I got a tattoo on Thursday the 25th of January, and I thought I'd let y'all know.
Because the question, "well what does it mean?" is so common surrounding tattoos, I thought I'd type up a (hopefully) brief explanation of what it is and what it means to me, so I can link people to the explanation in lieu of having to type it again and again if I'm asked online.
The tagline I like to use for my tattoo is that it's both overly-intellectual and completely stupid at the same time.
Long story short, this tattoo is a celebration of my personal philosophy of Absurdism.
Okay, deep breath everyone.
I say my personal philosophy, because I'm sure I understand Absurdism in a way slightly different than others might, but if I were to define it, I would say that Absurdism is the understanding that:
nothing has any inherent meaning!
People choose to ascribe meaning to things, and while many things have universally understood meanings, many things are also different to each individual.
Two quick, entry-level examples.
This operates in many different ways across literature, life, gender studies, and so on, so i'll give you a nice and accessible example I enjoy from literature.
I took a course titled, "The Bible as Literature," during my undergrad taught by Dr. Andrew Higl. In our first reading we came across this line:
Reading it at the time, my first response was, "scent of Lebanon?" To me, the simile made absolutely no sense. I have little to no knowledge of Lebanon other than its location and political state.
A footnote kindly explained that there was a cultural understanding at the time that Lebanon - full of forests and trees - smelled really good.
Bam. Makes more sense.
If you're reading anything from a different time or a different culture, or frankly anything from a life sphere outside of your own, you're going to come across instances like this all the time. A sign (Lebanon) signifies something (pretty smells) to the writer but not necessarily to the reader.
For more on theories of the sign and signified, please Google search "Deconstruction" or "Semiotics" and prepare to be confused.
But it doesn't have to be just in literature. Take for example: nature.
Some people have a really strong connection to nature, whether it be a certain stretch of land, some trees or whatnot, or the idea as a whole.
I have little to no connection to nature. I like to think it's because my parents planted a tree when I was born, and after we moved the new homeowners removed the tree, but it's probably more because I've lived in cities most my life, and my exposure to nature has been mostly isolated trips and tourism based.
We can go even less concrete: happiness.
How many different methods of living a happy life have you heard? Like a lot? Everyone has their own idea because people derive happiness in their own ways. Happiness for one person is acquiring a lot of wealth. For another it might be surrounding oneself with friends and family. For another it might be accomplishing tasks. It's not universal!
Without going too far, the absurd condition of life intersects with many theories of trauma.
It's comforting to establish a cause and effect relationship between everything in life. It's binary and easy to swallow. I studied and therefore I got a good grade. I ate too much cake and therefore I got a stomach ache.
But say for example, an earthquake swallows up Grandma, or somebody is diagnosed with cancer.
Some fringe individuals might try to explain away these events. Grandma built her house on a fault line. That person smoked 20 packs a day.
But sometimes there isn't a neat and clean explanation. Random things happen, and when those random things are bad, it can be really hard to process. There's the sign of somebody suffering, but if it doesn't signify their own personal wrongdoing, what do you do?
Absurdism for me is understanding that you can create your own understanding in many cases. While you have to function within the universal understandings that you live around (no, I cannot just say 'this dollar bill is just a piece of paper and therefore I will live my life without currency), there are many things that you can challenge. You can challenge what people think having a certain body signifies; you can challenge what people think behaving in certain ways signifies; you can challenge what people think leads to happiness; you can challenge what people think is 'good' or 'bad'.
This version of Absurdism is a lot like Existential Nihilism, as opposed to Cosmic/Pessimistic Nihilism. With existential, one can choose to find happiness by creating their own meaning, whereas in pessimistic, there's just an empty void.
If you're a fan of Rick and Morty or BoJack Horseman, this video boils it down pretty well.
So what in the hell does that have to do with my tattoo?
Well, here it is.
First off, it's a bunch of dots. It's really abstract, and you can read into as you want. It's a general sign and you can squeeze a hundred signifieds out of it if you'd like
Second, I loosely designed it off of crop circle patterns. People read so much into crop circles. While I personally don't subscribe to alien theories (and as far as I've read there's never been a case where the farmer hasn't come out and said 'yo i just got freaky with my tractor') the theories give me so much joy.
Thirdly, the placement is over a weird little scar I have. I have no idea how I got the scar. It might have been a cat scratch, but it also seems more prominent than a cat scratch. Rather than to try to give meaning to the scar, I'm choosing to adorn it with the fact that it doesn't need to having meaning! But that kinda sorta ascribes meaning to it! It's cyclical and may or may not qualify as a paradox!
Lastly, I had no idea how my skin would react to tattooing, so this also functioned as a patch test.
In the end, I have an tattoo that I can explain the meaning of in roughly 1000 words celebrating the idea that things don't have meaning. At least not inherently.
Like I said, it's both overly-intellectual and completely stupid at the same time.
But what not a better way to discuss deconstructive symbology than something as deeply rooted in semiotics as the American culture of tattoos.