Some Catching Up …

ThingsInks-new-strapline1Things & Ink published its final print issue in the fall of 2015, The Horror Issue (#12), and will now exist as an online presence with blog posts and in the world with special art exhibitions and events.  I was sad to hear the news that we would no longer print magazines, but I understood my editor’s reasons for the decision and was happy to hear we were not just disappearing.  I must say that I am so proud of what we have accomplished in 2 years.

This final issue is absolutely stunning, we are going out with a bang (definitely not a whimper).  My article for this issue features the tattoo work of Róbert Borbás of Rooklet Ink and Grindesign, some photos from the Giger Museum in Gruyeres, Switzerland (the place every lover of horror must go), and a discussion about loving and being drawn to dark imagery:  tattoos, philosophy, Alfred Hitchcock, and Giger … Boo!  One of my favourite topics to explore phenomenologically!

Previous issues included Stripped Back (#9; three covers available), The Anatomy Issue (#10), and Fruity (#11).  Photos of these covers can be found below.  For Stripped Back, I wrote the final update to my chest tattoo and discussed its significance; concerning the Anatomy issue, I checked in with my good friend, brilliant photographer and artist Richard Sawdon Smith (The Anatomical Man); and regarding Fruity, I interviewed French graffiti and tattoo artist Fuzi about his ignorant style and talked about ‘shits & giggles’ tattoos.

There are still some back issues available of Things & Ink, as well as some tote bags, t-shirts and other fun items.  Go to our website to find our which issues are still available and grab them up while you can.  I’ll be sure to post about all our happenings and events here as well.

I will continue to blog for Things & Ink and I am very excited to say that I will also be writing for a Polish tattoo magazine, Tatuaż.  My first piece, a collaboration with my good friend Les Barany, is an interview with a young and super talented New Zealand illustration artist named Dina Wuest. Her Maori-inspired drawings make beautiful tattoo art, and I’m quite sure you will see them on skin very soon.  Check out her Etsy page and look for the issue to appear later this year.

I’m no Lazarus but I Have Returned!!

SelfieI apologize to everyone who reads this blog for my 2 year absence. I’ve just been so busy with projects and really lacking any energy to write more than I have to. Also much of my philosophical skills and knowledge are being well exercised at Things & Ink and with teaching. If you don’t subscribe to the magazine, you should think about — it’s a great publication, utterly unique in the tattoo industry. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been doing over there – in print – but do go check out their blog, I do posts from time to time:

Issue 1, The Launch Issue: “Old School for Girls” — There’s Peggy the Pin-up Girl, but what about Paul the pin-up guy?

Issue 2, The Face Issue: “Herstory I & II” — a history of facial tattooing for women and a commentary on why Western culture lacks this tradition. Naomi Wolf is discussed.

Issue 3, The Love Issue: “How Do I Love Thee? Let me Ink The Ways” — a discussion of tattoo love symbols. Gadamer is the philosopher of the discussion.

Issue 4, The Art Issue: “Tattoo Art Styles: Three Different Genres of Tattooing Explained” and “His Story” a review of Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand’s book (she published it but it is written by Sailor Jerry) and a short interview with her.

Issue 5, The Celebration Issue: “A Celebration of My Absurd Life” — a discussion of my breastplate tattoo meaning, where Camus is the star.

Issue 6, The Modification Issue: “Lived Experience Colours Me” — where I interview members of KMFDM about their tattoos and the main philosophical concept of the discussion is ‘Erlebnis’; also “A Celebration of My Absurd Life: Breastplate Update” is just an update on my chest tattoo

Issue 7, The Identity Issue: “I am My Tattoos” — A discussion of the tattoo artist’s role in the identity of the tattoo. Hume is the philosopher discussed.

Issue 8 is in progress but It’s looking to be another killer issue. I’m in the midst of discussions with Vince Hemingson of Vanishing Tattoo fame about his project, The Tattoo Project: Body. Art. Image. Be sure and check out the Kickstarter project page for this amazing and most worthy project. There is also a FB page, and several You Tube Videos.

