Literary Tattoos

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I was listening to a podcast on my way back from dropping the boys at school on a new book detailing the cultural phenomenon of ‘literary tattoos’ – people who feel the need to have inked on some part of their body the name, picture, or quote from their favorite author or poet. While no one, to my knowledge, has the name Ursula emblazoned on their buttocks, the idea of a literary tattoo intrigues me – and since listening to the podcast, I find myself asking people whether they would consider getting such a thing, and if so, who would they chose?…

In the book, The Word Made Flesh by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor (the book which was discussed in the podcast) there are pictures of people with quotes (and illustrations) from work by Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, William Blake and Samuel Beckett (just to name a few). Each of the tattoos represent a whole story in and of themselves about how and why a person felt compelled to engrave the words on their flesh. Pretty cool really.

For my part, I am way too squeamish to get any kind of tattoo (and let’s face it, too worried about what it would look like on my saggy eighty year old body in years to come) but if I was to consider a literary tattoo, and if I restricted it to books and authors I love (look, if I got on to poetry this blog post would never end!), there are three most likely contenders:

They are (in no particular order):

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
One of my favorite books, I would nonetheless have difficulty putting “Mistah Kurtz – he dead” or “The horror! The horror!” anywhere on my body. Even some of his more cheery quotes are still major downers so I doubt I will ever have a tattoo with such gems as “the wilderness found him out early, and had taken vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude–and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.”
Besides where would such a quote go? Back? shoulder? stomach?!

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
Now a quote from this book would be pretty amazing- though perhaps not original enough to enter the ranks of cool-dom. I could see myself with a discrete Catherine or Heathcliff quote, perhaps on an ankle…What do you think – “That is not my Heathcliff. I shall love mine yet; and take him with me: he’s in my soul” or perhaps, “I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!” But then again, I’m not sure what my husband would say to either of those…

David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life
Now this book is my all time favorite book and perhaps it is the one I would be most likely to use for a literary tattoo. One quote which would be wonderful, is this:
“What else should our lives be but a continual series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the unknown, pushing off from the edges of consciousness into the mystery of what we have not yet become, except in dreams that blow in from out there bearing the fragrance of islands we have not yet sighted in our waking hours”. Not bad, eh?

Well, I can’t say I am rushing out to a tattoo parlor to have anything inked on any region of my body, but still the concept is an interesting one. So tell me, have any of you got a literary tattoo? If so, who, what, why and where? If not, would you ever consider having one and if so, which quote or author would you chose?

15 thoughts on “Literary Tattoos

  1. I think this is my first comment-I usually just have time to read all the great advice here. If you go to this link, you’ll find my literary tattoo (it’s just one word) and the reason behind it.

    I have a friend who had a quote from his favorite song put on the inside of his arm. Another friend is having a quote from something in S. W. A. T. put on his ribs….I did’t know it was a new thing!

  2. I doubt it is a new thing:) but it seems like literary tattoos have just started to garner some media attention! Thanks for posting the link so we get to see your first literary tatoo and its rationale. Also congrats on your first comment at TKZ!

  3. I have never been so perfectly inspired by anything I’ve read (that would fit on my body) to commit the words to my skin for the rest of my life. And anyway how do you chose one out of so many.

  4. In a humorous vein.

    Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!

    Of course, it would be near a birthmark.

  5. i would do…..”i will”….from ty buchanen to sr. m.v….then everyone…like the ty followers…will have to ask….”will what????”.

  6. I cringe when I see tattoos–it’s probably an age thing. They were considered beyond tacky when I was growing up. But if were to adopt any, here are a few of my candidates and suggested locations:

    Waistline: “I trust that age doth not wither nor custom stale my infinite variety.” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

    Upper thighs: “The horror! The horror!” (Joseph Conrad)

    Hairline: “You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair,” said Anne reproachfully. “People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble is.” (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

    Forehead: “I know quite enough of myself,” said Bella, with a charming air of being inclined to give herself up as a bad job, “and I don’t improve upon acquaintance . . . ” (Dickens)

    Ankles: “Falstaff sweats to death and lards the lean earth as he walks along.” (Shakespeare)

    Palm (to be shown to people who try to talk to me before I’ve had my coffee): “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” (Oscar Wilde)

    Er…somewhere below the belly button: “They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

    Buttocks: “The advantage of doing one’s praising for oneself is that one can lay it on so thick and exactly in the right places.” (Samuel Butler)

    Oh, la! That’s all I can think of for now. Great post, Clare!

  7. I honestly do not understand the current fad for tattoos. They have always existed, but the way they have become so popular the past few years is just beyond me especially since so many of them seem so stupid. Body art I can maybe understand, but the butterfly on the butt, or the foreign letters emblazoned because they look cool? Puh-leeze. I see regrets aplenty in the future, and some funny looking people in nursing homes in a few decades. Just like the nightmare of low rise pants, the tattoo fad has to end someday.

    If you’re worried about the appearance of the tat at 80 I say just go for a seascape on your butt; at least by that age you should have some wave action.

  8. Personally I am with you Clare on the non-tatoo bit. Never had one, and really, really don’t want to picture myself with one at 90. If I were to get incredibly intoxicated and change my entire outlook on self-repsectability long enough to traipse into a tatoo parlor and slur “Hey Inkity-Winkity Dude…Ink me baby.”

    These are a couple literary tomes I’d probably want on my body.
    First: Douglas Adams

    1. Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.

    2. Children, you will need to know the difference between Friday and a fried egg. It’s quite a simple difference, but an important one. Friday comes at the end of the week, whereas a fried egg comes out of a chicken. Like most things, of course, it isn’t quite that simple. The fried egg isn’t properly a fried egg until it’s been put in a frying pan and fried. This is something you wouldn’t do to a Friday, of course, though you might do it on a Friday. You can also fry eggs on a Thursday, if you like, or on a cooker. It’s all rather complicated, but it makes a kind of sense if you think about it for a while.

    3. The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t


    And finally from an unremembered source:

    I just ate a what?

  9. Wow – some great entries and I’m glad others feel the pain and age factor may be too much! Kathryn – you have certainly thought a lot about this – so hmmm…I wonder whether you will secretly be getting a few of these:)! Basil – some classics there but I wonder with long quotes where do you put them??? Catfriend – yes, perhaps people need to go for something that will (cough) improve with age!

  10. Very interesting to think about. I just got my first tattoo about a month ago and they don’t hurt as much as you think.

    But a literary one….might have to think about this some more… πŸ˜€

  11. I think the most interesting thing about these comments is everyone thinks they’re going to live to be 90! πŸ˜‰


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