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Gabriel Josipovici
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 156
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In this brilliant new book, a preeminent literary thinker muses over the central question of how we can feel at home in the world, given that the world is independent of and indifferent to our wishes. Drawing on books and films, cultural history and his own experiences, Gabriel Josipovici argues that it is possible to feel comfortable in the world and in our relationships with others only if we value touch over sight, if we respect distance but also work to overcome it.Josipovici moves from a Charlie Chaplin movie to passages from Proust, from the world of sport to the world of addiction, from medieval pilgrimages to the cult of relics, from a wedding photograph of his grandparents to some of Chardin's most enigmatic paintings. Through these seemingly disparate topics he provides engaging and wise commentary on connection and communication in life. Contrasting the senses of sight and touch, Josipovici notes that although sight seems to give us the totality of what we behold, it is only when we walk or feel our way across the distances that things become more than images and begin to constitute the world in which we as touchers and not mere observers are included. If we depend on sight-which seems to offer a frictionless domination over reality-we may avoid the pains and uncertainties of living, but we also lose our involvement with life.Lucid, imaginative, and daring, Josipovici's book will inspire and, yes, deeply touch us all.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16346-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Psychology, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-2)

    The desire to write an essay on touch has grown steadily on me in the last few years.

    I do not know what will be in that essay or how I will go about writing it, but the thought of writing it will not leave me.

    For some time I have been jotting down notes to myself on the topic of touch, collecting postcards and quotations that seem relevant, and trying out my ideas on my friends. But the gap between this preliminary work and the actual writing of the essay is unbridgeable. Once I have written down the sentence,...

  5. 1 The Lesson of the Hand
    (pp. 3-8)

    There is a scene in Charlie Chaplin’sCity Lightswhich, when I first saw it, stirred me as I am rarely stirred, and has remained firmly etched in my mind in all the intervening years (though I realise, as I come to write about it here, that my memory of it contains many blanks and that my clear visual recollection is perhaps more a recollection of theeffectof that scene than of its precise details – but let that be, I have no wish to see it again in order to check, for what interests me is to understand...

  6. 2 The Lime-Tree Bower and the Virgin of Amiens
    (pp. 9-17)

    Sight is free and sight is irresponsible. I can cast my eye to the far horizon and then back to the fingers I hold up before my face, all in a fraction of a second and with no effort at all. And I can repeat the operation at will. On the other hand, were I to walk to that point on the horizon it would take time and effort, time and effort which I might feel I could better employ doing something else. To look costs me nothing but to go involves both a choice and a cost.

    Yet the...

  7. 3 Boundaries
    (pp. 18-27)

    The trouble with mirrors, as Merleau-Ponty notes inLa Prose du monde, is that they show too much. I do not see my body in the ordinary course of things as I see it in the mirror. It is not an object laid open to my gaze, as it is in the mirror, but that which looks, feels, moves. The world exists for me not because I see it but because I am a part of it.

    In the ordinary course of things I do not look, I merely take in. But once there is a frame around my field...

  8. 4 Holding and Grasping
    (pp. 28-32)

    Every day the prisoner in solitary confinement is confronted with the same finite set of objects: bed, chair, table, wails, door, bucket. He has seen these so often, has run his hand over them so often, that he knows them by heart. Because he knows that today they will be the same as they were yesterday and that tomorrow they will be the same as they were today he finds that they have lost the power to look back at him. By contrast, the room in which productive work is being done, the room one enters with anticipation each morning...

  9. 5 The Room
    (pp. 33-35)

    When, in a room by ourselves, we hold one hand in the other, we do not call that ‘holding hands’. When, in a room by ourselves, we reach out towards our hand in a mirror and meet only the coldness of the glass, we do not call that touching. On the contrary, both are a sour parody of touch, born of and fuelling our sense of dejection, the sense of existing in a world which remains stonily indifferent to our needs and desires.

    Yet there is, of course, one kind of solitary touching which does seem to bring one back...

  10. 6 Addiction
    (pp. 36-45)

    Like a great many people I have been trying to give up smoking. In the process I have learned many things about myself and a little bit about the nature of addiction, but I have still not given up.

    I know I am addicted because, whenever I try to imagine a life without cigarettes, withoutanycigarettes,ever, I realise it is a life I do not want.

    In the early hours of the morning, when I cannot sleep and my throat is dry and my tongue feels too big for my mouth, I promise myself that I will pull...

