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Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Skintight, Meredith Jones' new study of cosmetic surgery, should cause at least a frisson of interest in the broader community. Priced over 60 dollars by publisher Berg, it may not reach the same number of shelves as such classics of 'personal health' as The Hite Report or The Female Eunuch, but my feeling is that Jones is looking for a less popular release.

At least for the moment. In launching the book, Dr Zoe Sofoulis - "senior lecturer in feminist studies and cultural studies" at UWS Nepean - made a play, however, using the book's 'made here' tone, which she demonstrated in negative terms.

Sofoulis deftly made space for the book in a kind of facsimile of the 'public sphere' by 'othering' several groups of overseas academics.

Journalists and health practitioners would be the immediate targets, I suspect. Why else would Sofoulis make prominent note of Jones' neat analogy - Federation Square is "a building with cellulite"?

This metaphoric use of (what used to be called) 'plastic surgery' to remark on architectural styles (Sofoulis also notes how Jones points to the seamless facades of buildings put up in the late 80s and early 90s) is original. Many of Jones' friends - an eclectic bunch unlikely otherwise to find themselves, together, in a small, hot room (Gleebooks' 'upstairs' space lacks adequate facilities to offset the heat generated by well over 50 adult bodies) - can attest to the author's clever mind, and subtle pen.

In conversation, Jones expressed gratitude for the editorial component of Berg's involvement in the project, especially one (anonymous) reviewer who made sound comments. Others worked on the text, which took about two years to write (I was told).

Jones not only teaches at UTS, she also participates in the legendary blog Sarsaparilla as a list writer.

There's no mistaking the years of observing and note-taking. Some of it sounds like literary journalism, other parts like close analysis. Sofoulis claims that the tone avoids the moralising elements found in American studies of a similar nature. From a British author, she says, we're likely to read something that would bore us. A Continental (actually, she said "French") would couch content in incomprehensible and overfastidious terms.

So here we have a book for all seasons, a kind of humourous-yet-serious, not-taking-oneself-too-seriously, and compassionate (the extract Jones read about a French prostitute-turned-TV-host with massive breasts intimates a concern with the state of mind of the individual) look at what (the publisher hopes) will polarise the community.

We'll see. Since polarisation means more sales, this outcome may be good for the business, but a too-literal response ("why bring attention to this when it's a real problem" could be expected from some quarters) can damage the author and the ideas.

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