Chapter 2 – Contemporary Touching

‘As such the body is not distinct from the situation of the for-itself since for the for-itself, to exist and to be situated are one and the same…’[1]

–          Jean-Paul Sartre

Chapter 2 – Contemporary Touching: contemporary haptic-phenomenological philosophy and film studies explored, detailed and applied.

Before we discuss contemporary haptic-phenomenology, we must first define phenomenology for the purposes of this paper so that we may see the connecting (t)issues between them and, therefore, between them both and Film. As stated in Chapter 1, we will use Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty to flesh out our definition.

Our definition of phenomenology begins with Heidegger’s Being & Time. Though much richer and more complicated than we have room to go into, we will look specifically at Heidegger’s terms ‘Dasein’, ‘ready-to-hand’, ‘present-at-hand’ and ‘everydayness’ and how these help us understand contemporary haptic-phenomenology.

Heidegger defines Dasein as ‘This entity which each of us is himself’[2] and says that ‘…Dasein is essentially an entity with Being-in, it can explicitly discover those entities which it encounters environmentally, it can know them…’[3] – in the latter quote, Heidegger has stated what is most important to further our discourse: that physical bodies can know environments and that each of us is ‘with Being-in’ or, put simply, each of us is within (and therefore connected to) and influenced by our environment.

Time to Heidegger was a matter of both Dasein and ‘present-at-hand’. Dasein understands itself by projecting itself through-and-in-time as both its possibility and its thrown-possibility. The thrownness of Dasein is its ‘having been,’ and the projected possibility of Dasein is its ‘already being’ plus its ‘not yet.’ Thus, Dasein unifies the past, the present, and the future[4]. As Heidegger unifies time so too does embodied touching in its understanding of temporally unified phenomenological experience. The past, present, and future are referred to by Heidegger as the ‘ecstasis’ of temporality: ‘That Present which is held in authentic temporality and which thus is authentic itself, we call the “moment of vision”. This term must be understood in the active sense as an ecstasis.’[5] An ecstasis that Jennifer M. Barker says is present in experiencing a film when she writes ‘Rather than being “stitched into place”, we are neither “here” nor “there.” We are caught up in a constant oscillation…’[6]. We will be weaving Barker and other film studies theorists into this chapter later also but here we can see the first stitch in connecting the tissues of early 20th Century phenomenology into contemporary haptic-phenomenological-philosophies’ understandings of time.

Ready-to-hand and present-at-hand can be understood, for our purposes, to be a sense of potentiality in experience and touching (in all the senses I will detail later in this chapter) as well as potential-connectedness to existing ‘within-in-the-world’[7]. Therefore all things that we touch and are touched by us can be considered ready-to-and-present-at-hand, this is evident in the following quote:

Thus along with the [art, craft, personal, product, tool & touch] work, we encounter not only entities ready-to-hand but also entities with Dasein’s kind of Being – entities for which, in their concern, the product becomes ready-to-hand; and together with these we encounter the world in which wearers and users live, which is at the same time ours. Any work with which one concerns oneself is ready-to-hand not only in the domestic world of the workshop but also in the public world. [My emphasis formerly, original emphasis latterly.].[8]

In this quote, Heidegger informs us of two things: how individual Dasein can co-exist with other individual Dasein entities while existing ‘at the same time’; and the blurring of what is ready-to-hand and present-at-hand – an immediately private experience – with ‘the public world’ as well as that all things we touch and are touched by us can be considered ready-to-and-present-at-hand. So it is with watching a film. If we are touched by it – in the broadest sense – then we are experiencing it as present-at-hand as our eyes handle the oscillation of space and time in the action on screen. Here is the blurring of the object and subject that is important to us – we will be coming back to this time and again throughout the course of this essay and also later in this chapter.

These film-watching experiences are to us, now, an everyday experience. Whether it is television, online advertising or going to the cinema, we see film on a regular basis which could make us jaded to such experiences and not appreciate the phenomenal and phenomenological understanding of them. In the following quote, Heidegger counters this and argues that when a thing becomes undifferentiated from day-to-day experiences, it can be enriching as opposed to jading:

This undifferentiated character of Dasein’s everydayness is not nothing, but a positive phenomenal characteristic of this entity. Out of this kind of Being – and back into it again – is all existing, such as it is. We call this everyday undifferentiated character of Dasein “averageness”.

