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The Skin I Live In: Desire of the Other, Gender and Freaks

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Organizer: Maribel Peñalver Vicea

Co-Organizer: Dany Jacob

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In Georges Franju’s film Les Yeux sans visage [Eyes Without a Face] (1960), which is an adaptation of the 1959 novel by Jean Redon, Dr. Génessier is a brilliant plastic surgeon who desperately attempts to reconstruct the face of his daughter, following a car accident. In order to do this, he relentlessly carries out skin transplants on the young girls’ faces, firstly imprisoned, and later murdered. In La piel que habito [The Skin I Live In] (2011) by Pedro Almodóvar, the famous surgeon Robert Ledgard attempts to reconstruct the face of his wife on the face of a young imprisoned woman, who is suffering from Stockholm syndrome. This subject of skin remains relatively unexplored in the literary domain. Enveloping the body, skin protects us from harsh climates, but the qualities of skin tell about our character, as a rich range of idioms reveals in some languages:  in English, if a person has “thick skin”, they can withstand criticism, however a person with “thin skin” is easily offended. “Skin deep” is often used to allude to anything superficial or slight. We also can hear: “the skin of one’s teeh”. These skin states of mind translate symptomatic function of individuation and of deciphering skin. In this way, this organ of our body, the largest, teaches us particularly how to “feel the other”. Indeed, Sigmund Freud underlined the revealing characteristics of skin: “no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.”The psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu defines the “skin-ego” as a mental representation of the experience of the body’surface […] emerging ego in order to construct itself as a container capable of containing psychic contents”. Rejected skin transplant reveal that the transplanted skin can become a second skin, as Derrida outlines, which “would no longer leave [the] desire at rest, would paralyze it to, hold it still between two contradictory movements, tear off the hedgehog to make it bleed […]” and it must be sucked to protect, providing a skin to one’s thoughts (Anzieu). The National Geographic(Sept 2018) has just published an astonishing article on the success of a complete face transplant (“How a face transplant transformed a young woman’s life”), which narrates how the new face becomes a moving sort of “mould”. 
This session seeks to explore, from comparative perspectives, skin in all its forms (la Peau de chagrin, Peau d'âne, peau-d’ange, etc), the role of skin in literary or artistic works, as well as all reflections on physicality and corporeality related to skin, particularly in literature and cinema, including French, Spanish and American films (Johnny got his gun, 1971). It also invites proposals from the wider field of arts, medicine (particularly surgery) or psychoanalysis. We are seeking to answer the question: how does skin take shape in the writer or artist’s language?

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