Making Sense from Singular and Collective Touches


In the 1960s French theorists criticized the privileging of sight in Western culture, connecting it to all evils, from phallocentrism to colonialism and bourgeois capitalism. They quoted Martin Heidegger who discussed the West’s ineluctable march toward abstraction in “The World as Picture,” in which he showed how the now-quaint-looking wind charts of the Renaissance with their figural décor were increasingly replaced with signs.1 Michel de Certeau criticized this obsessive flattening of the world as an attempt on the part of strategists of state reason to render it legible. He noted the progressive loss of the figural and the poetic, or what he called the charm of the old maps and atlases. However, Certeau observed that at the very moment that it was seemingly perfected, the ideal of control through sight found itself challenged. Challenged from the introduction of a metaphor or counter-text in the urban concept, and from psychoanalysis’s spacing of the ego. This shift brought renewed attention to other senses, such as hearing and, for our purposes here, touch.

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