Here Dasein is highlighted as an everyday experience that can become so ingrained in us as to become average but must be appreciated as such in order for those experiences to be enriched, much as it is with touch – we can feel that we’re touching things all the time in our everyday interactions with the world but do we think about our proprioceptive centre when we move or do we try to memorise cutaneous-touch-memories? Not so in academic history which has largely ignored touch until the last ten years, as it is discussed in the contemporary-haptic-philosopher Mark Paterson’s ‘The Forgetting of Touch’ chapter in his book The Senses of Touch.[9] These terms everyday and averageness are important to us. Through Heidegger and contemporary discussions, we can begin to feel that it is in touching’s averageness that we can find our enriching experience if we feel it out enough.

Steven Connor, in his essay in Beckett and Phenomenology, when discussing Sartre’s work and embodied phenomenology says ‘The problem with Sartre is that the body is such a problem for him, that the body is always a form of foreign body.’[10] Since I agree with this and so as to avoid any conflict, the elements of Sartre’s phenomenology that we are using will be limited to his: ‘Phenomenological Concept of Nothingness’ from Part I of Being and Nothingness; and certain elements of The Body chapter of Part III.

Sartre deals with the concept of Nothingness when addressing phenomenological philosophy as a whole and when in need of a definition of Nothingness states ‘Is Nothingness not in fact simple identity with itself, complete emptiness, absence of determinations and of content? Pure being and pure nothingness are then the same thing.’[11] So Sartre equates Nothingness with being and goes on to include Nothingness within Heidegger’s Dasein also, especially when he says the following two quotes:

There is another possible way of conceiving being and nothingness as complements. One could view them as two equally necessary components of the real without making being “pass into” nothingness…and without insisting on the posteriority of nothingness…[12]

and

We will willingly admit with Heidegger that “human reality” is “remoteness-cancelling;” that is, that it rises in the world as that which creates distances and at the same time causes them to be removed. But this cancelling of distances, even if it is the necessary condition in order that there may be remoteness in general, envelops remoteness in itself as the negative structure which must be surmounted…Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being.[13]

Here Sartre further reinforces the connections between his understanding of phenomenological being and Heidegger’s. Later we’ll see how they agree on being-in-the-world but for now we can see from these quotes that both accept the everyday thrownness of being [or Nothingness within Being] as an important concept of Being. These terms are important ones that we will also return to. Though Sartre disagrees with Heidegger on many points, for the purposes of this essay, we will focus on where they agree so we can build a definition of phenomenology to add to with contemporary-haptic philosophies.

Sartre, though he terms it as something else, agrees with Heidegger on being-in-the-world and the body’s relationship to Being, as we can see here:

…on this level we encounter phenomena which appear to include within themselves some connection with the body…But these phenomena are no less pure facts of consciousness…That is why we ought not to take this as our point of departure but rather our primary relation to the in-itself: our being-in-the-world. We know that there is not a for-itself on the one hand and a world on the other…The for-itself is a relation to the world…But when we say that the for-itself is-in-the-world, that consciousness is consciousness of the world, we must understand that the world exists in front of consciousness as an indefinite multiplicity of reciprocal relations…[14] [Original emphasis.]

It is important to have the entirety of this quote so that we can see Sartre’s thinking and how he connects being-in-the-world to his notion of the for-itself. Here too the idea of a completely objective world is disavowed in favour of a consciousness dependent on ‘an indefinite multiplicity of reciprocal relations’ to the world. In this we can see the blurring of object and subject, once again. Sartre moves this further by saying, ‘Thus the concept of objectivity, which aimed at replacing the in-itself of dogmatic truth by a pure relation of reciprocal agreement between representations, is self-destructive if pushed to the limit.’[15] Again – as will be further detailed shortly in this chapter – from this our suture to contemporary haptic-philosophy grows stronger because there is much talk about the relative nature of touching, being touched and being touched from a distance within that discourse. It is through relativity also that we can feel-out the world’s affect on the body’s movements and feelings thus indicating a further blurring of object and subject; as Sartre also says here:

The body is nothing other than the for-itself; it is not an in-itself in the for-itself, for in that case it would solidify everything. But it is the fact that the for-itself is not its own foundation, and this fact is expressed by the necessity of existing as an engaged, contingent being among other contingent beings. As such the body is not distinct from the situation of the for-itself since for the for-itself, to exist and to be situated are one and the same.[16]

This quote embeds the bodies of contingent beings in the foundation of the world and therefore the world in Being which leads us directly to Marcel Merleau-Ponty’s dense summation of all that we have discussed in this chapter so far:

The body is our general medium for having a world. Sometimes it is restricted to the actions necessary for the conservation of life, and accordingly it posits around us a biological world; at other times, elaborating upon these primary actions and moving from the literal to a figurative meaning, it manifests through them a core of new significance: this is true of motor skills such as dancing. Sometimes, finally, the meaning aimed at cannot be achieved by the body’s natural means; it must then build itself an instrument, and it projects thereby around itself a cultural world.

