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Memento: Records, Authenticity, and Constructed Social Memory in the Inked World. Terry Baxter @terryx666 #saa12. ...while lit up by the preternatural light, Queequeg's tattooing burned like Satanic blue flames on his body.
[P]rimitive tribes were certainly convinced that the spirit, having escaped from the body at death, retained a replica of its earthly tenement. They therefore used tattoo marks as a means of identification in the next world and a passport to future happiness.
“A tattoo is a true poetic creation, and is always more than meets the eye. As a tattoo is grounded on living skin, so its essence emotes a poignancy unique to the mortal human condition.”
V. Vale and Andrea Juno, Modern Primitives
“I understand. I’m not your type, too many tattoos. Thing is, there isn’t much to do in prison except desecrate your flesh.”
“Just because there are things I don't remember doesn't make my actions meaningless. The world doesn't just disappear when you close your eyes, does it? Anyway, maybe I'll take a photograph to remind myself, get another freaky tattoo.”
“Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts.”
[…] But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!
”It was a very, very long time ago, when only sailors and Hell’s Angels were tattooed, honestly, and prisoners and I decided to get a tattoo because it was the most shocking thing I could think of doing…And now I’m utterly disgusted and shocked because it’s become completely mainstream, which is unacceptable to me.”
“A tattoo should never be meaningful, because at a certain point you’re going to hate it, and it might as well make you laugh.
One of my tattoos is supposed to be a monster’s hand dropping a bloody heart but I did it myself with a tattoo kit so it looks like a cactus.”
“From this time on, participants will be known as ‘words,” they are not understood as carriers or agents of the texts they bear, but as its embodiments.”
I have several tattoos, but the attached one is probably my most meaningful. My middle names are Mary Kathleen, and she was my grandmother. She died from breast cancer, after a double mastectomy and several rounds of chemo about 15 years before I was born, and when I was a a teenager I felt a real disconnect from my living family, my dads family. My mother gave me a ton of family things including my grandmothers wedding ring. This started my genealogical/archival quest to learn about the women I was named for. My tattoo is the symbol for Saint Barbara, the patron saint of women's cancer, and it commemorates the grandmother I never got to know. Ciara Ward, Cobourg Archives
I am a first generation Southerner, born and bred in New Orleans. I grew up in a large, creepy old Victorian house that I grew to love. It seemed like only seconds after I graduated college, leaving them with an empty nest, when my parents decided to sell the house and moved to California. I mourned the loss of that house (and, for a little while, my bearings) when they left the city. So I got this tattoo, the fleur de lis, a symbol of the city. To always remind me of home.Cheesy, sentimental, but true! I keep threatening that my next one will be a giant magnolia, the Louisiana state flower.
Jennifer Waxman, Center for Jewish History
I got this tattoo in the 90s when it was the rage. I chose one with no meaning just a beautiful image and I’m glad because I still love to look at it. It’s from an illustrated collection of Japanese fairy tales, specifically the story of the Green Willow. The full image includes a samurai on a horse riding over a hill with a full moon in the sky. You can see that the tattoo artist included a bit of the outline of the hill on the trunk of the tree which I think makes the image more abstract. It’s an example of a mistake making the end product more interesting.
Heather Fox, Kentucky Historical Society Archivist
I got this tattoo in 2007 as a little present to myself for leaving the teaching field and pursing my MLIS. Contrary to popular belief, the goose does not symbolize my mean personality (I'm not!), or that I poop everywhere (I don't!), or that I'm Canadian (this, I wouldn't mind...). The imagery is purely sentimental-- I grew up in a house on a river and geese were always in our yard. Their honking reminds me of home and fall, my favorite season.
Sarah DorpinghausDigital Projects Library ManagerUniversity of Kentucky Digital Library Services
Here's a shot of my arms. One is the "Temperence" card from a tarot deck based on the art of pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. I'm an aquarius, so the waterbearer symbolism is quite fitting, and it's a personal reminder to maintain balance-- work/life balance, introversion/extroversion balance, mind/body balance. The other is a design by Austrian artist Kolo Moser. To me, the hourglass is a reminder that "tempus fugit," and the ourobouros ties me and my fleeting sands of time to the greater cycles of the universe. In my own mental shorthand, I think of them as "patience" and "balance"-- two things for which I am constantly striving!
Kit Messick, Manuscript Specialist, New York Public Library
I affectionately refer to this as my "information sleeve." The card catalog represents libraries, the skull & book archives, and the birds and an open book the dissemination of information. The banner on the card catalog reads "Peace & Knowledge" - I strongly believe that knowledge is powerful and is the strongest weapon against intolerance & injustice.
Elizabeth Skene, Arab American National Museum
I was in New Orleans right before the first Mardi Gras after Katrina with my boyfriend at the time. I was 22 years old. We were visiting his dad, and it was kind of emotional and intense because there was rubble everywhere and many parts of the city were deserted. We would drive around at night and whole neighborhoods would be completely dark.
