[Art_beyond_sight_educators] The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience

Lisa Yayla fnugg at online.no
Mon Dec 28 09:52:52 UTC 2009

article about the book, The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic 
Experience by Jennifer M. Barker


      In a nutshell

In Michel Gondry’s /The Science of Sleep/ (2006), Gael García Bernal 
plays a frustrated artist with a penchant for quirky handmade objects 
and stop-motion animation who falls in love with an artsy woman. He 
explains, “I love her because she makes things with her hands. It’s as 
if her synapses were married directly to her fingers. Like this,” he 
says, staring at his own waggling fingers in amazement, “in this way.”

That line perfectly describes the spectator—not just of this film but 
also of moving pictures in general. I argue that synapses and fingers 
/are/ married (as are mind and body, and vision and touch more 
generally) in the experience of cinema. I also argue that to think, to 
speak, to feel, to love, to perceive the world and to express one’s 
perception of that world are not solely cognitive or emotional acts 
taken up by viewers and films, but always already embodied ones that are 
enabled, inflected, and shaped by an intimate, tactile engagement with 
and orientation toward others—things, bodies, objects, subjects—in the 
world. If these things are married in the experience of cinema, then 
this book describes exactly how so: “like this, in this way.”

That the film experience is a tactile one is without doubt; one need 
only chat up one’s fellow audience members to hear an action film 
described as a “visceral rush,” or an art film described as “lush” or 
“sensuous.” But how does one reconcile sensuous film experience with 
film theory? My answer was to design a book that is itself a tactile 
experience. I employ a descriptive vocabulary and method, infused with 
the sensuousness of the everyday, embodied film experience, in a study 
organized not around historical periods, genres, or modes of production, 
but around bodily dimensions, sensations, rhythms, and gestures.

Where Are We In This Picture?

When we watch a film, we experience it with eyes and ears, but also 
connect with it in a way that awakens our senses of touch, movement, and 
emotion, says Jennifer M. Barker, author of The Tactile Eye 
<http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10952.php>. In her interview on 
last week, Barker illustrates how a film invites us to see and feel the 
world through its eyes, as if the film had a body of its own. Barker 
explores the three areas of touch—skin, musculature, and viscera—that 
are engaged between cinema and spectator, and illustrates how watching a 
film is a kind of mutual possession. Film and viewer are not entirely 
separate entities, but engulf one another for a time and then emerge again,


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