Transgression as Identity


Lauren Langman
Katie Cangemi
Loyola University of Chicago

Used with Permission




Globalization and Surplus People

Globalization, the defining moment of the present age, has transformed the world, as we know it. Technocapital has enabled the emergence and proliferation of a de-territorialized economic system, decoupled from any particular nation state. Capitalism, with advanced technologies of information, production, finance and distribution, has now become a de-territorialized and re-spatialized system dominated by Trans National Capital. With its neo-liberal ideology universalized, new forms of post Fordist, flexible production and management (TQM), and control of national governments, it has created unprecedented wealth. A new class of trans national elites has emerged that has garnered the lion’s share of this wealth (Korten, 1995; Sklair,2001). But the distributions of that wealth have been unequal. There has been stagnation for the many, downward mobility for some. Otherwise said, one of the main consequences of the re-structuring of the global political economy has been the production of surplus populations available for the growing numbers of lower echelon McJobs in the service sectors. The growing inequality, together with more “flexible” management style of organization, e.g. TQM, has meant that for most people, even those with college educations, more and more are likely have lower echelon service jobs, of limited duration in which work has become a series of short term projects that provide little intrinsic gratification (Sennett, 1998).

Many youth, facing bleak prospects in the work force, have opted out altogether. For some, there are the typical alternatives of crime and/or addiction. But others seek membership in compensatory alternative subcultures such as heavy metal, hip-hop, grunge, punk, goth, etc reflected in the many tastes of youth culture. Adolescent autonomy, rebellion and disdain of parental values and life styles and quests for an independent identity has been a hall mark of youth cultures since the early 20th C. Most youth cultures, from avant-garde bohemians, to existentialist beats, folkies, rockers, hippies and even the contemporary youth cultures mentioned, provide a “psycho-social" moratorium in which a variety of identities and life styles of resistance and rejection could be explored, embraced and modified as preparations for adulthood. Identities of resistance as disdain of the dominant culture, publicly repudiate the larger society-especially though cultural tastes expressed in fashion and adornment. Various styles of dress, coiffure and ornamentation valorize the vulgar, the obscene and the grotesque as statements that differentiate the person from most others-and incorporate him/her into a subculture of resistance. Fashion, and adornment, as an immediate statement of identity, has become an important marker that can make a statement of opposition, rebellion and resistance-confrontation dressing aimed to shock (Wilson,19).

What is especially interesting about contemporary forms of fashion and adornment has been the decoration of the body that has itself become a template upon which aesthetic sensibilities are inscribed and through which selfhood is articulated. More specifically, in the past few decades, we have seen the rise of body modification as a fashion statement indicating a growing moment of resistance, rebellion and distinctive marker of inclusion. Thus perhaps 1/3 of youth are likely to have some form of body piercing besides earlobes such as a stud, post, or ring, and quite often a tattoo.

While at one point body modification has been considered quite“deviant”, it is now so common as to be “ordinary”. Nevertheless, there are extremes of body modification that push the envelope from the fashionable to the curious to the grotesque. We are of course referring to multiple rings, studs, posts etc, various implants such a horns or furrows, split tongues, wide spread body tattoos, and perhaps most extreme, various genital piercings, implants, urinary reroutes, modifications and saltings. While many aspects of youth culture are eventually shed once youth enter the “adult” worlds of work and responsibility, many of the body alterations are such that these youth become most unlikely to re-enter the main streams of the dominant culture. Few corporations, professions or public service companies are likely to hire a person with protruding horns, a split tongue, septum ring and a variety of facial tattoos. Nor might such folks consider such “respectable” life styles.

The concerns with body modification speaks to a number of sociological questions. Modern sociology has rediscovered the body, especially following the work of Foucault (19xx), Turner (19xx) or Shilling (19xx). Shilling argues that the body can be seen as socially constructed. For Foucault (19xx), body has been seen as the site where discursive power, mediated through disciplinary practices inscribe certain forms of subjectivity. The gaze, the look, enables power to define and control. But on the other hand, the “naturalistic” approach suggests that the body provides the basis for agency and self-articulation. We might also note Elias (19xx) charted the body historically as the site of the “civilizing process”, understood as progressive regulation of bodily desire and bodily shame were systematically repressed and controlled by ever more repressive standards of modesty and manners. But this repression enabled rational capitalism, Nation States and “civilization”.

