30 Cyber-Days in San Francisco 1.8

Slash and Burn

We're sitting in a cyber-coffee bar in San Francisco talking to Denise. A dancer by night and an artist by day, Denise is strikingly beautiful in a delicate, porcelain-like way: tall, slim with shoulder-length auburn hair, pierced nose, lip, and, of course, a single eyebrow. At one point she stood up, turned with her back towards us, displaying magnificent tattoos in the form of multi-color angel wings that went from her shoulder-blades down to the small of her back in the colors of the most exquisite medieval stained-glass, and all this cut by slender red scars splayed up and down her arms.

We ask about the scars and she tells us about the latest SM scene in the City. It seems these days that in the hip areas of San Francisco the body cybernetic is out-of-date, unplugged from outlaw consciousness and allowed to float off into the East where the tech-hype is only now getting underway. What's really new in SF these days is some pain cut with a lot of healing. It's called Slash and Burn. Cut long slits down your arms or legs, really any flesh will do, pour a bit of gasoline into the wounds, and then ignite the flesh. Now, don't let it burn too long, we're not talking about flesh arson here, about burning down the whole barn of the body in a massive end-of-the-century conflagration, but about pain with a recuperative purpose. As Denise explains: the real joy of inflicting pain on your own body lies in the pleasure of the healing process. It's almost addictive. Cut the flesh, pour on gas, watch it burn, and then eagerly anticipate the long, slow healing powers of the body.

The body in San Francisco, then, as all about cynical feelings, intensifying the pain of the flesh to get one last hit of the angel wings of bodily healing.

"Slash and Burn" is excerpted from Hacking the Future: Stories for the Flesh-Eating 90s. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.