This dissertation analyses skin from a feminist standpoint, to argue that skin is an important corporeal and textual trope in the understanding and representation of subjectivity and identity. The dissertation undertakes an examination of skin in order to extend current studies on corporeality and subjectivity, and as a further contribution to the emergent field of critical inquiry into skin. A consideration of skin, as a feminist endeavour, offers an intervention in and extension of current critiques and preoccupations that have problematised dominant constructions of subjectivity and corporeality, insisting on the importance of an analysis that is attuned to the intersections of difference, lived experience, and structural inequalities of gender, race, class, and sexuality.
In terms of the theorisation of corporeality, an interest in skin specifically has only emerged in recent years. Although easily neglected due to its
apparent accessibility and superficiality, skin is an important social and textual trope that warrants further exploration. While various permutations of embodiment have been extensively theorised, and critical attention has begun to turn toward blood or visceral organs, the skin remains too easily conflated with the body or with flesh, a mute materiality. What then is the relation of the skin to the body-subject? What is the relationship of skin to the self, and to others? Skin is a point of contact with the world, with other people and with what may be designated 'difference' more broadly. Skin potentially functions as a visible marker of subjectivity or identity, in terms of the problematic categories of race, gender, age, and class. The skin performs a conceptual as well as a material role as the body's edge, outlining the spatiality of the subject and demarcating the physical presence of a body. While at the same time demarcating the interior and exterior of the subject, and
distinguishing the self from another. Thus the signifier 'skin' is heavily invested with psychic and social meaning and is circulated in contrary, sometimes competing, constructions of subjectivity and identity. The mobility of the skin signifier is simultaneously stable and unstable in its meanings and functions, which in turn have significant social and political consequences for analyses of subjectivity and identity.
The dissertation draws on theories such as phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and poststructuralism that have been influential for feminist theorisations of corporeality and subjectivity, and inflects them with a consideration of skin. Skin is shown to be an important site for the iteration of the humanist subject, maintaining social structures of identity and identification. However, the instability of the skin trope suggests that the skin, as the border of the self, does not always clearly demarcate distinctions between self and other,
interiority and exteriority. Therefore the dissertation also considers the skin's social and conceptual reliance on otherness for coherence. The skin is then regarded as a vulnerable point of connection, and as the place of an ongoing negotiation with others and otherness, particularly racialised and gendered others.
These ideas of skin are considered in relation to a selection of contemporary fictional and film texts to investigate the function of overt and covert skin tropes in the representation and construction of subjectivity and identity. Texts such as the film. Suture, Toni Morrison's short story "Recitatif," and Brian Castro's novel Drift, Dennis Potter's tele-script The Singing Detective, and Dorothy Allison's semi-autobiographical collection of essays Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature, are examined for their use of skin tropes. Skin, as an unstable signifier,
hesitates between the individual and social, the textual and material, self and other. This hesitation is shown to reflect both the localised importance of skin for subjectivity, and the social aspects of skin in relation to belonging.