Thursday, February 21, 2008

Body Type, by Ina Saltz

Body Type, by Ina Saltz, raises the question of whether or not we are living in an age of tattoos (see this CBS video report for an investigation into this question). But at the heart of Body Type is a clear interest in and advocacy of not only tattoos but also words and word design, raising the additional, perhaps more subtle question of whether or not this is "the age of type."

Yesterday's story in the Chicago Tribune about the speculations of a web-based amateur researcher named Paul Payack,who has suggested (not for the first time) that English is on the verge of breaking through the million word barrier, reinforces the notion that Ina Saltz puts forth that words and type have a greater value and presence in American and international culture than at any other time in recent history. For evidence in support of this notion, Payack turns to the Internet, and various online sources of information. For her evidence, Saltz turns to the phenomenon of tattoos and especially people who have created "intimate messages etched in flesh."

Saltz's focus on tattoos that consist almost exclusively of words is what distinguishes her book and makes it so interesting to read, especially for those of us who love language and literature. Body Type is divided into different categories of word tattoos, organized according to the different motivations behind the etchings (for example, love, politics, religion, etc...). Saltz's analysis of the tattoos depicted is limited, but often provocative and always deeply appreciative; for the most part, she lets the pictures and her subjects do the talking. Saltz's commitment to exploring the artistry and emotions behind the body type she captures on camera is truly exemplary, and allows readers the freedom to explore or not explore the ethics, morality, and meaning of this phenomenon.

Body Type is recommended by librarians for reluctant young adult readers, and I definitely concur. The text is limited in actual words, but rich in commitment to language and personal expression. Body Type would be terrific for use in an art and design class, or in any class that seeks to invite teens and other readers to go out into the world to explore its richness and diversity.

So, is it fair to say that we are living in an "age of type"? It does seem clear--as the above video represents--that people are more and more open to the idea of expressing their commitment to words and language visibly through tattoos, through etchings on their bodies. This commitment to using the body to express a commitment to words parallels the increased use of other mediums or forms of communication such as the Internet, mobile phones, video, and even literature to do the same. Books that I have read as a part of this study, such as The Book Thief and The Thirteenth Tale (and others that I haven't yet commented on, such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret) celebrate the power of words and word design in the same way as the photographs in Body Type. Just as scientists are poised to explore new frontiers using new technologies, so too readers and writers seem motivated to explore new means of celebrating and communicating words and type, of putting words out in front of people for use in making sense of the world.

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