Naomi Segal – The pain of itching

Event Date: 21 March 2013
Centre for Creative Collaboration (c4cc)
16 Acton Street
London WC1X 9NG

Part of Royal Holloway’s Trauma, Fiction, History Series, jointly sponsored by the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures and the Humanities and Arts Research Centre, Royal Holloway, University of London:

Disability and Culture: Whose Tragedy?

As part of Dr Hannah Thompson‘s research on representations of disability, this series of workshops are developing an interdisciplinary and collaborative research project called ‘Disability and Culture’. The first event in this project is a study day to explore how the ‘personal non-tragedy’ approach to disability can encourage us to see disability differently.

Professor Naomi Segal (Birkbeck College, London) – The pain of itching

For André Gide, writing in a journal entry of 1931, the pain of itching is that no one takes it seriously: it is comic rather than tragic. For psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu it is, like all skin conditions, an appeal (Le Moi-peau [The Skin ego], 1985). The biblical ‘leprosy’, the condition for which one was separated from society, is probably psoriasis, the problem from which Gide suffers, like Job or like Irène, the protagonist of Lorette Nobécourt’s La Démangeaison [Itching] (1994). The visibility of skin conditions is essential to their effect of stigma, even of the ‘stigma fall-out’ (Ray Jobling, 2000) that spreads to the subject’s human and physical environment just as dead skin cells shed themselves beyond the supposed borderline of the epidermis. But Irène turns the stigma to triumph through revolt and perversion, Gide uses the motif against his most saintly comic protagonist, and Job turns abjection to holy purpose. This paper will examine how being inside and being outside; visibility and sensation; submission and revolt, separation and sympathy, the social and the anti-social, gather around this most complicated of symptoms.


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