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March 12, 2003
ENGLISH PROFESSOR'S BOOK TRACES DEVELOPMENT OF SKIN AS METAPHOR
OSWEGO -- As a doctoral student at the end of the 20th century, Maureen Curtin came upon a literary and cultural concept that she saw feminist theorists shying away from. Her exploration of the idea -- skin as metaphor -- led to her dissertation and, now, to her first book as an assistant professor of English at SUNY Oswego.
Routledge published "Out of Touch: Skin Tropes and Identities in Woolf, Ellison, Pynchon and Acker" in its Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory series in December.
"Feminists resisted talking about skin. They felt women need to escape the skin," said Curtin, who also teaches in the women's studies program at Oswego. "I wondered, why the fear? What does skin represent?"
The feminist approach is to see skin as a surface where masculine values have been inscribed, and it follows that to regain their true selves women need to shed the confining image, she explained.
Her own explorations of the image of skin in British and American literature of the past 150 years revealed a larger concept of skin as an interface for categories of gender, race, class and sexuality.
In her book, she said, "I look at skin metaphors as they shape racial, class and gender identities in the 20th century."
"Out of Touch" has chapters on Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," Thomas Pynchon's "The Secret Integration" and "Gravity's Rainbow," and Kathy Acker's "Empire of the Senseless."
Skin metaphors developed along with visual technologies like photography and medical X-rays, Curtin said. In "Invisible Man," for instance, X-ray technology materializes the idea of the protagonist's invisibility, she said.
The concept is interdisciplinary, with uses in architecture, art, film and anthropology. "It's an extraordinarily adaptive metaphor," she said.
Curtin's 176-page hardcover book, priced at $65, is available from Routledge's Web site, www.routledge.com.
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