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TACT: Touch, Arts, Affects
Second Seminar Series

du 7 février 2024 au 6 juin 2024

7/02/2024 Literary haptics

Sorbonne Nouvelle, Campus Nation, B115 & online, 5pm-7pm (Central European Time)
Thomas Constantinesco (Paris Sorbonne)
'Miss James’s Hand!': The Touch of Writing in the Diary of Alice James

This paper offers a close reading of a "scene" from Alice James's diary, in which she remembered witnessing the authentication of her own will, while being confined to her bed after what nineteenth-century medical science would have diagnosed as a hysterical fit. At the centre of this scene lies a fascinating mention of “Miss James’s hand,” which designates simultaneously a body part and the style of her handwriting. Querying the legibility of hand and will, body and text, James moves us from a critique of the manipular politics of touch that the others witnesses to the scene engage in, to the counterpolitics of feeling she strives to deploy, to the haptics of reading that her writerly touch calls for. In so doing, she invites us to think about the tactile imaginings of nineteenth-century American literature, and to reflect on the critical value of hapticality as a mode of writing and a practice of reading for literary studies.

Respondent: Édouard Marsoin (Paris Cité)

28/03/2024 Visual haptics

Sorbonne Nouvelle, Campus Nation, B115 & online, 5pm-7pm (CET)
Guillemette Bolens (Université de Genève)
The Cinematography of Haptic Gestures in the Era of Streaming Platforms

The digital turn has led to multiple developments in cinematic creation. For instance, the use of VFX (Visual Effects) and CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) is spreading beyond such genres as Sci-Fi and Fantasy, affording novel forms of perceptual storytelling. Another notable development is the transnational production and diffusion of series and films on streaming platforms, increasing international access to ‘glocalized’ (global/local) productions in complex cultural flows and counter-flows (e.g., South- Korean series and Telugu cinema). In this fast-moving context, academic research, conducted for instance in media studies, tends to focus on economic, political, and sociocultural issues, while close filmic analyses of the productions remain relatively rare. An analytical focus on haptic gestures in international series available on streaming platforms will be a way of raising the question of methodology in film analysis when it comes to this contemporary type of visual artefacts and their various and multilayered forms of kinesic storytelling and cinematographic expressions.

Respondents: Martine Beugnet (visual studies, Paris Cité) and Aliyah Morgenstern (gesture studies, Sorbonne Nouvelle)

25/04/2024 Tact

Sorbonne Nouvelle, Campus Nation, B115 & online, 5pm-7pm (CET)
Katja Haustein (University of Kent)
Feeling for the Sense’: Tact and the Art of Interpretation

This paper, which is based on my new book, Alone with Others: An Essay on Tact in Five Modernist Encounters (CUP 2023), is an invitation to look at tact as an intuitive and creative mode of negotiating the appropriate distance between people. I show how tact becomes significant in times of crisis, when established codes of sociability disintegrate, and new modes of communication must be found. I reconstruct tact’s conceptual history from the late eighteenth century to the present, to then focus on three periods of socio-political upheaval that have marked the twentieth century: the First World War, the Second World War and – different, but equally significant in terms of disrupting traditional ways of living together – the student revolution of 1968. In a series of reading encounters (incl. Goethe, Helmholtz, Proust, Plessner, Adorno, Gadamer, Truffaut, and Barthes), I reconsider how we engage with other people, images, and texts, and gauge the significance of tact in our time.

Respondent: Naomi Toth (Paris Nanterre, IUF)

6/06/2024 Tactile Fictions

Maison de la recherche, salle du conseil & online, 4 rue des Irlandais, 5pm-7pm (CET)
Erika Natalia Molina Garcia (Universidad de la Frontera)
The Phenomenology of Time and Touch in Alejandra Costamagna’s El Sistema del Tacto

Touch is usually reduced not only to actual physical contact but to the sense of presence, viz. of the present. Drawing on the Husserlian analysis of time and touch, here we explore the ideas of distant touch and tactile memory, to then show how these tactile dynamics of lived experience are expressed in literature. Focusing on Alejandra Costamagna’s novel The System of Touch (2018), we will see how, if touch can be considered the ultimate confirmation of reality and a basic element of sensory perception, it accomplishes these functions only against the background of remembered, imaginary and fictional tactile fragments better understood and captured by literature.

