The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide
by Eva Talmadge
Reviewed by Greg Baldino
The works of Franz Kafka mean a great deal to Kristina Grinovich -- so much that she's literally given her right arm to the man. As part of a multicolored sleeve covering her arm from wrist to shoulder, a portrait of the Czech author sits in a frame of gold and crimson above his observation ???????? ???? ???????? -- The Meaning of Life is That It Stops. Not surprising, there are also a number of beetles.
Grinovich is one of the many bibliophiles showcased in Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor's The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide. The bookworms in question have given their bodies over to the books and authors they love, creating a canvas that explores the breadth and depth of modern literary passions, from Robert Bolaño to Stephenie Meyer.
Many of those photographed chose their tattoos in expression of love for a particular phrase from a beloved book. The closing lines of James Joyce's Ulysses, "Yes I said yes I will yes," span across several clavicles, ankles, and shoulders. "Known some call is air am," a line from Mark Z. Danieleswki's House of Leaves, gets translatinated across a woman's upper stomach as "non sum qualis eram" in black typewriter letters. One of the bolder textual tattoos prints the entirety of "For Marcel Proust," an essay by Theodor Adorno, across a man's back, while one woman covers all the bases by having the entire alphabet inked into her skin.
"There was no way I could have decided on one word, phrase, or quotation," she says in the book, "so I chose the basic elements that create what I care about most."
In some tattoos, the words themselves have been arranged into images reflecting the themes of the work in question, as in the case of a man who had three pages from William Gibson
cut up and arranged scattershot on his arm. Then there are quotations coming not from the works of favorite authors but from their lives, as in the case of April Steele's tribute to Ray Bradbury
, "Live Forever," inspired by the author's boyhood encounter with a carnival magician named Mr. Electro.
English is no linguistic limit to these works of body art; they appear in Japanese, Latin, French, Russian, Tifinagh, and more. The human galleries themselves span the globe from Indiana to Germany to Brazil, and the literary passions run from discoveries of adulthood to treasured tales of youth.
In addition to the words themselves, a number of images from or inspired by literature appear as well. Characters from Harriet the Spy to Dmitri Karamazov emerge from rolled up sleeves and raised pant legs. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, hand drawn by Eric Carle
himself, climbs up a Florida bookseller's wrist, while Oscar Wilde
's Salome rests in a rainbow bloom of color on a woman's midriff. One of the greatest rivalries in all of fiction, Don Quixote and the windmill, plays out across a Seattle man's arm, while the W.A.S.T.E. horn from Pynchon
's The Crying of Lot 49
trumpets along his finger.
Perhaps the most remarkable intersection between exposition and epidermis in this book is the section of photos from Shelley Jackson
's SKIN project
, a short story to be written one word at a time across 2,095 human pages. Started in 2003, the project is almost completed and the story itself is not intended to be published elsewhere -- the ultimate limited edition.
The bookworms brought together in this book run the full spectrum, from armchair readers to librarians to authors. It's a fascinating cross-section of the international language of story and those who cherish it with their lives.