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On Touching and Being Touched

What happens if my hand is held by the other, the beloved?

Nothing, really, if all that I feel is the touch of another thing. The world offers enough objects which resist my touch; in fact, all that things offer is that very resistance. When I hold any old object, it goes against my hand and does not allow me to intrude its space. Hence, I am located vis-a-vis the location of objects which resist me, inversely, I am only where they allow me to stay without occupying their space. That is why I am always alienated from the world of things; everywhere, I encounter that which is not-me, that is, that which cannot give me to myself or, which comes to the same thing, that which only lets me feel myself negatively through restraint. All I experience is their prohibition, that I cannot pass and cross their space and extension. Forever a stranger to the world, how am I to make a home?

When I touch a thing, the thing never feels itself touched. Nor do I really touch the thing. So what happens? I merely feel my hand feeling a thing. The resistance of the thing does nothing but to let myself feel being resisted, being restricted. I only feel the thing as it lets itself be felt--as resistance and this only--and never do I feel the thing in itself. As we all know from phenomenology, what is experienced is the showing (phainomena) of the object, in this case, the way it lets itself be felt, and never the object itself (noumenon) or the way it feels itself felt. Every thing in the world, no matter how different it may seem to the touch (the burning flame, the cool water, the subtle breeze), only lets me experience myself feeling myself feeling. This auto-erotization more and more leads me nowhere in the world but to myself alone, and never alongside and with beings in the world. This autism in no way is some philosophical trick to isolate the certainty of the ego from the world; this is the very law of consciousness and the individuation of being. How to escape this suffocating climate? I experience myself alone more and more as I turn to the world in which I yearn to belong. Thus the melancholy that envelopes me: every attempt to open myself to what is other than me is rejected by the impossibility of being other than me. It is in the desert where I am supposed to find my place.

How about the other? Initially, the same can be said. If I were to touch the other (tap him, hold or move him), I again feel the resistance that any old object offers my hand. I merely feel myself feeling the other--as what goes against me, as what prohibits me. That the other is any old other (thing, object) that I take the initiative to touch does no difference to the way I experience (any) exteriority; I feel the same feeling (myself feeling). Thus I could handle the other's body as well, manipulate it, distort it and even destroy it. Hence the possibility of doing violence to the other: the other, like any old thing in the world, offers by its very resistance the counter force of my impetus, the mass against which I thrust my weight. The pain that the other receives from my hand (if, for example, I slap him) proves that the rule of autism still holds: I never feel the pain that I inflict--it does not pain me--and, even still, I may feel pleasure in hurting him (sadism). Still alone in the world, the other whom I touch (or hurt) merely offers by its exteriority the objectivity before which I (and I alone) take my stance and find my place. Where is this? Alone at the center of the universe of objects: the lonely I.

Yet something other happens when it is the other who takes the initiative to touch me. And it is not the initiative itself which makes the difference; for the fallen branch which brushes my shoulder or the faithful dog that rests its head on my feet still merely makes me feel (myself feeling) them--and only this. But when it comes to the other who grazes my hand or caresses my face, I no longer only feel (myself feeling) it--to be sure, this cannot be denied: I still experience it--but, more than that (which ultimately overwhelms my experience of myself feeling myself feeling), I feel myself felt. What is this odd experience, where I feel myself being felt? Not any other experience where I only feel myself (feeling myself). Strictly speaking, it is no longer an experience as all experiences are by law experiences of my self (feeling my self). What then is this experience which is no longer an experience? This: I become an experience to the other when I am felt by the other. Because neither do I feel myself being felt nor do I experience myself being experienced. All of a sudden, my experience of feeling myself is outflanked by a prior (non-)experience of being felt. Prior? Yes, and even originary because I do not first decide to let myself be felt or experienced; it was the initiative of the other to touch me which exposes my primordial vulnerability to be touched. I am originally openness for the other in that I am and can be an experience to him. (Of course, I can eventually close myself from the other by insecurity or contempt, but this is only possible because of an anterior openness). And this is openness and vulnerability without remainder: I allow my self to be felt by the other without feeling myself being felt, I am an experience for the other without experiencing myself being experienced. Frustrating the ego and challenging its stance, the other who touches me receives from that same ego what it could not give and what it does not have: unaware, it gives it self (what on its own cannot be given to itself) to the other.

And how else can this be understood than by the category of the gift? When I am touched I give myself to be received by the other. And it is in the other's reception where I finally experience "something"--a negative experience, an inverted one, where being experienced (by the other) but nonetheless being unable to experience myself being experienced makes me experience finally being allowed entry by the reception of the other. I experience myself being accommodated by the other who touches me, thus making room for me. The other's touch, in receiving me, grants me the permission to stay there in/with/within (?) the other. Previously a stranger to the things of the world, the other finds me and makes a home for me by allowing me to be received in a way that no object (which only offers resistance) can give. By the very non-resistance of the other's touch, I, who gives itself to be touched, receive my self (finally, but only) as a gift that I can only give (to the other).

To end, let us take a look at an example. This phenomenon can be illustrated when lovers hold each other's hands. Initially and for the most part, my hand is that by which I am able to touch the things of the world, take in experiences and thus feel myself. But when the beloved holds my hand, it becomes exposed to the other's hand, which experiences it and feels it. My hand thus hands itself to the other's hand. Unable to take the initiative to hold or touch, the hand is opened up by the other's hand and is suspended in that very opening. Strictly speaking, in no other way can a hand be open until it is open to receive; in this case, it receives from the other his touch, its own openness. The open hand of the other receives the openness of my hand and there fills it with no end without letting it experience any thing except the opening itself which accommodates it.

Allowing itself to be received by the hand of the other, the hand then surrenders itself--as that by which one takes--and in doing so, finally receives itself--as that by which one gives.


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