Skin and the Self: Cultural Theory and Anglo-American Psychoanalysis



In recent years, a number of cultural theorists have made important contributions to the study of the body’s surface. Despite their importance, however, none of these contributions provides us with a systematic framework for understanding why the body’s surface — its skin — matters to the extent that it does. In this article, I seek to provide such a framework and, in doing so, to shed light on why the skin and the self seem to share a special and sometimes strained relationship. To this end, I will present a critical introduction to the work of two contemporary Anglo-American psychoanalysts: Esther Bick and Thomas Ogden. Throughout this introduction, I will show how both Bick and Ogden — despite the fact that they are almost completely unknown outside clinical circles — offer up a host of conceptual tools that could prove useful to cultural theorists interested in making sense of the relationship between the skin and the self.