From the Museum of Touch


Stewart, Susan. ‘From the Museum of Touch’ Material Memories ed. by Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward, Jeremy Aynsley, (Oxford: Berg, 1999) 17-36


Of all the senses, touch is most linked to emotion and feeling. To be ‘touched’ or ‘moved’ by words or things implies the process of identification and separation by which we apprehend the world aesthetically.

We do not see our eyes when we see or hear our ears when we here, but tactile perception involves perception of our own bodily state as we take in what is outside of that state.


To be in contact with an object means to be moved by it – to have the pressure of its existence brought into relation with the pressure of our own bodily existence. And this pressure perceived by touch involves an actual bodily change; we are changed and so is the object.

[…] a key difference between the temporal immediacy of visual perception and the spatial immediacy of tactile impressions is the latter’s motility. To experience the roughness or smoothness of an object, to examine its physical position or come to understand its relative temperature or moistness, we must move, turn, take time. Visual perception can immediately organize a field; tactile perception require temporal comparison.

The pressure we feel when touching a material thing – a pressure toward and against the thing and toward and against ourselves as well – brings about an idea of causality, of something having happened or made another thing to happen.


All touch traverses the boundary between interiority and externality and reciprocally returns to the agent of touching. [Touch] is a threshold activity – a place where subject and object are quite close to each other.


Just as memory enables us to distinguish our waking from our sleeping selves, so does touch cross the threshold between what is unconscious and what is conscious, what is passive and what is active, what is dead and what is living.

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