Yasna Bozhkova (Paris Nanterre):
Amputated Limbs and the Politics of Touch in Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille

This paper explores the poetics and politics of touch in Claude McKay’s recently recovered modernist novel Romance in Marseille (1929–1933, published in 2020). Through an emphasis on the protagonist Lafala’s “dancing legs,” the narrative posits strong connections between black identity and touch—both the sensuality of dancing and the ability to touch the African soil. Yet these connections are irrevocably severed by the traumatic experience the novel opens with: stowing away on a transatlantic liner, Lafala is discovered and locked up in the glacial latrines, in conditions evocative of the triangular trade, which causes him to lose his legs to frostbite. Adopting an intersectional viewpoint, I analyze the novel’s ambivalent reflection on how disability intersects with and transforms Lafala’s racial identity and class status in unexpected and paradoxically empowering ways, resulting in a “Pyrrhic victory” that becomes the catalyst of new, more heightened touching experiences (in the combined senses of haptics and affect).

Sarah Bouttier (Polytechnique):
Restoring Touch in Ecofeminist Speculative Fiction

Focusing on The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk and The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson, this article intends to map out the ways in which touch is restored as a reliable yet complex epistemological path in ecofeminist speculative fiction. While touch is a sense that boasts immediacy between the touching subject and the touched object, The Fifth Sacred Thing portrays it as a mode of knowing that requires effort and proceeds gradually, following its own regime and geography and literalizing the spacing at the heart of touch theorized by Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy. While it produces instantaneous effects, it also induces stases which allow both texts to frequently feature touch as a place, or the touched thing as a pattern, which gives literary presence to the neuroscientific hypothesis of a tactile field. The interpenetration in which touch often results in the two novels also sets touch as an exemplary sense to meet the universe halfway.

Respondent: Marie Laniel (Picardie Jules Verne)

TACT (Touch, Arts, Affects)

The goal of the TACT seminar (Touch, Arts, Affects) is to interrogate the experience of touch in works of art and to explore the diversity of haptic affects across artistic media. With speakers from various disciplines and areas of expertise, we intend to discuss the elusive tactility of the arts in relation to technology, science, ethics, politics, and everyday life. Though long considered as a minor sense, touch is now reclaimed as the “first sense” (Fulkerson), which defines intersubjectivity from embryonic formation to social interactions. The main hypothesis of this seminar is that touch constitutes a primordial dimension of aesthetic experience and cannot, as such, be reduced to the language of affect. When texts, films, dances or performances touch us, how do they mobilise and mediate haptics—even when there is apparently no actual contact? Didier Anzieu’s psychoanalytical concept of the skin-ego, theorised after Freud’s early work on “contact barriers,” revalued the epidermis as a founding affective boundary. The recent discovery of C-tactile afferents in neurobiology has subsequently renewed the understanding of “affective touch” (McGlone), now conceived of as a physiological category distinct from discriminative touch. In dialogue, but also in contradistinction with the science of affective touch, this seminar defends the ability of the arts and the humanities to register tactile experiences and affects, to retrace their genealogies, and to imagine haptic futures. 

The singularity of the tactile sense lies in its reflexivity—one is touched when one touches (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty). Focusing on the ethics and politics of this chiasm, this seminar foregrounds the ability of haptic aesthetics to disrupt and remodel relationality. From Marinetti’s utopian “Manifesto of Tactilism” to Jan Švankmajer’s tactile collages, from the transgender craft of “the handmade” (Vaccaro) to “touchscreen archælogies” (Strauven), from the “shared motricity” of contact improvisation (Bigé) to the body-centered medium of performance, touch produces aesthetic dissensus and reconfigures communal sensorialities. But tactile experience also materialises acute forms of vulnerability—“hapticality, the touch of the undercommons” (Moten and Harney). Haptics alerts us to shared conditions of exposure and embodied forms of exclusion, even as it opens up concrete modalities of care (Puig de la Bellacasa). 

This second seminar series will more specifically address touch in literature, cinema, and philosophy. As such, it will engage with multiple “senses of touch” (Paterson) and varying degrees of haptic presence and absence across media, from streaming platforms to narrative fictions. By exploring the artistic shapes of the “touchable-untouchable,” as theorised by Jacques Derrida in the wake of Jean-Luc Nancy, we intend to place touch at the core of aesthetic dissensus—between optics and haptics, between the bodily and the virtual, between agency and passivity, between coloniality and decoloniality, between ableism and disability. In our economic and technological “age of excarnation” (Kearney), what can the arts and the humanities remind us about our own skins?  

