P.S., Artie ….

Schopenhauer almost cracking a smile ....

I felt since this is a blog about tattoos and philosophy that I should mention more about Schopenhauer’s philosophy, since it does have a fitting application to tattooing. Artie probably wouldn’t like me doing this with his philosophy, but if i told him Hegel hated tattoos then I bet he’d be game.

In his masterpiece, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (commonly translated as The World as Will and Representation), the central argument is that we experience the world as both a subject and as object: “That which knows all things and is known by none is the subject; and for this subject all exists. But the world as idea consists of two essential and inseparable halves. One half is the object, whose form consists of time and space, and, through these, of multiplicity; but the other half is the subject, lying not in space and time, for it subsists whole and undivided in every reflecting being.” I won’t get into the translation fun of the German word ‘Vorstellung’, just know it can be translated as ‘representation’, ‘presentation’, or ‘idea’ depending on the context. As an embodied subject, call it an ego or a conscious being, you experience the world through the senses and through emotions — you can never put your finger on this ego, it never stops and starts, but you know what it does by the results given to you (i.e., a unified world perception). Your brain is naturally an organizer, and while you are not conscious of exactly how it works, you are aware of the end result of an organized world before you. The subjective side is outside of space and time, and feels like a continuum. Now, since the physical world lays outside your mind, the “not me” that is qualitatively different from the subject, it is an object for you and you perceive everything outside yourself as an object … even people. The best example of what he is talking about is to look at the body — your body is something of a vehicle for your consciousness, and yet you can look at your arm, or your foot, or your reflection in the mirror and turn that body you inseparably reside in into an object. (A.K.A. You feel embodied and yet that body is a physical, material thing you can observe in many ways.) Your body is also considered by ol’ Artie to be the highest and immediate object of your will: “it may be called the objectivity of will. Every true act of will is also instantly a visible act of the body, and every impression on the body is also at once an impression on the will. When it is opposed to the will it is called pain, and when consonant with the will, pleasure.” So, not only do you have a consciousness but you have drives: a will that wants things. Hopefully this is clear …

Now, if we relate all of this to tattoos it becomes rather interesting. A tattoo is an object in the world: it is an ink design applied to the body that can be objectified (i.e., rate its technique, its colours, etc). A tattoo is something created: it has a beginning and an end in time. But, a tattoo is also an idea or representation of the subject whose body it appears on, and I’d even dare add that part of that representation belongs to the artist as well. A tattoo often provides insight into the personality of the person as well as how they view the world — a display of personal philosophy. A tattoo is wearing something that is often very uniquely personal on the outside of our body, in a sense its being more than naked. And while a tattoo isn’t a complete symbol of the elusive ‘self’, it is a sign of essential attributes belonging to that self. A tattoo also further plays into that relationship we have with our body: a tattoo is something you feel or experience as an embodied subject, as well as something you observe on your body as object. The process of getting a tattoo is something you often have to ‘will’ yourself through, depending on the spot it can be pretty painful or uncomfortable, and the healing process can also be something unpleasant. But anyone with tattoos will say “it was worth the pain”, meaning it was worth using our will to triumph over the biological urge to run away or fight their attacker. Some people have even developed a love for the pain of a tattoo needle, meaning the will finds it pleasant and agreeable.

Okay, that is enough with ol’ Artie for now.

I can only see the eternal optimist here.


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