Combining heat, sweat, salt, and redness of the skin, with content
and theorization on physical memory/trauma of blushing.
How to think about skin memories beyond capitalist social reproduction?
Ingredients: Thinking through the skin. Skin memories. Blushing. Shame. Queer trauma/time.
Rethinking backwards. Shy Radicals. Internalized capitalism. The minor gesture. Affect. Re-embodiment. Trauma informed theory. Access intimacy. Performing. Heat. Sweat.
“The blush is a ubiquitous yet little understood phenomenon which can be triggered by a number of self-conscious emotions such as shame, embarrassment, shyness, pride and guilt.”1
Once it starts, there is no way back. It is extremely hard to blush without the other.
“The field of psychology has seen a recent surge in the research of such emotions, yet blushing remains a relatively neglected area.”2
The blush is something that goes beyond primal emotions such as embarrassment, especially in a capitalist society where functioning within the ‘normal’ exists of productivity, ‘success’ and has become internalized in our bodies. Blushing is a back and forth motion in time and memory, beyond shame; as an internalized triggered response of the body by trauma; a flashback.
How can we deal with trauma? How to become ‘better’ within our current capitalist disembodiment?
How to explore ‘better’ outside of this system, not excluding the body as a narrator?
What does becoming better actually mean? What is treatment and healing in a capitalist market for health? And what recognized emotions are attached to a bodily response obliterating other forms of knowledge?3
“If bodies can be said to have memories, those whose bodies malfunction highlight this fact; such subjects cannot forget their bodies, but are constantly reminded of their mortality [or position in society].
Certain theories of illness have located the skin as one site for the body’s memory.”4 The blushing, heated up skin highlights memory, it remembers, it marks time, history, present (and the fear of) future. It’s placed in the relational, the gaze of the other upon identity politics; blushing people are seen
as more trustworthy, innocent, feminine, yet naive.
The central nervous system reacts to whatever the sensory system tells it what is going on.
Therefore, the pattern of activity from pain and warm nerve fibers triggers both the sensations and the physical reactions of heat, including vasodilation, sweating and flushing. Most people think of the ‘burn’ of spicy food as a form of taste.
1 W .Ray Crozier & Peter J. de Jong, The Psychological Significance of the Blush (Groningen: Cardiff University, 2015), 1.
2 W. Ray Crozier & Peter J. de Jong, ibid.
3 When we experience a threat (real or perceived), we change how we breathe. Here, we can get a clear picture by imagining the ways in which animals respond to predators. In some cases,
an animal will breathe rapidly into the upper chest which is a sympathetic nervous system response that helps them flee from or fight in a threatening situation. In other cases, an animal will freeze which involves breathing shallowly or holding the breath in order to avoid being sensed by a predator. This freeze reaction leads the animal to stand very still which is an immo- bilization response to threat. In some cases, animals will faint so that a predator who is not a scavenger might lose interest in a dead animal. Both the freeze and faint responses are facilita- ted by an evolutionarily older pathway of the vagus nerve and part of the parasympathetic nervous system. Most importantly, once safe, an animal will release the stress response through shaking and breathing in a way that restores homeostasis. However, we humans will often stay in both high activation (fight and flight) or low activation (freeze and faint) responses for ex- tended periods of time. This tends to be the case when trauma is chronic and repeated as in the case of Complex PTSDAdditionally, we often do not have sufficient opportunities to process stressful or traumatic events. This can lead to physical tension and restricted breathing patterns that form the basis of our posture, movement patterns, and overall sense of self.
Dr. Arielle Schwartz, The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole, (Texas: Althea Press, 2017).
Dr. Arielle Schwartz, The Vagus Nerve in Trauma Recovery, https://drarielleschwartz.com/the-vagus-nerve-in-trauma-recovery-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.X2SPgi2iF0s, July, 2019.
4 Jay Prosser “Skin memories, Remembered skins” in Thinking through the Skin, edited by Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey, (London, New York: Routledge Publishers, 2017), 52-67.
The skin is a signification given to the surface. Skin memories are phantasmatic, and burdened with the unconscious. This notion of skin memory draws on the work of Didier Anzieu (1989), who argues that the ego is first and foremost a skin ego: ‘the projection in the psychic of the body’.
In fact, the two sensory experiences are related but are very distinct [and can get distorted].
They innervate the tongue the same way, but the pain system that is triggered by capsaicin is everywhere on the body, so one can get thermal effects everywhere. Some liniments contain compounds that produce similar temperature stimuli to the nerves in the skin.
We obviously did not evolve receptors to react to these compounds, the chemicals fool pain receptors whose real purpose is to register critical events, like damage to the skin and the inflammation that often results. The tenderness around an injury is caused in part by the response of these same nerves to chemicals released in the skin. “We humans are peculiar creatures – we’ve taken a nerve response that normally signals danger and turned it into something pleasurable.”1
Although skin may have a testimonial function, the act of bearing witness to trauma, injustice, violence and the pain of others cannot involve simply the transformation of skin into voice.2
While the nearness of others is always ‘felt’ on the skin, that nearness also involves distance, or the impossibility of getting inside the other’s skin.3 To embrace blushing and the heat of the body as a knowledge beyond shame, but as a response to other factors of life in a capitalist society, we can learn how to think along the fine lines of danger, pleasure, excitement, and obliterating shame.
How can we make a conscious de-centralization from concepts on social signing towards other desires?
“If shame can crush desire, how can desire crush shame?”4
The cognitive dissonance we have of the body in the world, in this ecology is in the case of trauma,
an active disruption, a fight flight or freeze response, can we question these responses that are seen
as a disability to another mind set? If the skin remembers, if the narrative is non-linear by dissociation, memory and a heated up sweaty body, can we look behind healing as a place to function in society,
in social reproduction and its expectations?
This cooking method we have in front of us, is a form to question the relational: the aspects of borders and dissonance of these borders (who sees them). When are they questioned, how are
they visible on your skin or how is the narrative placed upon your skin? (age, race, gender, class) Can we find ways to rethink social reproduction within the realm of care for trauma, the embodied trauma as a narrative to use as knowledge? The skin remembers and actively declines linearity.
The concept of non-linear activism and what actually counts as relational is something of interest within this station. This activation can be stimulated, thought through and embodied by holding, carving, drying or eating hot peppers. Eating spicy foods triggers a mild defense response in us. Our heart rates rise,
our breathing increases, and our adrenaline starts to flow. The thrill of pain rejuvenates us, while we secretly know all will be well in the end. When eating spices “Humans and only humans get to enjoy events that are innately negative, that produce emotions or feelings that we are programmed to avoid when we come to realize that they are actually not threats.”5
1 Barry Green, (John B. Pierce Laboratory in New Haven, Conn.,) “Why is it that eating spicy, “hot” food causes the same physical reactions as does physical heat (burning and sweating, for instance)?”, in Scientific American, Oct. 1999, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-is-it-that-eating-spi/, Last visited Sept. 18, 2020.
2 Jane Kilby, “Carved in skin Bearing witness to self-harm,” in Thinking Through the Skin, ed. by Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey, (London, New York: Routledge Publishing, 2017), 124-142.
3 Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey, Thinking Through the Skin, (London, New York: Routledge Publishing, 2017), 7.
4 Clementine Morrigan “Obliterating shame”, in Fucking Magic Zine #1 / Trauma Magic Zine, 2015 - 2019.
5 James Gorman, “A Perk of Our Evolution: Pleasure in Pain of Chilies.” New York Times, Sept. 20, 2010. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/science/21peppers.html.