We would like to suggest that these various expressions of body modification must be understood as essential moments of the resurgence of the carnivalesque, whose essential features celebrate transgression, the vulgar and grotesque as attempts to recapture a lost moment of the primitive, an imagined “premodern” Dionysian free of the Apollonian repression. As Bakhtin (1968) noted, the carnival as an inversion of what is “normal” valorized the ordinarily prohibited and celebrated the lower body whose orifices and products were foul, vile and repugnant. Many adherents of body modification, esp. tattoos, burnings, scarings, etc, regard their embrace of the grotesque as a rejection of the sterility and emptiness of modernity and see themselves as “modern primitives” (Vale and Juno 1989). Otherwise said, we would like to suggest that body modification be understood as a transitional marker of passage from the dominant culture in favor of a “de-civilizing process” that would restore a lost moment of repression discarded, desire unbound, and authenticity regained. This is expressed as a transvalued grotesque-a statement of active disdain, resistance and rejection.

Part I: Political Economy and Identity

From Carnival to Capital

For Weber, the emergence of modernity, culturally understood as the “disenchantment” of the world”, first emerged along with rational commercial practices and more rational forms of governance, e.g. the tax collections needed to finance the Crusades. As commerce became more rationalized, and governance bureaucratized, ascetic Protestantism emerged that would demand the repression of desire to dispose an “inner determination” to make one’s work a “calling”, a beruf, understood as a long term career in which there was a methodical orientation to everyday life. Thus the routinized economy, routinized organization emerged along with a character disposed to routinization, a methodical approach to everyday. One way we can we can trace the rise of modern, rationalized capital can be seen in the rise and fall of the carnival.

The carnival of feudal Europe first emerged as a moment of peasant popular culture that stood apart from, if not opposed to the official feasts and tournaments that celebrated and secured the power of the aristocratic elites (Bakhtin, l968). The carnival centered around festive rituals and practices, located in alternative times and sites in which typical patterns of hierarchy, deference and demeanor were ignored (Bakhtin, l968). These were times and places of total indulgence in wine, song, dance and sex. The typical restraints of everyday life waned, carnivals were times for the systematic transgressions of boundaries (Bakhtin, 1968).

Following V. Turner (1969), a given social structure as an organization of constraint, dialectically fosters alternative realms apart from the typicality of the quotidian. There is a bifurcation of reality into the normative structure and a liminal anti-structure. The liminal stands apart from the usual as illness stands in opposition to the typicality of health. Liminal realms are times and sites of freedom, agency (empowerment), equality, license and spontaneity. The liminal realm is one is often the site for resistance struggles, inversions and repudiations, indeed flouting norms and expressions of acts or feelings that are usually forbidden or taboo. Carnival was thus a liminal culture of the ludic that granted feudal peasants pleasurable moments of indulgence and resistance- if only for fleeting moments, if only in marginal, interstitial or even imaginary sites of otherwise prohibited gratifications. The carnivals were the sites of inversion and license, reversals of norms and deviance as opposed to the official feasts and tournaments that celebrated the power of the elites and cemented their ties. There was a suspension if not reversal of usual codes of morality, dress and self-presentation. All that was otherwise prohibited was celebrated. Carnival occurred at Easter; therefore it was tied in with Christian religion, but at the same time, carnival resisted the power structure of society by inverting the class and social hierarchy The carnival was an expression of the Dionysian that Nietzsche claimed was suppressed by the Apollonian (CF Mafesoli, 1993). For a limited time in a liminal site, there could be “transvaluations of ethics” in which alternative meanings could be negotiated.

