’ had enrolled about 1,800 volunteers, some from such distant countries as Argentina, Jordan, Thailand and Finland. Participants, who contact Jackson through her Web site, cannot choose which word they receive. And their tattoos must be inked in the font that Jackson has specified. But they do have some freedom to bend and stretch the narrative. They can select the place on their bodies they want to become part of the Jackson opus. In return, Jackson asks her ‘words’ to sign a 12-page release absolving her of liability and promising not to share the story with others. (Participants are the only people who will get to see the full text of the story.) They must also send her two photographs — one of the word on their skin, the other a portrait of themselves without the word visible — which she may later publish or exhibit.

… Mothers and daughters are requesting consecutive words. So are couples, perhaps hoping to form the syntactic equivalent of a civil union. For others, the motives are social: Jackson is encouraging her far-flung words to get to know each other via e-mail, telephone, even in person. (Imagine the possibilities. A sentence getting together for dinner. A paragraph having a party.) …

… when a participant meets his or her demise, Jackson vows, she will try to attend that person’s funeral. But the 41-year-old author understands that some of her 2,095 collaborators, many of whom are in their 20’s, might outlive her. If she dies first, she says, she hopes several of them will come to her funeral and make her the first writer ever to be mourned by her words.

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