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

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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 3: Serres: Haptic Perception, Touching Knowledge

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CHAPTER 3

Serres: Haptic Perception, Touching Knowledge

The descriptions of haptic experience that appear in the theoretical and literary works of Blanchot and Bataille examined thus far exhibit a number of common features. Both writers posit some form of disconnection between the manner in which we perceive physical space and the manner in which we perceive our physical interactions with this space. The critical and literary means through which both writers expose this disjuncture are variable and no one approach to the issue is privileged by either Bataille or Blanchot for any length of time. Equivocation and a refusal to judge are the two most discernible traits of the writers’ critical and literary accounts of human spatial perception.

In their explorations of how the human body interacts with spaces that it may or may not perceive, Blanchot and Bataille also suggest that these interactions between sensory organs and (im)perceptible space do not necessarily occur within the confines of temporal continuity. Just as material cause need not determine material effect, so sensory stimulus does not always give rise to bodily reaction, or vice versa.

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