So here too our definition of phenomenology for the purposes of this essay is clarified. ‘The body is our general medium for having a world’ – cultural, experiential, or otherwise: the body is central to being and connected to the world through relative-contingent-being and other beings.

So our definition of phenomenology, for the purposes of this essay, can now be summated and then used to sew that definition to contemporary haptic-phenomenological-philosophies. Heidegger tells us that each of us is within (and therefore connected to) and influenced by our environment; his concept of Dasein can co-exist with other individual Dasein entities while existing ‘at the same time’, thus making our notion of time more relative; this occurs every day and is included in what we experience as averageness; both Heidegger and Sartre accept the everyday thrownness of being [or Nothingness within Being] as an important concept of Being; Sartre adds to our understanding that the environment affects us as we affect it when he disavows the idea of a completely objective world in favour of a consciousness dependent on ‘an indefinite multiplicity of reciprocal relations’ to the world – thus a blurring of object and subject becomes a central element to our definition; it is also through relativity that we can feel-out the world’s affect on the body’s movements and feelings thus indicating a further blurring of object and subject, after all ‘The body is nothing other than the for-itself’; and Merleau-Ponty put’s it simply by saying ‘The body is our general medium for having a world’ and so we can only know the world and Being through the body.

So our definition stands as connectedness to our environment, relative-time in everydayness and averageness, thrownness and Nothingness within Being, a blurring of the object and subject, relativity itself and only knowing the world and Being through the body. These are the terms we will use to unction our definition of phenomenology into contemporary-haptic-philosophy. With this fleshy foundation of a definition, we will now suture a skin of contemporary-haptic-philosophy onto it so as to further feel out Film.

Much of the discourse within contemporary, embodied philosophies comes from a cross-discipline perspective – particularly disciplines concerning spatial relations and communications. For example, two principle works referenced in this chapter come from a lecturer in human geography and an architect – Dr. Mark Paterson and Dr. Leon van Schaik, respectively – however both of these also look at the ubiquity of communication technologies and, specifically, human-computer interfaces involving touch and/or proprioceptive intelligence; here we can see the crux of contemporary haptic-phenomenological philosophy – it is rooted in both an embodied philosophical understanding emerging from cross-academic-disciplines as well as information technologies.

Let us first quickly define what I mean by ‘haptics’ and ‘touch’ within this essay, once this is done, we can get to the meat of our discourse. I say quickly because many of the unfamiliar terms have been looked at in Chapter 1 and are reiterated here, concisely, whereas our other terms are self-evident and need only a sentence of explanation.

When using the term ‘haptics’ hereafter, I mean all of the following: the proprio-, intero-, and exteroceptive senses described in Chapter 1; the kinaesthetic senses – the sensations of movement in muscle, limb, eye and all parts of the body – or, put simply, a sense of movement itself that was ascribed to vision in Chapter 1; the vestibular sensations – those sensations of balance whether inner ear information, falling, close-to-falling, speeding up, slowing down or feeling balanced within oneself and feeling those vestibular sensations in something or someone else; cutaneous sensations – all the sensations that the skin feels like heat, pressure, pain, tingling, dryness, moisture, etc all sensations experienced that prove the skin to be a sensory organ; and, finally, tactile sensations or ‘tactility’ – this is a subsidiary of the cutaneous sensations but an important one to mark out as it refers to weight and pressure sensitivity in the hands, specifically. All of these terms come under my usage of the term haptics.

