Touch by Gabriel Josipovici

9780300066906In the powerful opening section of Gabriel Josipovici’s extended essay Touch (1996), he disinters the technique used to extract pathos from the key scene of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. After setting the scene he writes:

The explanation of why an improbable and sentimental recognition scene such as this one seems to tear itself right out of the fabric of the film in which it is embedded and strike at the very core of my being seems even more puzzling. For what have the flower-girl and the little tramp to do with me? An hour and a half ago I did not even know of their existence. Since then I have watched their antics on the screen, laughed occasionally, been occasionally moved, but nothing led me to expect this feeling of being opened up, simultaneously destroyed and reconstituted, which I am now experiencing. What is going on?

With the erudition I have come to admire, Josipovici proceeds to explain, with the aid of Merleau-Ponty, how we apprehend others, in life and on film, and why this scene makes accessible an insight of the body, of touch, rather than of sight. This sets the tone for the remainder of this extended, eclectic essay. Passages on Proust and the nature of addiction stand out, less so those on pilgrimage and the cult of relics.

Josipovici explains in the prologue,”Though this is a very personal book it grew in large part out of conversations and debates with friends.” What comes across most forcibly is the writer’s lucidity and sheer enthusiasm.

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