Karen Conterio, founder of the in-patient "A Safe Alternative Program for the Treatment of Self-Injury" at University Hospital in Chicago, describes the average self-mutilator as intelligent and sensitive. She has low self-esteem, comes from a middle- to upper-class economic background, and began injuring herself as a preteen. Her parents are generally high-achievers who have trouble effectively communicating their feelings and often neglect their daughter's needs. -- Teen Magazine
My body is a journal in a way. It's like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist. -- Johnny "not the face" Depp
When it comes to dealing with depersonalization disorders, David Cronenberg was ahead of the curve. He's the undisputed master of the Cartesian horror film, where the self is never wholly integrated with the body. Even his recent crime film, Eastern Promises, shows such a detachment where the Russian mob doesn't trust memory, relying instead on tattoos to signify their identity. Unfortunately for them, anyone with money can get a tattoo, Megan Fox, suburban mall punks, or an undercover cop. Therein lies the problem with trusting the body: it's too easily manipulated and controlled by external forces. As any self-flagellating monk could tell you, the surest way to sin is in reducing self to the earthly constraints of body, the locus of empty spectacle.
Where once vivisection was performed on animals just to see the parts move -- having no soul, their pain was dismissed as illusory -- Marina de Van's In My Skin vividly details the same experimental procedure when logically applied to one's own body. The film is ambiguous regarding the causes for its protagonist's condition, and instead asks if there's anything in bourgeois existence that might help her reconnect. The answer isn't positive, but there's some great, verisimilitudinous use of CGI.
Pornography is a good metaphor for this disjunct as it takes the most primal unison of mind and body, namely coitus, and reduces it to mere physical excretion. In Cronenberg's Videodrome, the ontology of self is supplanted by a porn video simulation, rendering the individuated act of sex a reproducible commodity. In one of the most memorable scenes, James Woods' body becomes a gooey VCR into which the new mass identity is inserted. Where cyberpunk suggested a lossless transference of consciousness into an immaterial, digital realm, Cronenberg shows something more horrific, the body as pure machinery being controlled by the fading analog input of a corporation -- "new flesh," as it's called in the film, or newspeak for manufactured consciousness. Even the cutter's use of self-mutilation to return some proprioceptive sense of the body is rendered ineffective by reducing pain to images in a snuff film. That's transubstantiation under capitalism.
Videodrome is available on a swell dvd by Criterion and In My Skin's dvd contains a really good short by de Van.
Next up, the other half, identity.