I almost quit blogging, until I got a chance read all the nice comments people sent me. So, thanks! ❤ But to strike a balance I will try to blog short things here or at least do a mental wandering of what I am working on for the magazine (I only have so much space in the magazine so it might help to exercise some demons and approaches here). Philosophy is so much apart of tattooing, and I think many of the greats we treasure have something useful to say … or fun to say. And sometimes I just love fucking with them.

It seems very pretty, but it’s rather hard to understand.

Beware the Jabberwoch, my son

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!’

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

‘It seems very pretty,’ she said when she had finished it, ‘but its rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess, ever to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) ‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don’t exactly know what they are!
‘Looking-Glass House’, Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

I’ve read this poem easily a million times, it’s a personal favourite (Carroll’s work is a favourite of mine, period) but this time something resonated in my head about it. Maybe it’s the research and reading I’ve been doing lately for a project with Matt Lodder or maybe it was something in my tea. I had this moment of realization that Alice’s reaction to the Jabberwocky verses, a nonsense poem that seems to almost make sense while reading it, is remarkably similar to reactions non-tattooed people have to inked individuals. Sometimes you hear it, and sometimes you just see it … that look (whether they be puzzled, in awe, or offended, etc). It’s not entirely their fault, but the choice not to be inked has consequences. Even that contextual moment described of Alice trying to figure out the poem and realizing that it should make sense but it doesn’t, that her mind is full of ideas that are confused. I’ve seen this before; you catch someone looking at your ink, trying to figure out what is peeking out from under your shirt, what the image is, what it means, what it says about you, why you got it, etc. and ending up with lots of ideas and no clear answers.

Alice is an outsider to Wonderland, and complete understanding of the people who reside there and their customs never is fully in her grasp. In fact, she could take that phrase and apply it to Wonderland – pretty place, but rather hard to understand. She tries so hard to figure it out, but not being a native of Wonderland limits her. Like Alice, those who are not tattooed, observers or witnesses to ink, never fully understand the tattooed person even though, by all proper sense, they should be able to. Like Alice, they struggle to fully grasp the reasons why a person gets tattooed or why someone chose specific things to ink on their body. They can never understand fully the effect that tattooing has, or the process of getting it has, or what it fully means to the bearer since conveying full personal meaning is rather difficult and, to boot, the tattoo will never exhaust meaning – it’s meaning will renew, refresh, and reshape. Non-inked individuals can empathize, and while that is a valiant effort and honourable in every way (and often much appreciated), there is still a gap in understanding. Even when a tattooed person explains their choices of body art, it’s often something only they can understand – so, in a way It’s sensible nonsense to the listener. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances or prior personal history, tattooed people can struggle to fully understand the reasons of their inked brothers and sisters. All that ink is very pretty, but it’s rather hard to understand.

This project with Lodder has me thinking a lot, not only introspectively but generally. Today, I was thinking about reasons why people get tattooed; I could name at least 20 reasons or so, some of course were my own, and I felt that was barely scratching the surface. The reasons could be so varied, and so fucking complex at times, that trying to encapsulate them neatly seems impossible. It seems like nonsense to do it too. Actually, it would be nonsense to try to apply a schema to something in constant flux, to something so varied that it naturally escapes theory and boundary. It seems nonsense to capture something that will evolve and change over time. A tattoo is a powerful thing, sometimes I think more than we often realize. To try to capture neatly why people get tattooed is applying sense to nonsense (or, rather, something that escapes conventional sense), and we saw how well that worked for Alice. Can anything about tattooing be encapsulated or fully described. No, not really. As much as we can talk about content (i.e., images to be inked), something new will come along – a new style, a new figure, a new writing, a new idea, etc. Tattooing itself always evolves; it is in a state of constant flux. The ‘how’ might be easier, one could probably name all the techniques for tattooing present today, but not future. That could all very well change. Tattooing is a fluid art that will never be static, and that’s part of its charm and it’s nonsense. However, all this being said, we can never stop trying to figure out everything to do with the art of tattooing since it is an important part of our culture, it’s beautiful and it’s a meaningful art in itself. Meaningful nonsense. Beautiful and artful nonsense.