The carnival was a site of resistance apart from everyday life and subservience to the landowners and clergy. All that was proscribed was celebrated, boundaries of “decency” were now valorized and celebrated, especially the bodily, bodily indulgence, the orifices, excreta, the profane, the passions, the vulgar, the grotesque and obscene. What might be otherwise disgusting and grotesque was valorized. A central theme for the carnivalesque was the grotesque body. According to Bakhtin (1968), the genre of the grotesque stood in direct opposition to all medieval forms of high art and literature. Through mockery and satire it challenged the authority of the Church and state. For Bakhtin (1968), one of the most important aspects of grotesque realism is its function of degradation. He explains,

Degradation here means coming down to earth, the contact with earth as an element that swallows up and gives birth at the same time. To degrade is to bury, to sow, and to kill simultaneously, in order to bring forth something more and better. To degrade also means to concern oneself with the lower stratum of the body, the life of the belly and the reproductive organs; it therefore relates to acts of defecation and copulation, conception, pregnancy, and birth. Degradation digs a bodily grave for a new birth; it has only a destructive, negative aspect, but also a regenerating one. To degrade an object doe not imply merely hurling it into the void of nonexistence, into absolute destruction, but to hurl it down to the reproductive lower stratum, the zone in which conception and a new birth takes place. Grotesque realism knows no other lower level; it is the fruitful earth and the womb. It is always conceiving (1968, p. 21).

In the carnival, the people’s laughter is the materialization of the degradation of authority. Thus laughter symbolizes the collective comprehension and shared affirmation of the satire.

The grotesque body transcends physical boundaries and inverts appropriated standards of gender and hygiene, embodied by the characters of Gargamelle and Gargantua. These gluttonous, gruesome bodies are brought into being by the processes of grotesque, sexual consumption and excretion (e.g., defection, masturbation, etc.), which typically were not characteristic bodily functions of dignified nobility. The scene of Gargamelle giving birth to Gargantua, which ends in her death, epitomizes the grotesque image of the body. The principle concepts of this scene, the body’ s vulgar overindulgence and consequential obesity are akin to the thematic concerns of grotesque realism. This miraculous event takes place at the festive banquet, which resembles the days of feasting at Mardi Gras, where Gargamelle, after gorging herself with tripe, the intestines of fattened oxen, begins her labor immediately after dropping her right intestine. Her fleshy, overblown body cannot support the sickening, gigantic portion of food that she devoured and her intestine falls out. Bakhtin explains its significance,

Bowels, intestines, with their wealth of meaning and connotation are the leading images of the entire episode. In our excerpt these images are introduced as food: gaudebillaux, an equivalent of grasses tripes, the ox’s fatty intestines. But Gargamelle’s labor and the falling out of the right intestine link the devoured tripe with those who devour them. The limits between animal flesh and the consuming human flesh are dimmed, very nearly erased. The bodies are interwoven and begin to be fused in one grotesque image of a devoured and devouring world. One dense bodily atmosphere is created, the atmosphere of the great belly. The essential events of our episode take place within its walls: eating, the falling-out of intestines, childbirth (p.221-222).

It is a comic scene. As Gargamelle groans and wallows on the ground, a number of midwives rush to her assistance. Again, the focus is upon the lower strata and the turning upside down of norms, which becomes fantastically ridiculous as midwives mistake the dropped intestine for a baby and Gargamelle gives birth to Garagantua through her ear. The labor is consummated with Gargamelle’s death and Gargantua emerging from his mother’s ear womb with his first cry, which was actually a robust bellow, for a celebratory drink.

