haptic and optic encounters (contextual study)

thinking about how we view and experience the landscape, i have been reading another text related to lens based work and bodily encounters by Laura Marks called ‘Touch, Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media’ (2002). one of the arguments that seems to keep coming up is the idea of ‘haptic’ experience, visuality or perception. The term ‘haptic’ references Deleuze and Guattari description of ‘smooth space’ –  a space that we experience through the senses rather than abstractions like maps or compasses – similar to how we navigate walking over snow or sand (p.xii).

haptic and optic space: Deleuze and Guattari differentiate space as being smooth/haptic and striated/optic. smooth and haptic space is experienced through close up perception and sensual experience – visual, tactile, auditory etc. optic space on the other hand is perceived at a distant, optically (although not just visually). haptic and optic are not at opposite ends of experience but slide over each other. Manuel de Landa also differentiates how we experience space in similar ways but calls these hierarchies and meshworks but, again, Deleuze and Guattari argue against hierarchies but instead describes them as a lively flow together without hierarchy (p:xiii).

embodied visualty: Marks argues that haptic visuality has been over looked in favour of the optic visuality. vision should be seen as a point of contact – a haptic experience rather than just a rational optic which suggests a disembodied experience. she also describes the haptic critic as someone who engages and teases out ideas through objects and materiality up close rather than from a distanced optic and critical framework. such arguments raise questions about the binaries of objectivity and subjectivity and a world of ‘impressions’ (p: xiii). but of course they do not operate as oppositions!

memesis: this is given a brief mention and describes how one gets close to something and takes its shape and be it rather than represent it in order to understand it. i might research this and return to it later.

haptic and erotic: Marks describes erotic as the ability to move between haptic and optic, between near and far, between giver and given, between encounter and abstraction, and, like sex, between control and submission. this connects readily with the notion of touched and touching which i read in Barker’s ‘The Tactile Eye’ (2009).

‘and’ and landscape: Marks also mentions the conjunction ‘and’ as a way of seeing these connections rather than as hierarchies. this conjunction was notable in Nan Shepherd’s  ‘The Living Mountain’ (1977) as she described the landscape she walks and encounters … so as a parting thought it seems fitting to relate this theory back to the landscape – a way of experiencing the landscape through a nearness and point of contact while sliding between the optic distance.


Barker, J.M. (2009) The Tactile Eye, Touch and the Cinematic Experience. Berkeley: University Press of California Press.

Marks, L. U. (2002) Touch, Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Shephard, N. (1977) The Living Mountain. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.

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