I bring this up because, being a philosopher, my life really is about making nonsense make sense … or rather making sense of things that others (students, family, friends) see as complete nonsense. And sometimes I do agree, some shit is complete dribbling nonsense … I won’t name names but someone who’s name rhymes with Smeidegger I could mention. But, no matter how difficult the topic or large the gap of understanding is, we have to try to build the bridge to understanding. Even knowing the odds of true understanding are small (in some cases the will to understand is small, making things rather difficult), we have to try. Tattoos demarcate one person from another, but they should never be elitist or closed-off.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” I do see Alice, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Must it mean something?

Through The Looking Glass

Humpty Dumpty: What does it all mean?

`Don’t stand chattering to yourself like that,’ Humpty Dumpty said, looking at her for the first time, `but tell me your name and your business.’

`My name is Alice, but –‘

`It’s a stupid name enough!’ Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. `What does it mean?’

`Must a name mean something?’ Alice asked doubtfully.

`Of course it must,’ Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: `my name means the shape I am — and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.'”

—– Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass, Chapter VI,
Humpty Dumpty

It’s no secret, I LOVE Lewis Carroll’s writings. I loved the Alice books as a child, before I realized how philosophical they actually were. And what does Humpty Dumpty have to do with being tattooed? Well, anyone who has even one tattoo has probably been asked by another person, “what does it mean?” There seems to be an implication too that getting a tattoo means something, that it must signify some event, some special person, or some feeling. The TLC tattoo TV shows Miami Ink and LA Ink reinforce this notion since every client tells you during the tattoo or at the end of it, what it means to them. Granted, a tattoo isn’t always a word or words, but can be a symbol (a picture or design, etc.), so that makes it slightly different to what Humpty Dumpty is talking about with names. However, what is at stake whether it be a tattoo or a name is meaning. MUST a tattoo always mean something? Can someone get a tattoo “just for the hell of it” or because they simply like the design, nothing more? I think so, god knows I’ve done it. Haven’t you? Further, must a tattoo mean only one thing? But this seems to imply that a meaning is fixed and concrete. Since even words change meaning over time, geography, and with usage (example that comes to mind is the word ‘pimp’), I don’t think any or all meanings remain fixed, and I don’t think most meanings are singular or simple. And who makes things mean what they do? I could open the door to Wittgenstein here, talk of meanings and usage, but I’ll leave him on the step to sit. Does any given tattoo mean the same thing always? The short answer seems to be: no, not always. Those people with a list of ex-partner names down their arm or chest, many crossed out, could pipe in here as I am sure the significance of the name (and the feelings) have changed. And then there are those who remove or cover a tattoo, and not simply because it was done by an untalented artist.

I could try to say that the meaning a tattoo has is purely personal, but even that isn’t right. When displayed to the public arena, tattoos become interpreted, and how you are treated by the public results from such interpretations. For example, you might tattoo a pentagram on your forearm because you love The Sisters of Mercy, but someone else who sees it might think you’re a Wiccan or even (ignorantly) a Satanist. And if the meaning was purely personal, there wouldn’t be an issue with someone getting a swastika or some piece of hate propaganda on their forehead. (I know a few artists who would refuse to tattoo certain things like swastikas on people, because they know the meaning would end up tied to themselves. There is a tattooing ethics at work, but that is another day’s topic.) Even when the public interpretation conflicts with the personal one, I think the question remains: does a tattoo have to mean something, and in this case is there one meaning more correct than another? I want to say ‘No’ on all counts.

Returning to Mr. Humpty Dumpty:
“`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master — that’s all.'”

Humpty Dumpty’s position on meaning is this: words/names must mean something, and that meaning is what I make. Of course, with words that would make it hard to communicate with others since we have no guarantee everyone would arrive at the same meanings for the words needed to be used. However, with tattoos it looks to work better: what you put on your body is defined by the meaning you give it, and that personal meaning is far more important than what other people think. After all, you live in your body, and they do not. Now, if you are a person like me who thinks not every tattoo or thing must have meaning, then you push Humpty Dumpty off that wall for bringing this up, and you tell him you meant it.

Thanks, Hume.

Only a rebel Scotsman would prefer to rock a turban over a giant wig.