At first glance, one might argue that this discussion focusing on the lower stratum is in error, for the grotesque style is also concerned with the body’s upper strata, specifically with the very important features of the nose, mouth, head, and ears, which become grotesque when assuming animal form. German scholar, G. Schneegans in a well-documented history of the grotesque, Geschichte der Grotesken Satyre, ‘The History of the Grotesque Satire’ (1894), makes reference to the caricature of Napoleon and the exaggeration of his nose. According to Schneegans, this representation of a human body part in the form of a snout or beak becomes grotesque when it reaches extraordinary proportions. Nonetheless, as Bakhtin (1968) points out, Schneegans fails to recognize that the underlying psychoanalytic meaning of the fantastic proportions of the nose is that it represents the phallus, thus the lower stratum. In congruence with literature from the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, carnival celebrations included ritualistic dances and short humorous sketches that supported the popular belief that the potency and size of one’s genitals could be inferred from the size of the nose (e.g., the famous carnival “Dances of Noses” of Hans Sachs). The grotesque style is concerned with that which gapes, bulges and protrudes from the body. The eyes are grotesque only when they protrude from the head; otherwise, they are generally considered to be non-comical and an expression of the individual. According to Bakhtin (1968):

The grotesque body is… a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continually built, created and builds and creates another body. Moreover, the body swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world (let us recall the grotesque image in the episode of Gargantua’s birth on the feast of the cattle-slaughtering). This is why the essential role belongs to those parts of the grotesque body in which it outgrows its own self, transgressing its own body, in which it conceives a new, second body: the bowels and the phallus. These two areas play the leading role in the grotesque image, and it is precisely for this reason that they are predominantly subject to positive exaggeration, to hyperbolization; they can even detach themselves from the body and lead an independent life, for they hide the rest of the body, as something secondary…Next to the bowels and genital organs is the mouth, through which enters the world to be swallowed up. And next is the anus. All of these convexities and orifices have a common characteristic; it is within them that the confines between bodies and between the body and world are overcome: there is an interchange and interorientation. This is why the main events in the life of the grotesque body, the acts of the bodily drama, take place in this sphere. Eating, drinking, defecation and other elimination (sweating, blowing of the nose, sneezing), as well as copulation, pregnancy, dismemberment, swallowing up by another body- all these acts are performed on the confines of the body and the outer world, or on the confines of the old and new body. In all these events the beginning and end of life are closely linked and interwoven (1968 p. 317).

Thus, the upper and lower function together in the processes of consuming, excreting, and defecating, in which the regenerative process is always downward. The “downward swing, which brings together heaven and earth. But the accent is placed not on the upward, but on the descent.” The downward movement is characteristic of the merriment of all grotesque festive forms. Clearly, this is seen in the processes of consumption and excretion, but the downward motion is also symbolic in the physical beatings. The victim of the fight is thrown to the ground and crushed to pulp by his opponent. Such is the case in the bloody beatings by Friar John. Friar John flattened noses, knocked out eyes, crushed jaws, broke ribs, bashed in chests exposing heart and lungs. He brained some and smashed the legs and arms of others.

The Waning of the Carnival

The rise of modernity, at least in its ascetic Protestant forms, would become a world transfomative moment in that the character structure and ideology of Protestantism was consistent with the demands of the emergent capitalist political economy. While the rise of capitalist political economy has been charted by Marxists, Weberians and World Systems theorists, little has been said about the rise of asceticism as a characterological pattern. We would suggest that 3 moments are operative, firstly, the emergence of childhood as a separate moment in the life cycle, a preparatory moment of preparation for adulthood but one that is apart from the demands of work (Aires, 1962). Secondly, childhood emerges after the invention of the printing press that enables mass literacy and thus childhood became the time and place where discipline was required to master the arts of reading and writing. Moreover, as these are taking place, so too does “courtly society” develop the forms of manners and politeness that lead to the “civilizing process” in which there are ever more psychological controls over the release of impulse (Elias, l968).

Stallybrass and White (1986) noted how the fairs, carnivals and festivals of England were the dominant feature of feudal life. And in these festive rites, vast quantities of ale were consumed, and of course, there was mass debauchery. But with the rise of commerce, including with countries like Turkey, so too did the consumption of coffee; the beverage of sobriety become popular. As coffeehouses began to spread throughout Europe, alehouses began to wane, and slowly but surely, perhaps catalyzed by Protestantism, a character type constrained from within by shame and guilt, a historically emergent super-ego became a factor leading to the rise of modern, capitalist society. And with that, the carnival began to recede, save in a few places like Venice.

