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Touchlines: Manual Inscription and Haptic Perception


Of both visual images and written texts, it has often been claimed that they cannot, simultaneously, be seen and read.

This tension between seeing and reading, I argue, results from the twin assumptions (a) that vision entails a retrojection, from world to mind, of what has already been projected from mind to world, and (b) that reading entails a disarticulation and rearticulation of graphic elements that have first been articulated on the page.

With both drawing and handwriting, however, the line is not an articulated sequence of discrete elements but the more or less enduring trace of a manual gesture. To both see and read this trace is to join with it, in its inflections and modulations, much as listening to song means harnessing one’s aural awareness to the current of vocal sound. But this requires us to take a quite different view of visual perception, as a haptic correspondence of kinaesthetic awareness and its material traces, rather than an optical projection of object to image. And on the side of the tactile, it also leads us to distinguish between two modalities of touch: in the first, as a digital interface between mind and world, as in using a keyboard; in the second, as the transduction – as in drawing or writing – from manual gesture to inscriptive trace.

This is the difference between sensitivity and sentience.