TACT: Touch, Arts, Affects

TACT: Touch, Arts, Affects

New Seminar Series

Main convenor : Caroline Pollentier (Sorbonne Nouvelle University) 

Co-convenor : Antonia Rigaud (Sorbonne Nouvelle University)

With the support of 19-21 (EA Prismes) 

Following the inaugural conference “Touched: Transdisciplinary Perspectives” (2021), the TACT network (Touch, Arts, Affects) is launching an interdisciplinary seminar series in Spring 2023. The goal of this seminar 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 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 will defend the ability of the arts and the humanities to register the affects of touch, to retrace their genealogies and “nomadic” forms (Anzieu), 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 will foreground 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 communal sensorialities. However, touch also materialises acute forms of vulnerability—“hapticality, the touch of the undercommons” (Moten and Harney). While Roberto Esposito, following Elias Canetti, inscribes the tactile in biopolitical processes of immunisation, Michael Marder, focusing on vegetal surfaces, points out the precariousness of the living. 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 first seminar series will centre on romantic and contemporary literature, philosophy, and sculpture. As such, it will engage with multiple “senses of touch” (Paterson) as well as with varying degrees of haptic presence and absence across media. While literary haptics (Bolens, Goh) differs from sculptural contact, both texts and sculptures can displace sensorial hierarchies. 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? 

Maison de la recherche 

Salle du conseil & Googlemeet  

5, rue des Irlandais, Paris 5ème 

9 February 2023 (5pm-7pm CET) 

Guest speaker: Sophie Laniel-Musitelli (Lille): 

“Feeling one’s Way towards Expanded Modes of Vision: The Poetics of Contact in Romantic Literature” 

Respondent: Carle Bonafous-Murat (Sorbonne Nouvelle)

9 March 2023 (5pm-7pm CET) 

Guest speaker: Mirt Komel (Ljubljana): 

“Certain Haptolinguistic Aspects of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Philosophy of the CorpoReal Body” 

Respondent: Marie Chabbert (Cambridge) 

20 April 2023 (5pm-7pm CET) 

Guest speaker: Kenneth Wilder (University of the Arts, London): 

“Blindness and the Role of Touch in Contemporary Sculpture” 

Respondent: Charlotte Gould (Paris Ouest)

8 June 2023 (5pm-7pm CET) 

Guest speaker: Liliane Campos (Sorbonne Nouvelle): 

“Grasping Extinction: The Natural History Museum as Haptic Space in the Work of Gillian Clarke, Jane Robinson and Kathleen Jamie” 

Respondent: Thomas Dutoit (Lille)

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