Issue #52 May 2022
Touch is a strangely denigrated sense within philosophy. The debates rage over, predominately, the sphere of vision. It’s strange that it’s denigrated because we all secretly suspect that touch accesses the things-in-themselves. It is not riddled with distortions and illusions, perspectives and false lines of flight. If these seeming imperfections of vision imply to us the existence of some perfect models, floating around in some immaterial sphere, if what we see too often seems too far from the way it should be, what we touch seems to anchor us directly in the world we inhabit, and give us access to the things just the way they are.
But perhaps we suspect touch because of another aspect of it: because it so frankly and dispassionately communicates to us a border, a limit. It’s always clear with touch which side we’re on, and which side is inaccessible. We might be fooled by vision into believing we plunge into the depths of things, despite it being a mirage of surfaces, but touch really resists such flights of fancy. Our eyes extend our being to the stars, to the horizons and the abyss, while the world that our fingers and nerve endings inhabit is the confined space of a meaty diving suit.
There may be another reason though; touch may be the model that we base our borders on; extending out from those bio-physical borders to become physico-political borders, until we are tracing edges to those vistas our eyes take in: “Where the sky touches the sea…” A mountain range, a river, a checkpoint. A condition, a limit case, a contradiction. There’s always something cruel about a limit, forming as it does some form of prohibition. And there’s always something creative about the transcendence of a border. After all, what is production, but the transgression of a boundary. You can’t create an omelette without piercing a shell.