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 04/03/2021 Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity Tlaxcala's Manifesto  
CULTURE & COMMUNICATION / Philosophy of contact
Date of publication at Tlaxcala: 13/01/2021
Original: Filosofia del contatto
Translations available: Español  Français  Deutsch 

Philosophy of contact

Giorgio Agamben Τζόρτζιο Αγκάμπεν Джорджио Агамбен

Translated by  Fausto Giudice Фаусто Джудиче فاوستو جيوديشي


 Two bodies are in contact when they touch each other. But what does it mean to touch? What is contact? Giorgio Colli has given an acute definition of it, stating that two points are in contact when they are separated only by a void of representation. Contact is not a point of contact, which in itself cannot exist, because any continuous quantity can be divided. Two entities are said to be in contact when no medium can be inserted between them, that is, when they are immediate. If between two things there is a relationship of representation (for example: subject-object; husband-wife; master-slave; distance-vicinity), they will not be said to be in contact: but if every representation is lost, if there is nothing between them, then and only then can they be said to be in contact. This can also be expressed by saying that contact is unrepresentable, that it is not possible to make a representation of the relation in question - or, as Colli writes, that “contact is therefore the indication of a representative nothingness, of a metaphysical interstice”.

Fernand Khnopff, Des caresses, 1896. Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles


The flaw in this definition is that it, insofar as it must resort to purely negative expressions, such as “nothing” and “unrepresentable,” risks blurring into mysticism. Colli himself specifies that contact can be said to be immediate only approximately, that representation can never be entirely eliminated. In order to avoid any risk of abstractness, it would be useful to go back to the starting point and ask ourselves once again what it means to “touch” - to question, that is, that most humble and terrestrial of senses, touch.

Aristotle reflected on the particular nature of touch, which differentiates it from the other senses. For each sense there is a medium (metaxy), which performs a decisive function: for sight, the medium is the diaphanous, which illuminated by color, acts on the eyes, for hearing it is the air, which moved by a sound body, strikes the ear. What distinguishes touch from the other senses is that we perceive the tangible not “because the medium exerts an action on us, but together with (loves) the medium”. This medium, which is not external to us, but in us, is the flesh (sarx). But this means that not only the external object is touched, but also the flesh that is moved or stirred by it - that, in other words, in contact we touch our own sensibility, we are affected by our own receptivity. Whereas in sight we cannot see our own eyes and in hearing we cannot perceive our own faculty of hearing, in touch we touch our own capacity to touch and be touched. That means that ontact with another body is both and first and foremost contact with ourselves. Touch, which seems inferior to the other senses, is, then, somehow the first, because it is in it that something like a subject is generated, which in sight and the other senses is somehow abstractly presupposed. We have for the first time an experience of ourselves when, touching another body, we touch our flesh together.

If, as it is perversely attempted today, all contact were abolished, if everything and everyone were kept at a distance, we would then lose not only the experience of other bodies, but first and foremost any immediate experience of ourselves, that is, we would lose purely and simply our flesh.


Courtesy of Tlaxcala
Publication date of original article: 05/01/2021
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Tags: Human contactTouchingCoronavirus crisisHealth dictature

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