Some Aspects of Touch

In: Journal of Phenomenological Psychology
F.J.J. Buytendijk
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1. The most important aspect of touch is its relation to time and space, a relation which is established by the movement of touching itself. Referring to the ideas of E. Straus, the distinction between touching and being touched is elaborated in light of experiments done by us with animals. 2. Touching is: being in one's own limits and at the same time going beyond these limits, a situation in which the touched object is felt at the same time as a "Gegenstand" and as "Mit-seiend." "Pour le tactile, c'est l'être à deux qui se place au premier rang" (Minkowski). The awareness of being by the sense of touch is particularly poignant in the case of touching oneself, which is an exceptional unity of the active and the passive state of mind. 3. The tactile recognition of form also presents a dialectic of activity and passivity, a dialectic which takes place in the form of a development which conquers time, and this after a scheme produced during the act of grasping itself. We refer to the studies of V. von Weizsäcker on the "Gestaltkreis." We must also remember the basic restlessness of the hand, which becomes lasting in the play of the hand with an object. 4. The hand can hold an object. In doing so a schematic tactile image is given, an image which functions as a hypothesis or as an organizing principle of the proleptic development of further tactile exploration. The phenomenological analysis of touch with the hand appears as a prefiguration of thought by synthetic judgments. Thus, it is true, as Herder remarked, and as Gold-stein and Merleau-Ponty confirmed, that perception by man and spiritual existence are identical. 5. Referring to the research of Révèsz and Palagyi, the real nature of the tactile world is anlyzed. Tactile exploration is done according to a real development, during which take place anticipatory (or proleptic) and retrospective ("rückläufige") determinations which assure the continuity of the event and its meaning. Tactile perception permits description of the continuous unity of the discontinuous phases which we can state objectively "as if" expectation and memory, preliminary judgments and their checking, conceptual fixations and corrections had been put to work. 6. Important is the affective and emotional aspect of tactile impressions and their connection with inter-human relationships. 7. By touch, man establishes in a "feeling" way a personal relationship with the matter of things, which is hidden to the distance senses. This participation has a double aspect. It is like the birth of a "mood," of a "Befindlichkeit," but at the same time it is the active point of departure of a "feeling," of an "understanding," of an "inner grasp," of a being moved, of a being struck by the touched object which is then in our presence as a real "quale," as a material object, as a being in itself. We remember the proper nature of the caress, by which the "being together" of the caressed object complements that of the active caresser. The usual concepts by means of which, in practical and gnostic life, the most important tactile qualities are indicated intend to refer us to the characteristics of the things which take up space in the geometric world and in objectively measurable space, and on which is founded our natural orientation. We remember von Hornborstel's research on the intermodal characteristics of tactile impressions. These show us how a "knowledge" which accompanies perception can change an impression of feeling. The affective relationship, determined by a shaded "knowledge" and by a system of values, changes tangible reality, the substantiality of the body, of the "flesh." This affective change of matter, this "phenomenal transsubstantiation," easily becomes a reality in connection with objects of which we know that they belong or did belong to someone. The meaning which a thing has changes the matter of the object, an object which precisely by the touch is present "in the flesh." This is illustrated more precisely by the phenomena of fetishism, and by simple experiences of daily life. If we look for an anthropological point of view from which touch, of which the hand realizes the point of view will have to be attempted starting from the unimaginable certitude that the ontological unity of nature and spirit is in man the reality of a possible participation, a participation which, in our existence, is only indicated. The "restlessness" of the hand, never fulfilled and always searching, which we noted, is the human token of our concrete existence. Thus touch shows us what Valery remarked about the mind: "The mind is at the mercy of the body, as the blind are at the mercy of the seeing."

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