Back to Carnival-As commodity

The combination of growing class inequality, masked by an unending stream of ludic carnivals and spectacles, has fostered a world much reminiscent of feudal society. But this ascent has been little known or charted in face of escapes to “hypereality” and/or what has been politely called “the closing of the American mind”, or less politely called “dumbing down”. We shall endeavor to understand the present age as carnivalization of the world, of two related moments. 1) There has been a “re-feudalization” of the class system in which a small minority of elites posses great wealth while the masses grow more poor. 2) Just as the carnival culture of the middle ages served to sustain an aristocracy of land, a mass mediated simulation of modern carnivals sustains the new aristocracies of transnational capital. More specifically, there has been a systematic lowering cultural standards of taste which never started from a very high level in the first place. But in order to continually attract viewers to film or television, listeners/consumers of music, the culture industry has fostered the production of a variety of grotesque, vulgar themes designed to shock and offend and secure profit. Perhaps the best such examples are programs such as the Springer show that humiliates, WWF in which repugnant violence is staged for the sake of hyper testosteroned teenage boys, or sex in the city in which a number of young women are ever in the pursuit of bedding men, while endless explicit discussions concerning intercourse, fellatio, cunnilingus, analingus and group sex abound. We might also note that there are perhaps 100,000 porn sites on the web indulging every “taste” from sex with animals to incest.

Part II: Identity and Desire

Identity, as the reflexive scripts and narratives of a distinctive group or subculture is a mediating linkage between the individual, dynamically understood, and the larger society. Groups in turn provide the basis, contexts and socialization processes that provide the individual with his/her own individual identity as that provides a self-referent locus of subjectivity-selfhood-as it moves through the flow of social interactions across time and space seeking affective gratifications (love, joy, pride) in the enactment of the routines of everyday life, or avoiding negative feelings, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, shame or sadness. One’s self is the experiential site of gratifications and pleasure, as well as pains, frustrations, humiliations or insults. Otherwise said, people seek emotional gratifications or the avoidance of pain and frustrations. This is not a simple hedonism in that people will suffer great pains deprivations to sustain and realize their identities. People: 1) seek membership and attachments in identity granting communities of meaning that provide social bonds and attachments; 2) strive for recognition, self esteem and dignity granting statuses; 3) exercise agency in striving to overcome powerlessness; and 4) given a universal fear of death, seek a value system that provides explanations for pain, suffering and injustice, proposes, remedies and/or promises of amelioration, even if in the next life. (Langman 2000).

1) Community: For most of human history, between the powerful bonds of an infant’s attachments to caretakers, to family/clan work groups, to the periodic solidarity rituals of large groups, people are social creature with needs to be part of a community. (And communities also grant identities, recognition and meaning-see below). For Freud, group life depended on “aim-inhibited cathexes”. Later psychoanalysts like Bowlby and Winnocott, have seen early bonding as the foundation of healthy development. Similarly, sociologists have long argued that collective rituals like religion, national celebrations etc, or interpersonal rituals serve to sustain community, solidarity and engagement. At the same time, capitalism, under girded by Protestantism, served to attenuate social ties and connections. Between the political-economic impacts of globalization, and the mass consumerism that individualizes people as consumers (even if commodified, pseudo-individualism) social ties are attenuated, if not rent asunder. This social fragmentation is often resisted. In this way, transgression can be seen as a way of resisting, rekindling and affirming social bonds.

2) Recognition: Following Hegel’s understanding of the master-slave struggle for recognition as the basis for self-consciousness, a number of psychoanalysts and scholars have noted the importance of recognition as the basis of self esteem; some consider the pursuit of self esteem, “honorific status” much more powerful a motive than sexuality. And indeed far more men have died for the sake of honor in combat than for the love of a woman. Following observations by Sennett and Cobb (1972) echoed by Honneth (1995), and Taylor (1998), struggles for recognition/dignity may be seen as central to both the person and his/her groups.