When understanding how I will use the terms ‘touching’ and ‘touch’ hereafter, we have to go into detail of their redefinition in contemporary-haptic-philosophy. In his book, The Senses of Touch, the aforementioned human-geographer Mark Paterson discusses an expansion of the term ‘touching’ into its broadest sense – to touch is also to affect, to be affected and project affectation onto, through and from another contingent being – in light of a phenomenological appreciation of aesthetics, explored in the following quote:

From the active touching, reaching out and measuring of space, we consider how we become touched and affected by things through artworks…Quotidian embodied experience involves a self-evidently tactile component, as in the perception of weight, mass texture, density and so forth, and this is nowhere clearer than in the aesthetic encounter with an art form, whether two-dimensional canvas, three-dimensional sculpture, or a building with its surrounding environment.[17]

Here Paterson has furthered our expansion of the term touching by going through a particularly phenomenological process – an encounterance with a contingent being of Sartre’s for-itself and something of Heidegger’s ready-to-hand. From this new notion of touching, touch and being touched through the ready-to-hand contingent beings of the for-itself, comes a different form of appreciating artworks – namely, Haptic Aesthetics. This is the main way we will look at Film to evince its use of a philosophy of touch. To define Haptic Aesthetics proper, we must take in more than philosophy; we will now look at architectural theory and film theory and their phenomenological approaches.

Paterson never full-succinctly defines Haptic Aesthetics but, instead, brings together disparate elements to illustrate its meaning. So too shall we. When Paterson says ‘…a haptic aesthetics effectively brings together touching and feeling, tangibility and affective forces’[18], it is the closest he comes to putting a definition in one place – from there he discusses the connections of optics and haptics as a holistic corporeal-sensory-motor system and from there he states how the ‘…haptic body moulds and can itself be shaped and motivated by the architectural discipline.’[19] This brings us neatly back to the blurring of subject and object discussed earlier when defining phenomenology for our purposes but also takes it further; Paterson is effectively saying that within haptic aesthetics ‘affective forces’, or artworks and our surroundings, are appreciated on an embodied level and therefore understood through the body as ‘…our general medium for having a [culturally appreciative] world’, to use Merleau-Ponty again. He also discusses the everydayness of kinaesthetic experience[20] and the importance of understanding that averageness alongside spatial orientation. Paterson’s usage of architecture and spatial orientation is linked to Leon van Schaik’s notion of ‘spatial intelligence within architecture’[21] where Schaik emphasizes how we read, live through and grow or suffer within different environments through embodied experience. Specific architectural theory to us is the architect Yeoryia Manolopoulou’s phenomenological examination of Film[22] which we will come to in Chapter 4. In order to understand how haptic aesthetics includes watching a film, though a primarily visual experience it too is as embodied as the eye is, we must now look at vision’s hapticity.

As we saw in Chapter 1, “vision is kinaesthetic”[23] and this too defines haptic aesthetics – the notion of the tactile eye. Tactile here is to be understood as defined earlier in this chapter but also through the work of Jennifer M. Barker and her film theory book The Tactile Eye where she ‘…follows that deepening of touch from surface to depth, from haptic touch to total immersion.’[24] There Barker has stated her intent, akin to ours, but goes on to state how the watching of film can be a haptic experience:

The film’s body also adopts toward the world a tactile attitude of intimacy and reciprocity that is played out across its nonhuman body: haptically, at the screen’s surface…; kinaesthetically, through the contours of on- and off-screen space and of the bodies, both human and mechanical, that inhabit or escape those spaces; and viscerally, with the film’s rush through a projector’s gate and the “breathing” of the lenses.

In this quote, Barker has explained how she, and in turn I, experience a film through the body. The “breathing” of the lenses can be read as an epidermis/dermis relationship between lens/viewer, respectively – Steven Connor, in The Book of Skin, comments how ‘…it is not possible to distinguish the actuality of touch from its phantasm or aura, nor to detach the thought of the touch, or the image of the touch impressed on our thought…’[25] and it too explains the reciprocal nature of the lens. Barker has also given us the essential terms we will use to feel out Film through haptic aesthetics: intimacy and reciprocity, the screen’s surface, on- and off-screen space, inhabiting and escaping space and the life of the lens.

Throughout both Barker and Paterson’s books, connections to and quotes from the tenets and proponents of phenomenological philosophy are made, much as we can see the terms in haptic aesthetics are linked to those defined earlier in our usage of phenomenology. It is fitting now to recap our haptic aesthetic terms: the proprio-, intero-, and exteroceptive, the kinaesthetic, the vestibular and cutaneous sensations; tactility; an affective touch enabling reciprocal touching from a distance, itself a blurring of subject and object; the everydayness of kinaesthetic experience; spatial intelligence; the tactile eye; intimacy and reciprocity; the screen’s surface; on- and off-screen space; inhabiting and escaping space; and the life of the lens.