  11. 7 Transgression
    (pp. 46-50)

    This is only the latest little joke Nicholas Stavrogin indulges in in the little town where he has grown up. But no one is in any doubt that more than a practical joke is at issue here. The whole of Dostoevsky’sThe Devilsis an exploration of what becomes of boundaries when long-held beliefs about religion and civilised behaviour start to erode. The point Dostoevsky brings out so strikingly, both here and throughout the rest of his mature work, though, is how such actions, which advance no one and can only rebound on the doer, are an endemic part of...

  12. 8 The Lesson of the Hand (2)
    (pp. 51-57)

    Colonus is said to have been Sophocles’ birthplace, so that inOedipus at Colonus, written when he was past eighty, the playwright is, among other things, celebrating the place where he was born. But at the same time he is celebrating the place which had been the central focus of his life, the Dionysian stage. Like Chaplin inCity Lightshe chose a blind protagonist, but he did so not to provide laughter or to jerk the tears of his audience, but to lead them to an exploration of the relations between those who watch a spectacle and the hero...

  13. 9 Praesentia
    (pp. 58-61)

    On my first visit to Los Angeles I surprised my hosts – and myself – by asking to be taken down to the sea. I found that, more even than wanting to visit the streets down which Philip Marlowe had walked, or any of the city’s great museums, which my hosts were anxious to show me, I wanted to dip my hand in the Pacific. We drove out of town and along the coast in the direction of the Getty Museum. They stopped the car and I got out and went across the dirty beach and bent down where the...

  14. 10 The King’s Touch
    (pp. 62-64)

    When Jesus began to perform his miracles of healing,

    a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus, immediately knowing in...

  15. 11 The Therapy of Distance
    (pp. 65-71)

    To begin with we must understand what the displacement which pilgrimage entails did for the individual who undertook it. Peter Brown picks up a phrase used by Alphonse Dupront, who describes pilgrimage as ‘une thérapie par l’espace’, and comments: ‘The pilgrim committed himself or herself to the “therapy of distance” by recognising that what he or she wished for was not to be had in the immediate environment. Distance could symbolise needs unsatisfied, so that, as Dupront continues, “le pèlerinage demeure essentiellement départ”; pilgrimage remains essentially the act of leaving.’

    This is what Chaucer evidently came to understand in the...

  16. 12 The Therapy of Distance (2)
    (pp. 72-78)

    ‘The opacity of the surfaces’, writes Peter Brown, ‘heightened awareness of the ultimate unattainability in this life of the person they had travelled over such wide spaces to touch.’ The lay-out of the pilgrimage centre and the shrine was designed to heighten the effect of distance while reinforcing the message that distance may be benign, that it does not have to be totally overcome forpraesentiato manifest itself. What we find here, as often in earlier and more traditional cultures, is the ritualisation of a basic and inescapable fact of life, the giving to it of a form and...

  17. 13 Relics
    (pp. 79-82)

    ‘A hectic trade in, accompanied by frequent thefts of, relics, is among the most dramatic, not to say picaresque aspects of Western Christendom in the Middle Ages’, writes Peter Brown. The reason for this was that it was easier to move bits of the bodies and clothing of holy men than to get large numbers of people to gotothem: ‘Translations – the movements of relics to people – and not pilgrimages – the movement of people to relics – hold the centre of the stage in late-antique and early medieval piety.’ But again Brown is concerned lest we...

  18. 14 The Girdle and the River
    (pp. 83-88)

    The cult of relics in the Middle Ages is inseparable from the social and religious world in which it was embedded. It is this which holds in check the natural human propensity to gather and possess, to keep close to one objects that will effect instant cures for bodily and spiritual sickness. Of course the Reformers’ antagonism to pilgrimage, to relics and to the entire cult of the saints in the late Middle Ages does have a point. Much of it did reflect the greed of the Church and the gullibility of the people. But what sympathetic studies like those...

  19. 15 ‘A Goose which Has Grown in Scotland on a Tree’
    (pp. 89-93)

    In 1638 Georg Christoph Stirm, a German student, wrote a letter home from England in which he described what he saw in the famous house-museum of the horticulturalist, John Tradescant. The letter gives a startling insight not only into the contents of Tradescant’s museum but also into the mind of the writer who reports on those objects.

