Fleshly (dis)figuration, or how to make the body matter

Nikki Sullivan

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The dermagraphic focus on the mark of fleshly disfiguration as an index to the truth of the subject, is apparent in many psychological theses on bodily inscription. In such works the scar, cut, tattoo, are read as images of self-mutilation; as signs of a psychological disorder which impels the subject to disfigure the body. The skin, according to this model, functions as a communicative border between inside and outside, on which psychologically relevant themes are portrayed. Consequently, the role of the dermal diagnostician is characterised by a movement from surface to depth; from a focus on the image of disfiguration, to the disorder which 'causes' it. In effect, such analyses involve a movement from the material to the immaterial, from the fleshly to the conceptual. The body comes to matter only in so far as its matter or materiality is veiled over in and through the clinical extraction of abstract and essentially immaterial 'truths'. This essay critically analyses the unquestioned assumptions which inform such theses and argues that they problematically reduce the other to an economy of the same. Drawing on the work of Lyotard - in particular the notion of figuration as that which affects both the articulation and disarticulation of meaning - I demonstrate that the matter of the body matters since it is this which complicates any attempt to fix the fleshly image, and allows a consideration of the duplicity of bodily inscription. Thus this paper endeavours to move beyond the limitations of dermagraphism which, as Didi-Huberman claims, produces a sentence which controls the destiny of the marked other and which incarnates the corporeal to corpse, by exploring the intertextual affect of fleshly writing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-29
Number of pages18
JournalCritical psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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