3) Agency: A long line of philosophical critique, as articulated by Spinoza, Kant, Hegel and, Marx suggested that active self-constitution, striving for realization and creating reality is an inherent human tendency. With Nietzsche, philosophy moved from epistemology to psychology. Will, now framed as agency, became a central quality of investigation. For Marx, alienation the consequence of wage labor, externalized production. Commodity production stood as an external power, thwarting his/her agency, his/her humanity and selfhood. The humanly constructed systems of domination refluxed back upon the person to render him/her powerless. To understand humans as willful is to see people as active agents, who strive to make their everyday lives meaningful and to attain certain long-term goals and values.

Powerlessness, the denial of agency is generally an extremely potent motive for individuals and groups. To be powerless is often humiliating and shame can be a powerful motive that fosters attempts to gain empowerment, to overcome domination. Indeed from slaves cutting of limbs to escape the chains of servitude, to masses enthralled with the empowering promises of a dictator, people seek empowerment. As Nietzsche suggested, to accept domination, to assent to slavery, leads to the sickness of a revenge denied. So too does fundamentalism dialectically foster subordination to power by establishing “micro-spheres” of empowerment that provide illusory realms of power. But at the same time, transgression of norms give one a power over them

4) Meaning: People have a fundamental need to make their lives meaningful, they need frameworks of meaning that provides anxiety reducing significance to one’s life, ethical codes of regulation, a theodicy of the distributions of fortune, and above all, they need to assuage the painful reality of the inevitability of death (Becker 1973). For most of human history, religion has provided people with meaning and direction for their lives, and in many cases, hope for some kind of immortality. Central to our these is the role of carnival in providing various compensatory identities. But again following Weber, the “disenchantment of the world” eroded the sacred and the realms of transcendent meanings.

We are suggesting that these moments of desire and emotion, socially transformed affects, elicited by social cues, regulated by social norms, and expressed in socially constructed channels, enable us to understand the affective basis of group life and social interaction. More specifically, we argue that people form groups not only for their instrumental or expressive functions of collective life, but group life allocates identities and social interactions that provide various emotional gratifications to the empirical subject. Otherwise said, membership in an identity granting community of meaning is the basis for much of our affective gratifications or frustrations.

Part III: Identity and Modernity: Fashion as Resistance

Castells (2000), argued that in modern ,“network societies”, there are three dominant patterns of identities, those that 1) legitimate the social order. But every system of domination fosters resistance if not rebellion. Thus we also note, 2) resistance based identities that may be progressive or reactionary and finally, 3) project identities such as feminism, ecology, or global justice concerns that would transform subjectivity as well as the external world. But to his typology we would add a 4th) ludic identities, valorize privatized hedonism, transforms subjectivity and articulate new expressions of selfhood. But ludic identities, systematically fostered by consumer capitalism with its mass proliferation of images of gratifying consumerism can take a variety of forms. As we noted, there has been a correlation of forces in which t 1) adolescent rebellion becomes typically expressed in commodified forms, and 2) the culture industries promote carnivalization as a marketing tool. But 3) and perhaps most important, this creates spaces for cultural resistance against commodification itself and a compensatory quest for “authenticity”of self and experience. From what has been said, following Bakhtin, the carnival is a realm of inversion, resistance and transgression. Thus we see a number of subcultures that valorize resistance expressed through the transgressive, vulgar grotesque and the carnivalesque. These ludic rejections and repudiations of the dominant culture serve hegemonic functions to maintain existing class relationships by fostering a migration of subjectivity away from political economy and neutralizing resentment by channeling it into privatized forms of cultural protest.

Following Nietzsche, marginal groups that are likely to feel ressentiment toward the superiors develop inversions and repudiations of their values. These transvaluations of the ethical, valorize what is proscribed and celebrate what is disdained. Much as Merton described “innovators” as those who would change both the goals and means to attain those goal, ludic identities of resistance at the margins of “polite society”, interrogate and resist the dominant culture to valorize other means and ends. As we have noted and will indicate, body art/modification, using oneself as a canvas of the grotesque to secure membership in the liminal anti-structures of inversion , gives meaningful identities and voices to those who might be invisible.

