Wednesday, June 11, 2008

written on the body

Bold red writing on pale skin, the inner flesh of the forearm. A simple font.

“The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.” Hippocrates


Part of the text was peeking out from the sleeve of her winter coat. It was eye catching. Certainly everyone within view of the slender arm that reached out to hold the rail did a double take. While tattooing has had a resurgence in the past 20 years it has gone through many phases from a silhouette of an animal to tribal symbols and now text – as made popular by Angelina Jolie.

In my mid-20s, after agonising all summer over the perfect tattoo, I came to realise I have commitment issues. I was not convinced that what had meaning to me in my second or third decade, I’d hold the same affection for in my flesh-sagging 70’s. In the end I stayed a cleanskin but not for lack of trying. Around that time I finally gave up attempting to keep my pierced ears open. They spat out even the best quality earrings after a couple of hours. Contrary to the culture I lived in, my body did not wish to be adorned.

Though I promised myself a belly button piercing if I ever had a flat wee stomach. Yeah, like that was ever going to happen. But that's another story.

On the tram, when I saw the text in blood red, I thought of the concentration camp survivors and their involuntarily tattoos. Human beings reducing to a string of digits, a visual imprint for life on the few who survived. In another corner of the blogworld, I have had a stern rebuke for my choice of food blog name. Anything invoking the term nazi is considered by some to be insensitive. Setting up a blog was spur of the moment, unplanned and not entirely thought through (not for me the blog-as-vehicle-to-publishing route), so the choice of name wasn’t chewed over. While I have never wanted to insult anyone, the use of the word nazi has entered the culture increasingly over the last decade or two – with style nazis (and fashion victims), grammar nazis (of which there are many selfconfessed linguistic pedants in the online world) and of course – Seinfeld’s (a Jew himself) Soup Nazi. Twenty years ago it may have been edgy bordering on offensive to claim such a descriptor with flippancy, just as if I’d called someone of Maori blood in my homeland “black”.

In an odd twist the term “nazi” was introduced to me through gay friends, who adopted the descriptor to critique the various behaviours of those they knew. Though homosexuals were a much smaller number than Jews of groups the Nazi regime wished to obliterate, they also required registration pre-war and the mandatory wearing of a pink triangle. Yet as a group gays don’t seem to have an obvious issue with the change of use of the word. Nor modern day gypsies, communists or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Interestingly, the original anti-homosexual legislation bought in under Hitler in the 1930’s was only fully repealed in both East and West Germany in 1994. It is documented that homosexuals in the concentration camps often died at the hands of other inmates.

Stalin’s forced famine in 1932-33 killed 7,000,000 in the Ukraine in an effective attempt to stop the State’s demand for independence, one million more than the inexcusable Nazi holocaust. Stalin managed to kill 3,000,000 children alone in just one year, no gas or bullets – just a slow death through dispossession and starvation.


Even post these horrors that the Western world swore they we would never allow to happen again, genocide continues. One racial group trying to wipe out another in an attempt for supremacy. We switch off images of Dafur because it is not nice to see the bodies of the residents of an entrie village hacked with machetes or hear news of systematic rape and torture. Not nice at all. And let’s not even touch on Palestine. A while ago I sat across the table and shared food with a beautiful Muslim woman. It was hard to miss the scars that peaked out from under her sleeve, not unlike the compulsion I had to read the text in red on the tram riders arm. I gently asked what had happened to her. “It was in the war,” she said. I needn’t ask any further, she was from Lebanon.

We tattoo our bodies with images and words. Language changes and evolves. Sometimes reclaiming a word gives it power. If I am ever called a word beginning with C that refers to female genitalia I say, “Thank you, a c--- is a beautiful thing”.

I’m sorry if jokingly calling myself a food nazi offends. Hitler’s final solution ultimately failed, albeit at the cost of far too many lives. In it’s own way reclaiming and reshaping the word helps us not forget.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Melba said...

nice post aof thankyou. re tattoos, as soon as they became common, that's when the proposition became, for me, impossible. are you glad now you didn't get one?

10:17 am  
Blogger grocer said...

Did you feel sad after writing this?

I felt sad after reading it, yet it was delivered so beautifully.

Labels and names cause so much confusion and grief - always have and possibly always will - Shakespeare wrote about it, it's even one of the first affirmation statements we learn (sticks and stones...)

One thing that is fascinating however, is frequently the maligned are able to adopt the label inflicted on them providing that group of people self empowerment. Do homosexual men call themselves poofs and fags? They certainly do! Do aboriginal Australians call themselves black fullahs? They certainly do!

Perhaps the silence and opposition to using a word associated with a darker time in the history of humanity, only serves to perpetuate the stigma?

I think you are a sensitive person and you will be affected by some ardent objectors. The objection you received, especially in light of the colloquial use of the word Nazi, says more about the objector than you!

10:19 am  
Blogger lucy tartan said...

I think I agree with your last well-made point that difficult words can be kept fresh and reshaped at the same time. It is tricky. The context matters greatly. I don't have a problem with the name of your food blog.

10:20 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks melba, grocer and lucy for all your thoughts. Yes Grocer I am a bit of a sensitive soul (of which doing anything in the public arena will ultimately come in for a bit of a nudging) but I support everyone's right to have a voice, even if it is to question my own. If nothing else the criticism has been a great prompt for a bit of thoughtful writing.

Melba - no regrets, the moment is gone. And even with my 70's a long, long way off my flesh is beginning it's acquaintance with gravity, sunspots and reduced collagen levels!

10:27 am  
Blogger Ann O'Dyne said...

I do like that 'soul' woman's resolve.
I have a problem about
the cultists who claim "animals have no soul".

A friend in her 6th decade has a peacock feather tattooed across her foot arch - it is lovely.

In pacific nations, only princesses may have tatts.

I have to say that I have wondered if you got any flack over the foodblog title. I knew what you meant by it.

re the c word: whenever I hear it used derogatively I like to say "why use that word negatively when they give so much pleasure?"

eloquent post. keep up the good work.

11:46 pm  
Blogger jo_blue said...

What a thoughtful, eloquent piece of writing. I enjoyed reading it. Thankyou.

1:36 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Ms o'dyne. In NZ I worked with a hulking great Polynesian bloke. He had the best tatoo I have ever seen in my life - full knee to hip (or beyond, it really lead a gal to want to rip off his shorts to see where it ended) tribal tatoo. He'd gone back to his Island on a school boy rugby tour, to be told of the importance of his lineage and that he needed to go through the ritual. He wasn't given any choice in the matter. We are talking traditional methods here, no electric modern equipment, each inked line tapped on..it went on for days and he could still remember the pain.

I just wish he hadn't turned out to be the local drug dealer in the workplace.

And thanks so much jo_blue for your compliment. Thank for dropping by.

8:34 am  

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