Cover image for The book of skin
The book of skin
Connor, Steven, 1955-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Ithaca, NY : Cornell University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
304 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
"Originally published in Great Britain in 2003 by Reaktion Books, London"


Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN191 .C66 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Skin, Steven Connor argues, has never been more visible. The Book of Skin explores the multiple functions of the skin in the cultures of the West. In this vividly illustrated book, Connor draws on evidence from a variety of sources including literary and other forms of public and private writing, especially medical texts, as well as painting, photography, and film, folklore and popular song.Because of its newfound visibility, skin has never been at once so manifest and so in jeopardy as it is today. This dilemma becomes evident, in Connor's view, if we examine how skin is displayed and manipulated as a site of inscription. In order to trace our culture's anxious concerns with the materiality and mortality of skin, Connor's analysis ranges from the human body itself to photography, from Medieval leprosy, Renaissance flaying, and eternal syphilis to cosmetics, plastic surgery, and skin cancers.Connor examines the chromatics of skin color and pigmentation, blushing, suntanning, paleness, darkening, tattooing, cutting, the Turin shroud, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man. He also offers engaging explanations for why particular colors are ascribed to feelings and conditions such as green for envy, purple for rage, and yellow for cowardice. Connor's insights into the obvious and yet unfamiliar terrain of the skin and its place in Western culture ameliorates the intensities and attenuations of touch in cultural history. The Book of Skin bears out James Joyce's claim that "modern man has an epidermis rather than a soul."

Author Notes

Steven Connor is Professor of Modern Literature and Theory in the School of English and Humanities at Birkbeck College, London

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Using the contemporary fascination with skin as its point of departure, this study in cultural and critical theory explores the values placed on skin throughout history. Connor (modern literature and theory, Birkbeck College, London) accumulates various meanings and values associated with skin, along with its metaphorical implications. He discusses at length such "natural" skin phenomena as pigmentation, spots, and blushing. He also treats stigmata, lesions, scars, and scabs; meanings and values that lead to skin piercing; marking, including both tattooing and dermographics (or skin writing); cosmetic anointing; plastic surgery; and fetishism and sadomasochism. For his materials, Connor considers literature, medical treatises, folklore, religious writings, and the works of a number of contemporary philosophers and cultural critics. He also relies on a variety of pictorial representations of skin, and the book includes many reproductions. Connor makes it clear that skin, seemingly so obvious, is a complex cultural phenomenon--one whose meanings make it well worth the time and effort needed to follow Connor's exploration. The study is challenging and unsuited to less sophisticated readers. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. L. Culross Eastern Kentucky University

Table of Contents

Note on Editions and Photo Acknowledgementsp. 6
Pregression: A Skin That Walksp. 7
1 Complexionp. 9
2 Expositionp. 49
3 Disfiguringp. 73
4 Impressionp. 95
5 Stigmatap. 119
6 Off-Colourp. 147
7 Unctionp. 178
8 Aromap. 211
9 Itchp. 227
10 The Light Touchp. 257
Referencesp. 283
Indexp. 299