Transgression, Subcultures of Resistance and Liminal Identities

Youth, as a modern sociological category and stage in the life cycle concerned with autonomy from parents and a separate identity, typically become members of youth cultures and/or subcultures that can be seen as identity granting communities of meaning which give the person a sense of belonging, provide him or her with recognition of his/her self, provide a sense of empowerment, and in general, assuage the anxieties of life, what Giddens (1992) calls ontological anxiety. Thus participation in the subcultures of youth, above all grant dignified identities to those within the boundaries of the group. While this is important in all youth groups, to gain a positive sense of valued selfhood becomes especially important to groups of youth in marginal class positions without status based deference.

For a number of younger people especially those marginalized by the structural changes of globalization, (or pro-actively anticipating marginalization) there develop a variety of counter cultures that would reject the values of the dominant society-among the most important signifiers of late modern youth are the various bikers, heavy metal, hip hop, grunge, punks, goths and ravers, etc.. While these groups differ from each other, they share certain crucial features, they embody and celebrate the carnivalization of everyday life. These liminal anti-structures privilege privatized hedonistic indulgence to provide their members with meaningful, gratifying identities and interactions.

Among the countercultures and anti-cultures, there are a variety of distinctive styles of dress and bodily adornments that valorize transgression, there is a transvaluation of the ethical and inversions of propriety. What had been ethical because transgression and transgression norm. The grotesque becomes “beautiful” as it elevates the status of the carrier and lowers the status and prestige of the “uptight” main stream. The grotesque is

.... a powerful esthetic category that disrupts and distorts hierarchical or canonical assumptions. The notion combines ugliness and ornament, the bizarre and the ridiculous, the excessive and the unreal. The term derives from the Italian term for grottos, i.e., the ruins in which ornamental statues of distorted figures were found in the XV and XVIth centuries (grotteschi). The Romantic era, with its interest in individualism, and in all those who before the age of Revolution had been nameless and invisible, made the grotesque its indispensable adjunct...Bahktin placed the grotesque at the heart of the carnivalesque spirit. In the realm of the fantastic, it is a powerful weapon used in the revelation and denunciation of constructs.

We would like to focus on 2 aspects of the grotesque as identity expressed in adornment and fashion.

Identity, Fashion and Adornment

In every society, people dress and adorn themselves according to social conventions and the realization of 2 desires, differentiation and inclusion (Simmel, 19 ). Thus in a modern society, people seek some public displays of self articulation to differentiate themselves from others and at the same time foster inclusion into their own group. Historically, this has been base on categorical status, gender, occupation or other indication of social rank. But in modern society, fashion as style, has become an important component of personal identity and public statement of selfhood. One of the most important aspects of modernity was the importance of fashion in clothes and adornment as markers of self and group membership (Simmel)

But since the time Simmel was writing, there have been at least 3 changes in fashion, 1) At one time, fashions, whether in clothes, art or intellectual tastes largely flowed from the more privileged and sophisticated classes downward to the masses and less educated. This has changed and major aspect of fashion has been to market the styles of the urban poor. 2) Secondly, while clothes may have been a marker of political orientation, e.g. white sheets, black shirts or work uniforms that may have stated support for or resistance toward certain political stances, the body, its clothes and forms of adornment have markers of cultural resistance, opposition to the dominant values and life styles that are expressed in personal style of life rather than political mobilization. The fashions can be seen as reinterpretations of conflicts of class/culture or both in the larger society. Fashions are a statements of who you are and who you are not, your in-group and the out group, -and body modifications celebrate those boundaries. Sanders notes the tattoo as both an indication of disaffiliation from conventional society and as a symbolic affirmation of personal identity (Sanders 1988:395). 3) Moreover, the body itself has been turned into a “work of art” in which agency confronts the normative disciplinary practices to recreate an “aura” in an age of virtual reproduction. Thus as we shall argue, these themes come together in some of the more extreme fashions of youth cultures of resistance, can be understood as expressions of agency in which the body itself has become a medium in which liminal identities valorization of the grotesque, the bizarre and the vulgar can be articulated.