Jennifer M. Barker


On her book The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience

Cover Interview of December 10, 2009


Film theory and criticism have often described the meeting place of film and viewer as a mirror, a screen, a window, or a door.  No one metaphor sticks, perhaps for two reasons. First, the “stuff” of the contact between film and viewer is too permeable and flexible to be described in quite these rigid terms.  Second, what keeps us separate from the film isn’t a “thing” at all, but our bodies’ own surfaces and contours.

Philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s notion of “flesh” (which differs dramatically from literal skin) may be a better metaphor.  The material contact between viewer and viewed is less a hard edge or a solid barrier placed between us—a mirror, a door—than a liminal space in which film and viewer can emerge as co-constituted, individualized, but related, embodied entities.

The notion of “flesh” encourages us to see the connection between film and viewer not only as a tactile “interface,” but perhaps even further as a mutual immersion.  More than that, it may encourage us toward a new style of historiography, theory, and criticism. Indeed, I am convinced that the (re)invention of moving image studies and the mutual absorption of film and viewer are closely related.

Insightful critical writing about cinema requires a passionate, sensuous approach that respects the passionate, sensuous, and specifically tactile engagement between viewers and films.  It’s my hope that The Tactile Eye helps to encourage this embrace of sensual experience not only for the purposes of description, but also as an integral tool for film history and theory.

© 2009 Jennifer Barker