The (Un)Touchable Touch of Pyramus and Thisbe: Doubt and Desire

Suspending Touch: Haptic Skepticism for Life During a Pandemic

Presentation of the book A Touch of Doubt: On Haptic Skepticism, De Gruyter, 2021

ICI Berlin, 20 May 2021

Consider a thought experiment. Let us imagine that a virus, a plague attacks the realm of knowledge. Let us transpose the situation of a total social decay caused by a plague - say, the plague of Athens described by Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War, or a black plague described by Antonine Artaud, a part of whichwe saw in Bergamo and are seing now in Brazil in India - so let us transpose the situation of a total social decay in its hypothetical simplified form onto truths, laws of logic, and systems of knowledge. The realm of knowledge falls apart. Blurry spots spread in its generally accepted systems. Incomprehensible gaps emerge in the laws of logic. General truths become inconsistent and lose their validity. Our confused minds start to doubt their cognitive ability and react in panic. This panic follows two directions: either our minds try to hold the strings, pretending everything is in order, clinging to the truths and laws that still seem to work, repeating them headlong, or they finally resign themselves to their inability to ever grasp the object of their thoughts.

These two panicked reactions of the mind facing the plague of knowledge reflect the epistemological stances of dogmatism and skepticism. Dogmatism assumes that the truth is something that can be commonly known and recognized. It holds that knowledge about this truth is possible and should therefore be spread among the unenlightened. Skepticism, by contrast, asserts that truth cannot be known and recognized and thereafter gives up any claim of common knowledge. Such skepticism can be traced to ancient Greek Academic skepticism, which is itself dogmatic. The very idea that knowledge is not possible becomes a dogma – possibly even the most stubborn and dangerous one.