What am I now? A psychoanalytic investigation of tattooing

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Jarrett, Hugh
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MA in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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This paper interrogates the practice of tattooing using a number of psychoanalytic concepts to determine some of the reasons why a subject may choose to become ‘tattooed’, and what some of the psychical consequences of this act are. In chapter one the history, roles and origins of tattooing will be discussed, in relation to Freud’s work on Group Psychology (1921) and Totem and Taboo (1913), to show how the tattoo was used by many cultures as ‘a mark’, something that provided a visual demonstration of the subject’s relationship with the tribe or their ‘totem clan’, their personal history, and their allegiance to ‘the leader’. As tattooing is a practice that takes place on the body, ‘the body’ as it is conceived of by psychoanalysis, and particularly by Freud (1905), will be discussed in the second chapter, to draw out the psychosexual nature of the practice and the fact that subject’s experience a sort of ‘satisfaction’ by being tattooed. Another aspect of this practice which the first two chapters touch upon, is that of the gaze and the meaning of the tattoo in relation to the Other, the social bond, so in chapter three the relation of the tattoo to the ‘the look’ and ‘the gaze’ as theorised by Lacan (1963) will be discussed using particular examples. Finally, as the tattoo is an act that takes place upon the body which, as is noted in the previous three chapters, attempts to achieve a psychical satisfaction using the real of the body, this paper will discuss whether the act of being tattooed is an acting out (agieren) or a passage a l’acte, with particular reference to Lacan’s (1963; 1971) analysis of Freud’s paper of the young homosexual woman (1920). Author keywords: Tattooing, Freud, Lacan, body skin culture, gaze