Contribution at the workshop A Touch of Doubt - On Haptic Scepticism. March 27-28, 2018. Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies. University of Hamburg.
The two walls of impossibility between which touch is ultimately caught install the category of the (un)touchable that draws the unconceivable line between the never yet executed and the always already ran over event of touch.
Through the category of the (un)touchable, touch engages the function of desire. What empowers one's desire is precisely the structural impossibility to grasp its object: what we eventually touch is never that which we desired. But at the same time, this is the only way we can ever touch it, because the inherent impossibility of touch is its very condition of possibility. The category of the (un)touchable sets the mechanism of forced choice: either we touch it in a way that we cannot touch it or we don't touch it at all.
And what is structurally (un)touchable within the mechanism of forced choice is not only the elusive object of touch, but also the touch itself as the impossible borderline between distance and proximity.
Thisbe, by John William Waterhouse, 1909.
Here we can remember the ancient Greek story of Pyramus and Thisbe, masterfully rewritten by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, the story about lovers who were craving for closeness but being only able to touch each other with their whispering words through a tiny crack in the wall. Once they finally managed to arrange a hidden meeting outside the city walls, the so much desired touch of the other was fatally missed and therefore it tragically turned into a double suicide (an ultimate touch of the self as a radical consequence of the impossible touch of the other). The two loving creatures never managed to enjoy the pleasure of the trembling event of touch: just as the moment of touch was wishfully expected, it had already passed away (without ever really occurring) - the two corpses lying on each other were suddenly touching too much as one single indistinctive pile of flesh. Through the structure of the (un)touchable, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe embodies an ultimate materialist turn of Plato's fantasy of love, as described in the Symposium, the fantasy of two lost halves finally finding each other and becoming one: the becoming one is the structure of death.
In the workshop, I would like to discuss the inscription of doubt into the category of the (un)touchable. Could we say that within the mechanism of touch, doubt functions as the companion of desire? If touch, as argued above, is not occupying a function of the guarantor of truth (or reality), but, quite the opposite, emerges within the gap between possible truths (or realities), it is structurally not the carrier of certainty but rather the bearer of doubt. Could it be argued that precisely as the bearer of doubt, touch is the constitutive moment of a subject? And hence, could we say that certainty is always beyond subjectivity, on the side of a bare object? What is the brute certainty of the two intertwined dead corpses in comparison to the doubtful touch of breath and whispering words of the other?