The Touch of Language


The Touch of Language: linguistic perspectives in haptic studies

PI: Mirt Kommel | Team: Ana Jovanovic, Bara Kolenc, Goran Vranesevic, Rachel Aumiller, Tomi Bartole, Gregor Moder, Atej Tutta

2016-2018, Ljubljana

Komel and his team lay the foundation for haptolinguistics, the study of touch as a fundamental component of language. In the framework of structural linguistics, phoneme denotes a single unit of sound while grapheme denotes a single unit of writing. Komel coins the term hapteme to denote a single unit of touch within language.

Our team searches for the hapteme throughout the history of philosophy. We also investigate the hapteme by getting our hands dirty: designing interactive exhibitions with engineers specializing in touch technology. By translating concepts of touch back into a tangible medium, we engaged a large public audience in discussion about how new technologies shape the way we are in touch. 

The installation in the picture above, “Hegel’s Begriff,” invites its spectators’ to stroke or poke the various objects built into its wall. The wall projects the data of the touch (time / type) onto the ceiling. The black side of the wall displays convex objects that are hidden from view. The white side displays the alternate concave side of each object. The exhibition was accompanied by an international conference with discussions open to the public. (concept design: Komel, Kolenc, Tutta)

The members of this project have our philosophical foundation in the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis, which is most strongly associated with Mladen Dolar, Alenka Zupančič, and Slavoj Žižek. As next generation scholars within this tradition, we stress the central role of touch in the Ancient philosophy, German idealism, and Continental philosophy and psychoanalysis. We seek to extend the scope of the Ljubljana School, by building upon the philosophy of touch and language developed in late twentieth-century Continental philosophy and psychoanalysis in dialogue with figures such as Lacan, Anzieu, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Nancy, and Levinas: see our collected volume devoted to this topic, The Language of Touch: Philosophical Examinations in Linguistics and Haptic Studies. Ed. Mirt Komel. (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019). 

This project was funded by the Slovenian Research Agency.

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