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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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In writings which straddle the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Aloïs Riegl tells us that haptic sensation is inspired by tangible art objects such as reliefs, monuments, paintings, statues and buildings. The potential tactility of these objects’ visual detailing imposes itself upon the beholder’s eye to such an extent that he or she feels compelled to touch the object.

Though Laura U. Marks admits to ‘changing Riegl’s definition of the haptic somewhat’,1 her twenty-first century recasting of haptic perception as a form of cinematic haptic visuality remains dependent upon the appeal of proximal tactility. However, this appeal is incited by a virtual experience of tactile proximity; Marksian haptic visuality arises from the filmic projection and enlargement of materially distant surfaces. This projection magnifies our awareness of those surfaces’ tactile details and makes us want to touch them. The probable geographical and temporal distance of these surfaces means that the projected surfaces are likely to be impossible for us to touch or to see in the way that the cinematic image before us suggests. The camera may magnify otherwise imperceptible visual details greatly or diminish the appearance of others which would be much more noticeable if the filmed surfaces were placed before us to inspect haptically. Use of camera effects such as focus zooming and hazing or (digital) film manipulation in postproduction renders the moving pictures before our eyes even further removed from the surfaces that the camera lens dwelt upon initially. Nevertheless, the...

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