This being my first blog and all, i thought maybe i should explain some things. I have thought about blogging for a few years now, but I couldn’t think of anything to talk about that seemed at all worthwhile. Nor did I have the time really, i was busy trying to get a university job (still looking for that tenure track professorship), and plumping up my CV with publications, conferences, and other scholarly activities. I have a PhD in philosophy, my dissertation focused on an obscure figure named Adolf Reinach who died in 1917 at the age of 34. Most of my work for the past decade has been devoted to Reinach, to early German Phenomenology (1900 to 1917), and I also devote my time and efforts to the Austrian School of Philosophy (Bolzano, Brentano, Meinong, Husserl, etc.), and to history of philosophy (bacon to Nietzsche). My interests and work could be described as ontological based. And what I have found is a small circle of friends/colleagues who share my interests, which is wonderful, but everyone else in my life does not really get what i do, nor even want to understand what i do. In fact, I find that most people outside academia think that philosophy is simply an old ‘ivory tower’ study that, unless it has to do with ethics (medical, business, etc.) or critical thinking, has no bearing on the real world or could benefit their lives in any way. Now, as much as I will admit I do study some obscure things and people, I refuse to concede the point that absolutely none of it has any benefit to life outside university endeavors — all of it has bearing and benefit to life. Philosophy IS about life itself and the world around us. In philosophy you search for wisdom and truth, you ask the big questions, and when needed you accept the grey areas. And, FYI, before physics and natural sciences were considered branches of science they were branches of philosophy. Figures like Newton and Galileo are considered philosophers. Many famous mathematicians were philosophers — Pythagoras, Descartes, Leibniz, and Mach. Einstein hung out with Philosophers too. I have grown rather sick of this notion that philosophy is something divorced from real life, that the ideas of Aristotle, Plato, Hume or Kant have nothing to offer modern man. I have also grown tired of the idea that education ought ONLY to be pursued for a prospective job, and this includes the education system as just another consumer relationship. What happened to enlightenment and wisdom for their own sake and personal enrichment? Grrrrr …. Ok, I’m ranting now.

Now, the other thread to this story is that I have been getting tattooed since I was 17. I am now 32. For quite a while it felt like I had two lives: one outside and one inside academia. When I taught, my tattoos were under my professional clothes and I didn’t talk about them, in fact I thought they had nothing to do with my philosophical interests. But over the last year or so, I have noticed that in fact my tattoos have a large philosophical significance to me and what I once thought were two separate lives are really two sides of one coin. How very Schopenhauer of me (yup, I’m a super geek). I now no longer hide my tattoos when I am on campus or teach, I show what I want to and have an inner giggle when the old professors stair or look shocked. I guess this blog is one more way I reconcile my two halves, and I now get to talk about two topics that as of yet never really appeared together: tattooing and philosophy.

Now, one of the moments of enlightenment I had about philosophy and tattooing I can credit to David Hume. Yes, Hume woke me from my dogmatic slumber. How Kantian of me (i seem to be having a German Idealist day here). Specifically Hume’s counter example of the missing shade of blue, a favorite of mine. I was sitting in Wayne’s chair several months back for a touch up, and he asked me what colour of blue I would like to use in the background, and i answered without a second thought “Hume’s missing shade of blue”. Of course, Wayne gave me a slightly puzzled face and asked me what I was talking about. I explained it, its significance, and he seemed to enjoy the discussion (asking questions and even asking me for some further reading on it). I love the philosophy of Hume; I find it something that is very accessible, highly relevant, and fun (yes, i said fun). Hume was the ultimate shit disturber, and his skepticism still holds water. Now, when I mentioned Hume’s missing blue I immediately wondered if he would ever get a tattoo or had one hiding under those lovely garments. And, I bet you he would. Hume was a bit of a badass in his time, so I bet out of any of the ‘big wigs’ of his time Hume would be the one to have a little ink. Maybe, even coloured with some blue … missing blue. 😉 So, there you go, a great example of how philosophy is not only something everybody can discuss if given the opportunity, but also has some relevance to the world of tattooing. Now this is something worth talking about (and with a lot less ‘me talk’ in the future, since I hate being anywhere near self-absorbed sounding).

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