The Memory of Touch


Marks, Laura U. ‘The Memory of Touch’ The Skin of the Film (London: Duke University Press, 2000) 127-193


Haptic perception is usually defined by psychologists as the combination of tactile, kinesthetic, and proprioceptive functions, the way we experience touch both on the surface of and inside our bodies.

In haptic visuality, the eyes themselves function like organs of touch.

Haptic visuality is distinguished from optical visuality, which sees things from enough distance to perceive them as distinct forms in deep space: in other words, how we usually conceive of vision. Optical visuality depends on a separation between the viewing subject and the object. Haptic looking tends to move over the surface of its object rather than to plunge into illusionistic depth, not to distinguish form so much as to discern texture. It is more inclined to move than to focus, more inclined to graze than to gaze.

Because a haptic composition appeals to tactile connections on the surface plane of the image, it retains an “objective” character; but an optical composition gives up its nature as physical object in order to invite a distant view that allows the viewer to organize him/herself as an all-perceiving subject.


The difference between haptic and optical visuality is a matter of degree. Inmost processes of seeing, both are involved, in a dialectical movement from far to near.

Haptic images are actually a subset of what Deleuze referred to as optical images: those images that are so “thin” and unclichéd that the viewer must bring his or her resources of memory or imagination to complete them.