‘Hapticality’ is a term introduced by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney in their collaborative The Undercommons (Minor Compositions, 2013) to describe what they theorise as “the touch of the undercommons, the interiority of sentiment,” as they proffer “the feel that what is to come is here” (2013, 98).
The etymological root of haptic in the Greek is haptein, which means to take hold of an object, fasten onto, or to touch it.
“Hapticality, the capacity to feel though others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel them feeling you, this feel of the shipped is not regulated, at least not successfully, by a state, a religion, a people, an empire, a piece of land, a totem.
[…]Thrown together touching each other we were denied all sentiment, denied all the things that were supposed to produce sentiment, family, nation, language, religion, place, home. Though forced to touch and be touched, to sense and be sensed in that space of no space, though refused sentiment, history and home, we feel (for) each other.” – From Fantasy in the Hold, the final essay in The Undercommons
Essentially, Harney and Moten lay out what has proven to be our collective task: to philosophise the haptic as an explicitly minoritarian aesthetic and political formation—a figuration of alterity that simultaneously marks the overlap of and break between thought and feeling.1
Philosophers of the Feel
With Harney and Moten, we can begin to consider what is means to take vital inhabitation within haptic life spheres, what it would mean to become philosophers of the feel. We can move towards “the capacity to feel through others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel them feeling you” (2013, p. 98) — listening in what they call the “surround” outside the visibility and surveillance of liberal democracy — but with the qualification that this “hapicality,” far from being immediate, is the incalculable “self-touching-you [se toucher toi] as described by Derrida.2
Hapticality, Love, and Embodiment
In the introduction to The Haptic, a special issue of Women & Performance, guest edited by Rizvana Bradley, Bradly makes connection between hapticality and somatic forms of knowledge:
“Our collective attempts to theorize the haptic as a visceral register of experience and vital zone of experimentation, direct us to somatic forms of knowledge attuned not only to contemporary bodies and spaces, but also to the worlds and imaginations that have both conditioned and surpassed the body in and of performance.”3
1 “Other Sensualities | Rizvana Bradley.” Women & Performance. Last modified January 19, 2019. https://www.womenandperformance.org/ampersand/rizvana-bradley-1.
2 “View of Listening Alone Together. Political Subjectivation in the Time of Pandemic | Sociologica.” Sociologica. Accessed May 5, 2021. https://sociologica.unibo.it/article/view/11288/11577.
3 “Other Sensualities | Rizvana Bradley.” Women & Performance. Last modified January 19, 2019. https://www.womenandperformance.org/ampersand/rizvana-bradley-1.