Works cited
ANZIEU, Didier, The Skin-Ego, 1985, trans. Naomi Segal (London: Carnac, 2016). 
BIGÉ, Emma, “Sentir et se mouvoir ensemble. Micro-politiques du contact improvisation,” Recherches en danse [online] 4, 2015. 
BOLENS, Guillemette, “L’Haptique en art et en littérature : Ovide, Proust et Antonello de Messine,” Le Toucher : prospections médicales, artistiques et littéraires, ed. Maria de Jesus Cabral, José Domingues de Almeida et Gérard Danou (Paris: Le Manuscrit, 2019), 25-37.  
CLASSEN, Constance (ed.), The Book of Touch (Oxford: Berg, 2005).
DERRIDA, Jacques, Le Toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy (Paris: Galilée, 2000). 
FREUD, Sigmund, “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” The Origins of Psychoanalysis: Letters, Drafts and Notes to Wilhelm Fliess 1887-1902, ed. M. Bonaparte et al. (New York: Basic Books, 1954), 347-445. 
FULKERSON, Matthew, The First Sense. A Philosophical Study of Human Touch (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2014). 
GARRINGTON, Abbie, Haptic Modernism: Touch and the Tactile in Modernist Writing (EUP, 2013).
GOH, Irving, “Introducing Touching Literature: Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See,” New Centennial Review 19.3 (2019): 241-64. 
HUSSERL, Edmund, Recherches phénoménologiques pour la constitutionIdées directrices 2 (Paris: PUF, 1982).
JACKSON, Sarah, Tactile Poetics. Touch and Contemporary Writing (EUP, 2015).
KEARNEY, Richard, Touch. Recovering Our Most Vital Sense (New York: Columbia UP, 2021). 
KOMEL, Mirt, The Language of Touch. Philosophical Examinations in Linguistics and Haptic Studies (London: Bloomsbury, 2019).
MARINETTI, F. T., “Manifesto of Tactilism” (1924), Futurism: An Anthology, ed. Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, and Laura Wittman (New Haven: Yale UP, 2009), 264-69. 
MARKS, Laura U., Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2002).
McGLONE, Francis, et al, “Discriminative and affective touch: sensing and feeling,” Neuron 82.4 (2014): 737-55. 
MERLEAU-PONTY, Maurice, Le Visible et l’invisible (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 172-204. 
MOTEN, Fred, and Stephano HARNEY, The Undercommons. Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions, 2013). 
NANCY, Jean-Luc, Corpus (Paris: Métailié, 2006). 
PARRET, Herman, La Main et la matière, Jalons d’une haptologie de l’œuvre d’art (Paris : Hermann, 2018).
PATERSON, Mark, The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects, and Technologies (Oxford: Berg, 2007). 
PUIG DE LA BELLACASA, María, “Touching Visions,” Matters of Care. Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (Minneapolis, U of Minnesota P, 2017), 95-122. 
RIEGL, Alois, “Late Roman or Oriental?” 1902, German Essays on Art History, ed. G. Schiff (London: Continuum, 1997), 173-74. 
STRAUVEN, Wanda, Touchscreen Archælogies: Tracing Histories of Hands-On Media Practices (Lüneburg: Meson P, 2021). 
ŠVANKMAJER, Jan, Touching and Imagining, An Introduction to Tactile Art (London, I.B. Tauris, 2014). 
VACCARO, Jeanne, “Handmade,” Transgender Studies Quarterly 1-2 (2014): 96-97. 
VÉRINE, Bertrand, Le Toucher par les mots et par les textes (Paris : L’Harmattan, 2021).


With the support of Sorbonne Nouvelle University (EA Prismes 4398) & Institut Universitaire de France

Type :
Colloque / Journée d'étude
Lieu(x) :

mise à jour le 5 avril 2024

Campus Nation

Salle B115 & online
8, avenue Saint Mandé
Paris 12éme

Maison de la recherche

Salle du conseil & online
4, rue des Irlandais
Paris 5ème