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  • Rühren, Berühren, Aufruhr
  • Jean-Luc Nancy (bio)
    Translated by Roxanne Lapidus

Rühren, Berühren, Aufruhr:1 The German language allows us to place in the same semantic family of ruhr three notions that in French would correspond to bouger (move), agiter (agitate), toucher (touch) and soulevement (uprising), each understood in all the diversity of their possible meanings. Move and agitate are taken in their physical senses as well as their moral/emotional senses, as are touch and uprising. The latter orients its moral value in a socio-political direction.

This semantic family is that of movement that is neither local (in German, Bewegung) nor a movement of transformation (Verwandlung—metamorphosis, for example generation and decay, growth and decline). Rather, ruhr designates the kind of movement that might best be called “emotion,” a term that stems from motion, the closest transcription of the Latin motus, from the verb movere, which persists in French as mouvoir and émouvoir, both understood in the English move—both physically and emotionally.

The French toucher and English touch are semantically disassociated from movement, whereas in German they are linked. In French and in English, touch, tact or contact seem to arise from a more static than a dynamic order. Obviously we know that we must move in order to touch, that we must “come into contact,” as the saying goes, but touch itself seems to designate a state rather than a movement, and contact suggests a firm adhesion rather than a mobile process.

Nevertheless, the French and English languages also acknowledge the mobile, moving and dynamic value of touch, apparent when we say that a person or a work of art “touches us,” and when we speak of a piantist’s or a painter’s “touch,” as well as the notion of being “touched” by divine grace.

To touch sets something in motion. As soon as I approach my body to another body—be it inert, made of wood, stone or metal—I displace the other—be it ever so slightly—and the other displaces me, while holding me in some way. Touch acts and reacts at the same time. Touch attracts and rejects. Touchs impels and repels, pulsion and repulsion, rhythm of outside and inside, of ingestion and rejection, of self and non-self. [End Page 10]

Touch begins when two bodies move apart and distinguish themselves from one another. The baby leaves the belly and becomes himself a belly that can ingest and regurgitate. He takes in his mouth his mother’s breast, or his own finger. Sucking is the first touch. This suction of course ingests the breast milk. But it does more: it attaches the mouth to the body of the other. It establishes or re-establishes a contact that reverses the roles: the child that was contained now in turn contains the body that contained it. But he does not enclose it within himself; rather, he simultaneously holds it in front of himself. The movement of the sucking lips never ceases to alternate between proximity and distance, between penetration and exit—the same movement that presided over the events leading to the womb and culminating in the exit of this new body finally ready to separate itself.

In separating himself, he conquers this new possibility that he had only vaguely known: the possibility of rapport and contact. The vague knowledge was mainly auditory, and hearing itself was diffracted by the prism of the tiny body immersed in the liquid resonator with which the other body enveloped him. The sounds of this body, of its heart, of its intestines, and the sounds of the outside world simultaneously touched his ears, his closed eyes, his nostrils, his lips and all of his infused skin. Nevertheless, “touch” would be saying too much. Every possible sensation was still diluted in an indistinct sense, in a permanent exchange, quasipermeable, between interior and exterior, as well as among the different routes of access to the body. “Touch” would be saying too much, and yet it is already there: it’s the first rürhen, the first flow and the flutter swaying the as-yet unborn.

Once he is born, he will separate himself. But...


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pp. 10-17
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