We have discussed in class the idea that tattoos are a form of communication. They are a conversation piece, a means to display some inward phenomenon and a method to describe one’s life story. We have studied the concept of “tatau” in cultures of the South Pacific and how being tataued signifies to the community that one has matured and is able to take on responsibilities that one was not able to until after the process of tatauing. In Wendt’s essay he even goes so far as to use the metaphor of “tatauing” the post-colonial body to communicate to the world the maturation of post-colonial literature to a meaningful and important display of post-colonized cultures’ pride. Physically and permanently altering one’s body in this fashion is indicative of some message that clearly cannot be communicated adequately in any other way.
The idea that “Tattoo shapes language itself” is a new and intriguing one brought up in the introduction to Dr. Ellis’s Tattooing the World (14). This sentence implies that tattooing is not merely a form of language in and of itself, as had been previously established, but also is powerful enough to change other languages. The power of the concept of tattooing and the word “tattoo” to manipulate languages such as English, French and Spanish is derived from the extreme form of travel that tattooing allows one to engage in. To engage in tattoo is to, with the stroke of a needle, travel through mental, physical, historical and cultural planes. According to Dr. Ellis, “Tattoo […] indicates the edge beyond which the observer may not move, the edge that guarantees the speculative meaning the observer assigns to that beyond” (15). There comes a point where other languages cannot adequately describe what tattoo is and the observer of the tattoo must accept speculation in lieu of the absolute which defined words offer. Tattoo exists as a form of language beyond that which has been previously experienced and therefore in turn shapes the previously experienced languages with its power. The power of tattoo is to exist as a language to shape other languages.