Before we move on to reinforce and apply haptic aesthetics then, let us unction our definitions into a whole. We can see in both phenomenology and haptic aesthetics: a blurring of the object and subject through all the senses, affective touching, touching with the tactile eye; thrownness of embodied-screen-space experience and Nothingness (within Being) in spatial intelligence; inhabiting/escaping space; relative-time in everydayness and averageness of movement and experience; a reciprocity with our cultural and actual environment; relativity itself and only knowing the world and Being through the body and therefore through the life of the lens. Here we have the definitive list of terms we will use; this will be referred to from now on as the ‘theoretical framework’ we will use to flesh-out Film.

Another film theorist, Laura U. Marks, has written on the importance of experiencing films through the body and has points that contact and reinforce ours in her book The Skin of the Film. Marks argues ‘…that cinema itself appeals to contact – to embodied knowledge, and to the sense of touch in particular ‘[26] so much so that she goes on to say that cinema itself should be more fundamentally haptic in this quote:

According to Erich Auerbach (1953), mimesis requires a lively and responsive relationship between listener/reader and story/text, such that each time a story is retold it is sensuously remade in the listener…we might expect the relationship between “viewer” and the more physical object of cinema to be more convincingly mimetic.[27] [My emphasis.]

Here we see a crossover between Marks’ theory and our own, further reinforcing the embodiment of experiencing a film. Mark’s theory can be seen to relate to spatial intelligence and the intimacy and reciprocity of experiencing film.

Further reinforcing our application of haptic aesthetics to Film, Steven Connor comments in an essay on Beckett that ‘Breath is a kind of skin…’[28] much like Paterson does when discussing ‘A Touching Experience’[29]. We too have defined that we are in reciprocity with our environment and so must also be with the air we breathe. Connor continues, ‘Beckett’s work has a strong sense of [the] materiality of air’ and this quote from a phenomenological look at Beckett’s works leads us easily into the next chapter where we will use the terms defined and gathered here to find the haptically focused, rough ontological textures interpreted from Beckett’s works.


[1] Jean-Paul Sartre (1943), Being and Nothingness: An essay on phenomenological ontology, trans. Hazel E. Barnes. (London: Routledge Classics, 2003. p.333)

 

[2] Martin Heidegger (1927), Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. (London: Blackwell Publishing, 1962. p. 27)

[3] Ibid. (p. 84)

[4] However, as William Large points out, Heidegger is more clearly saying ‘I am not in the past, present and future, rather I am my past, present and future.’ – from William Large, Heidegger’s Being and Time. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. p. 90)

[5] Martin Heidegger (1927), Being and Time. (p. 387)

[6] Jennifer M. Barker, The Tactile Eye. (USA: University of California Press, 2009.)

[7] Martin Heidegger (1927), Being and Time. (p. 93)

[8] Ibid. p. 100

[9] Mark Paterson, The Senses of Touch. (Oxford: Berg, 2007. pp. 59-79)

[10] Matthew Feldman and Ulrika Maude [eds.], Beckett and Phenomenology . (p. 58)

[11] Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness. (p. 37)

[12] Ibid. (p. 40)

[13] Ibid. (pp. 44-45)

[14] Ibid. (p. 330)

[15] Ibid. (p. 331)

[16] Ibid. (p. 333)

[17] Mark Paterson, The Senses of Touch. (pp. 79-80)

[18] Ibid. (p. 85)

[19] Ibid. (p. 101)

[20] Ibid. (p. 95)

[21] As lectured on at J Wiley & Sons architectural practice in Chichester, 2008.  The lecture presentation is available to download at http://www.leonvanschaik.com

[22] Yeoryia Manolopoulou, (2004) ‘The interior of vision: Beckett’s Film and experiments with Viewing Instrument 1 (VI1)’, The Journal of Architecture, 9: 3, 315 — 330.

[23] James Jerome Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. (p. 2)

[24] Jennifer M. Barker, The Tactile Eye. (p. 2)

[25] Steven Connor, The Book of Skin. (London: Reaktion Books, 2004. p. 261)

[26] Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: intercultural cinema, embodiment, and the senses. (p. 129)

[27] Ibid. (p. 138)

[28] Steven Connor, ‘Beckett’s Atmospheres’, Steven Connor.com, (2002) <http://www.stevenconnor.com/atmospheres/> [accessed 05th July, 2010]

[29] Mark Paterson, The Senses of Touch. (pp.79-81)

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