    ‘In the museum itself,’ writes Stirm,

    we saw a salamander, a chameleon, a pelican, a remora, a lanhado from Africa, a white partridge, a goose which has grown in Scotland on a tree, a flying squirrel, another squirrel like a fish, all kinds...

  20. 16 Possessing Power
    (pp. 94-97)

    To possess a relic was to possess power. As Peter Brown shows, at its origins the cult of relics was carefully controlled precisely so as to maintain the aura of the relic and to lead the pilgrim to recognise that distance was an essential component ofpraesentia. In this way the pilgrim would be led to place the relic within the context of a narrative at whose centre stood the death of the first martyr, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had died that mankind might be saved. By the time of the Reformation, as we can see from...

  21. 17 The Jewish Bride
    (pp. 98-101)

    They look at us but they are thinking of each other. Despite the occasion and the finery of their dress, they – she in particular – have that faintly melancholy expression one sees in so many Jewish faces. He sits on the wooden arm of an elegant divan and draws her towards him, his right arm round her waist and his head inclined against her shoulder, so that his cheek seems just to touch the gloved hand she has put up almost protectively. In his left hand he holds his grey top hat and his left foot is thrust forward...

  22. 18 First Steps
    (pp. 102-107)

    It was just at the time when newly married couples throughout the western world were having their photographs taken in postures and clothing similar to those of my grandparents that we entered the period that has aptly been called the Age of Suspicion. For the one thing that seems to unite all the greatest artists and thinkers of the later nineteenth century – Marx, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Nietzsche – and of the twentieth – Proust, Wittgenstein, Kafka, Freud, Eliot, Picasso, Schoenberg – was their suspicion of the notions they had inherited from the Enlightenment and Romanticism – Progress, Reason, Imagination,...

  23. 19 Kinetic Melodies
    (pp. 108-113)

    One of the ways in which the masters of suspicion worked was to reveal to us that what we had taken to be natural, a ‘given’, was in fact man-made, the result of choices and decisions made by individuals and institutions. Thus Marx unmasked the workings of capital, Nietzsche the workings of morality and Freud the workings of sexuality. Where the Enlightenment had seen all men as essentially unchanging and human nature as universal, the nineteenth-century masters of suspicion set about exploring the genealogies of morals and social institutions with the aim of freeing men from forms of bondage to...

  24. 20 Kinetic Melodies (2)
    (pp. 114-120)

    Football, in Egypt (where I learnt to play it at the age of five), as in South America, is a game of touch and skill. The reasons are obvious: the ground is hard and dry, the ball is always light, and such conditions favour the quick and nimble rather than the bulky and powerful, the good dribbler prepared to take people on rather than the heavy tackler intent only on blocking the progress of the opposition. Those were the days of 2-3-5 formations, 2 backs, 3 halves, 2 wings, 2 inside-forwards and a centre-forward. No one had heard of total...

  25. 21 Walker and World
    (pp. 121-124)

    To walk in intense heat with not a breath of air stirring requires a steeling of the will. I recall days in Egypt on which, after nine o’clock in the morning, it required real determination simply to step out of the house and into the sun. To walk in the pelting rain or a violent wind, as one so often has to do in England, though, is not much fun either. One can feel invigorated and perhaps virtuous when the walk is over, but the walk itself is something to be got through rather than enjoyed. I don’t know how...

  26. 22 Boundaries (2)
    (pp. 125-130)

    Over my notebook I sit hunched up. Over my typewriter, a little more upright. My hand moves over the page. My fingers hit the keys. I am writing.

    But where is this ‘I’ who is writing? In my heart, which beats strongly as I work? In my head, where thoughts are swirling? In my anxious belly? My straining hand? My tapping fingers? Clearly it is in none of these places. And my sense of the absurdity of the enterprise whenever I try to write autobiography, to explain to myself why I am what I am and where I have come...

  27. 23 The Room (2)
    (pp. 131-139)

    It is very quiet in the room. The boy leans over the table, holding a card in his left hand. The operation is most delicate. His right arm, bent at the elbow, provides a solid fulcrum for his body; his left rests more lightly on the green baize, so that the card, when he will finally set it down, just so, on the fragile structure already erected, will not cause it instantly to collapse.

    He is not tense, nor does he slouch. His head is held high, his neck firm, the blacktricorne, fitting snugly on his head, shuts out...

  28. Appendix
    (pp. 140-142)
  29. Notes
    (pp. 143-145)
  30. Index
    (pp. 146-148)