Touch at a distance: toward a phenomenology of film

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8 Scopus citations


“We cannot open our eyes to things without distancing ourselves from what we seek. Separation is the price of vision” (de Certeau in Enclitic 7: 24–31, 1983). Yet, what happens when what we see at a distance grabs us, touches us, drawing us closer (Blanchot 1981)? Is this not the experience of film? In this article I argue that modulating distance lies at the heart of perception and filmmaking, palpable tensions in moving closer-to (proximal) and distancing-from (distal) bodies and things, entangling senses across the sensorium in what is called haptic perception and, by extension, haptic cinema. I explore modulation in distancing in revisiting Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neorealist film, Umberto D., a film customarily discussed in optical-ocular terms. En route we experience De Sica’s artistry in conveying ‘instants in life’ and ‘spectral distancing’ and we have a visitation with Agamben’s (2000) gestural cinema which exposes the mediality of film, opening up haptic-ethical thought and expression. In the final section I push toward a phenomenology of film inspired by Merleau-Ponty’s (1968) reversibility in perception and Morris’s (2002) associated ideas of tactile resonance and reverberation. I articulate a phenomenology of filmic-body couplings as lived moments in touch that resonate, reverberate and linger as affective intensities, taking cinema beyond the theater, screen, spectator, image, and representational logics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)839-851
Number of pages13
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Affect
  • Distancing
  • Gesture
  • Haptic cinema
  • Italian neorealism
  • Phenomenology
  • Touch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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