January 17

Not at a Distance: On Touch, Synaesthesia and Other Ways of Knowing

Erin Manning

"A thousand other things sing to me." (John Lee Clark)

"Every possible feeling produces a movement, and that movement is a movement of the entire organism, and of each of its parts." (William James)

Feeling-with the world might be the best definition of synaesthesia. To feel-with is to be incapable of drawing firm boundaries between sensation, experience, and world. Bodies don’t lose their limits (as ‘loss of sense of agency’ would suggest), they continuously trouble the edgings into experience of both, making apparent that there never was a firm boundary that separated body and world. These are the assumptions that come with neurotypicality: that a body is an enclosure; that the world is at arm’s length from the body; that certain bodies have more value than others (white bodies, able bodies); that there is a baseline of sensation that is “normal”; that there are five senses that can be delineated from one another; that life without any of those senses is a truncated life. In this return to an account of touch ten years after publishing her book Politics of Touch, Erin Manning hopes to do four things: 1) demonstrate that the force of reaching-towards, how she defines touch in Politics of Touch, troubles the ‘sense of agency’ model at the heart of accounts of mirror-touch synaesthesia; 2) build on John Lee Clark’s account of distantism as it plays out not only in DeafBlind culture but more broadly in the neurotypical worldview; 3) consider the ways in which accounts of mirror-touch synaesthesia as well as synaesthesia more broadly support a deficit model of sensation that is deeply neurotypical; 4) explore how ProTactile, a movement for language-in-the-making and DeafBlind experience, remaps the spacetime of sensation away from the categorical limitations that come with the imposition of sensory regimes that privilege the body-world separation.

After the lecture Halbe Kuipers moderates a short conversation with Erin Manning and the audience.

Erin Manning holds a Research Chair in Relational Art and Philosophy and teaches in fine arts at Concordia University, Montreal. She directs Sense Lab, a laboratory that explores the intersections between art practice and philosophy through the matrix of the sensing body in movement. Her current art project entitled Folds to Infinity is an experimental fabric collection composed of cuts that connect in infinite ways, folding in to create clothing and out to create environmental architectures. Publications include: Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy (2009), Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty (2007), and Ephemeral Territories: Representing Nation, Home and Identity in Canada (2003). erinmovement.com