The Haptic Sense

Posted in Writing by robbiekarmel on August 2, 2012

The following piece of writing is an abridged and edited section of  notes I have been keeping while reading Brian Massumi’s book Parables for the Virtual.

The senses bleed into one another, they rely on one another for context, for reference, for grounding. The relative surface of an ever-undulating ocean. Anchor the viewpoint to a singular point— moving and not moving. The haptic is one such meeting. The touch of the eye. Past experiences of the simultaneous affect of vision and touch giving rise to the sense of texture and feel through looking. When looking at an object we run the eye’s fingers across the surface, we feel without touching.

This haptic sense allows us to caress the subject with the minds fingers and move the actual, physical, bodily fingers— hand and pencil— in unison with the minds touch. Drawing by imaginary— or virtual— hands moving and leading the actual hands. This shifts in and out of prominence, silhouette is predominantly vision proper, while shifting towards form, surface and texture becomes more haptic. Weight and form— haptic. Hair, flesh, lips, skin, we experience these haptically. Proprioception takes hold. The hand knows where it is while the eyes feel the subject.

The haptic is touching light. In drawing with black and white pencils on mid-tone paper I am haptically probing where the light and shade fall— touching light as if it were physical. Haptic caress of the most basic visual sensation— brightness. These drawings refer directly to Renaissance drawings such as those of Albrecht Durer— particularly works like The Praying Hands (1508).

It operates in reverse. Or rather, it is an open conversation, to happen in one direction means it is happening in both directions. If we run our fingers through hair we ‘know’ its sight. What we touch we picture in the minds eye.

When drawing the other we record the affect they are having on us. Our senses reaching out to them and their projections impressing on our senses. A two-way field. The hands of our eyes grope and fondle, probe surfaces, palpate bone, flesh and muscle. Through vision we register haptic sense, memory, proprioception. The eyes are complex and multisensory as are all senses, there are no clear boundaries. The boundaries between senses are as firm as the boundaries of the skin. An illusion of scale, of resolution.  A series of leakier and leakier boxes (see below).

When drawing the self with a mirror any physical movement is amplified— two fold. Both the perspective and the subject shift with any movement, sometimes sympathetic to what the drawer is doing, sometimes not.

In regards to haptic sense, the effect is two fold during self-portraiture, especially that involving the mirror— rather than video or photograph. The eyes see and feel the texture of the surface, while simultaneously— because of the internal, conversationally circular nature of the process— the tactile surface of the face empathetically registers the probing tip of the pencil and the touch of the eye. The mirror folds not just light— the folding of light results in folding of perception. All of the senses activated by looking are folded back to themselves, registering themselves and one another.

The ‘external shell’ is porous. Perceived only as an ‘airtight’ container at the resolution of the eye, filtered through the understanding or identity of self, body, inner and outer. They are not ‘holes from outer to inner’ they are a part of the topological form of the person.

“The membrane isn’t closed. It folds in at the mouth, ears, nostrils, eyes, anus, urethra, vagina, and pores. The mouth connects though the stomach and intestines to fold back out the anus. This is one leaky “box.” It’s closer to a Klein bottle: a two dimensional topological figure. Even the skin isn’t really three-dimensional. It just acts as if it were. It creates a three-dimensional closure effect by regulating movements into and out of the space-filling fractal it twistedly envelops. Biologically, it’s all an act, a complex nutritive, excretive act: circus of the body. We do not live in Euclidian space. We live between dimensions.”

— p203, Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual.

We see and draw the illusion of the shell. The furthest external in low resolution.  Where does a cloud end? Where does the coast end and the ocean begin? These infinitely complex fractal forms are as skin. Surface area is an illusion, it is infinite. Folded and recursive, turning in on itself, meeting up again, a sponge of sponges of sponges. It is sponges all the way down.

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