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Haptic Experience in the Writings of Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot and Michel Serres


Crispin Lee

Our sensory relationships with the social and biological world have altered appreciably as a result of recent developments in internet and other mobile communication technologies. We now look at a screen, we touch either the screen or a keyboard in response to what we see and, somehow, an element of our sensory presence is transmitted elsewhere. It is often claimed that this change in the way we perceive the world and each other is without precedent, and is solely the result of twenty-first-century life and technologies. This book argues otherwise. The author analyses the evolving portrayals of ‘haptic’ sensations – that is, sensations that are at once tactile and visual – in the theories and prose of the writer-philosophers Georges Bataille (1897–1962), Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) and Michel Serres (1930–). In exploring haptic perception in the works of Bataille, Blanchot and Serres, the author examines haptic theories postulated by Aloïs Riegl, Laura U. Marks, Mark Paterson and Jean-Luc Nancy.
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Chapter 1: Bataille and the Haptic: Fleshy Transcendence


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Bataille and the Haptic: Fleshy Transcendence

In the introduction of this book, I presented four distinct understandings of haptic perception. Linking Georges Bataille’s writing with these postulations of haptic perception is not the easiest of tasks. Not least because the word ‘haptique’ does not appear even once in all twelve volumes of Bataille’s posthumous Œuvres complètes. Nor, in spite of Bataille being employed by several libraries during his lifetime, is there any evidence that he had read – or even heard of – Riegl, much less any of his aesthetic theories.1

With these facts acknowledged, I shall begin this chapter with two quotations from Bataille’s critical writings. These quotations demonstrate the complications of analysing Bataille’s literary works from a haptic standpoint.2 If, for example, we consider the synergy between sight, touch, physical balance and spatial awareness that Paterson’s model of proprioception as haptic phenomenon requires, quotations such as the following suggest that Bataille’s theories do have some form of haptic sensibility: ← 41 | 42 →

Ce qui frappe des yeux humains ne détermine pas seulement la connaissance des relations entre les divers objets, mais aussi bien tel état d’esprit décisif et inexplicable. C’est ainsi que la vue d’une fleur dénonce, il est vrai, la présence de cette partie définie d’une plante; mais il est impossible de s’arrêter à ce résultat superficiel: en effet, la vue de cette fleur provoque dans l’esprit des réactions...

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