Foreword: The Criticality of Touch


  • Caroline Pollentier Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - IUF


Though long considered as a minor sense, the sense of touch is now reclaimed as the “first sense”, embodying intersubjectivity from embryonic formation to social emotions and interactions. As such, the tactile sense offers the privileged sensorial entryway into affective experience. “If anything, the association between touch and affect may be too obvious”, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick writes, reflecting on the semantic doubling of the word “touching”. For Kosofsky, the “particular intimacy [that] seems to subsist between textures and emotions” justifies a reorientation of hermeneutics towards phenomenology and affect, leading Rita Felski, in much more trenchant terms, to promote affective hermeneutics beyond “the limits of critique”. However, touch matters to aesthetic criticism precisely insofar as it materialises the criticality of care, attachment, tact, and closeness. While touch constitutes an ontological form of affirmation — the confirmation of material reality and a reparative form of presence —, let’s not place haptics beyond or after critique, and engage instead with haptic criticality as a way of reading touch against the grain and registering its ability to disrupt and remodel relationality across social and sensory hierarchies. In other words, there may be unexpected affinities between touch and critique.