We decided to get or first tattoos together. Rick drew a little figure based on the Minor Threat First Two 7"s on a 12" cover where Ian MacKaye is sitting down looking depressed, which was kind of Rick’s vibe. I found an illustration of an accordion that I thought looked cool. I thought of accordions because we were in New Orleans, and because his dad Pat was learning the accordion, which I thought was totally rad. Pat was a doctor at the VA hospital in New Orleans, and saw a lot of crazy shit go down during Katrina. She is also a transsexual, and a hilarious person. The first time I met her was in New York. We ate about $200 worth of sushi, then bought a large pizza, two of those big bottles of wine, and rented Crash at Two Boots in the East Village. We went back to Rick’s apartment in Brooklyn and she fell asleep about 30 minutes into the movie on the floor with a slice of cheese pizza on a paper plate balanced on her large breasts. I miss hanging out with her.
Anyway, I found this image of a devil wearing a tuxedo playing the accordion and we took it into Electric Ladyland on Frenchmen Street. I told the guy I just wanted the accordion, but he said he would do the whole thing for free if I included the devil. I thought about it, but decided not to take him up on it. It didn’t really matter anyway because Pat helped me pay for it. There are other stories related to this tattoo, but this is the best one. Oh, and I’ve been going to Mardi Gras pretty much every year since.
Kate Dundun, Occidental College
The best part about the tattoo on my right arm is how tough it is to explain. It is an image copied from a page of Roberto Bolaño’s novel, The Savage Detectives. Within the context of the novel, it is a poem, the only one ever published by the long-vanished founder of a poetic movement to which the novel’s two main characters have ostensibly devoted their lives. Seeing it for the first time, they perform a sort of ecstatic exegesis that confuses more than clarifies and, satisfied, resume their travels.
The personal story is that I acquired this tattoo at the tail end of my first stint in graduate school (M.A. Humanities, NYU). As the program progressed, so grew my suspicions of the professional field I was training to enter. I think my essential beef was with the demand for elucidation, while the qualities I value most in texts and art are evasion, vagary, and absence. I balked at the prospect of a career spent synthesizing things better left in pieces. Answers are boring when compared with questions. So I came upon The Savage Detectives, which, like all of Bolaño’s work, is deliberately elusive. At the height of my little crisis, I found Bolaño questioning, omitting, implying rather than stating. And at the center of this novel was this graphically alluring poem, which simultaneously means a whole lot and very little.
Now that it resides permanently on my body, I get asked about it. I bask in the moments when I have to choose which explanation to give. I can offer one of the characters’ interpretations - “a joke covering up something more serious” (page 398 in the Picador paperback), three ships, three coffins, something about Zion, or the Mexican colloquialism simón, etc. I can tell my own story, which is long and maybe a little boring. Often I just mention that it is a neat image prevalent in the work of a writer I deeply admire (he had used similar imagery at least 15 years before publishing The Savage Detectives), and which happens to look nice on my arm. That last one probably makes the most sense to the most people who ask, though it feels just as inadequate as the others. That choice I make, and that whichever tact I choose means no more or less than any of the others, is probably the most accurate summation of why this thing is on my arm.
Nicholas Martin, New York University
The story behind this tattoo starts during my senior year of undergraduate studies at Hunter College, when I took a class on William Blake. At some point during the class, my professor read the quote that's now on my arm, paused, and said "now there's something to ponder." That class was one of the highlights of my undergraduate career, and I totally had my mind blown by Blake's radical openness of spiritual thought and expression, but that particular moment really stuck with me. For a long time, I had that quote above my bed so I'd see it last thing at night and first thing every morning.
The decision to get it as a tattoo is a little harder to explain. I've wanted to get a tattoo for a while, but always stopped short because I felt like I didn't have a good enough idea of what to get. One day, it just occurred to me that this would be the perfect thing to get permanently inked on my body. I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan (just because something is holy doesn't mean you can't eat it), but I think the quote begs some provocative questions about what holiness is, what it means to be a living thing, and what the implications are for our relationship to the world around us. I probably don't need to make the obvious point, but I feel like these questions are particularly relevant for archivists.
I've only had this tattoo for a couple of months, but I'm finding that it's a real conversation killer in certain situations, which is interesting. I get a lot of questions about what it says, but very few people are interested in engaging further once they've read the quote. Most people just say "oh" and find something really interesting to do on their smartphone. I have had some good conversations with people about it. Someone recently told me it's a way of weeding out thepeople I want to know from the people I don't, which seems totally reasonable. My theory is that most people are fundamentally uncomfortable with the word "holy" and don't know how to react. Which, honestly, I kind of enjoy.Hillel Arnold, Rockefeller Archive Center
Tattoo the pristine fleshWhat is permanent anyway?This ink only lasts 'til the grave, Skin and ideas decomposeThat which we did compose.