This ground-breaking interdisciplinary collection explores the complex, ambiguous, and contradictory sense of touch in early modern culture. If touch is the sense that mediates between the body of the subject and the world, these essays make apparent the frequently disregarded lexicons of tactility that lie behind and beneath early modern discursive constructions of eroticism, knowledge, and art. For the early moderns, touch was the earliest and most fundamental sense. Frequently aligned with bodily pleasure and sensuality, it was suspect; at the same time, it was associated with the authoritative disciplines of science and medicine, and even with religious knowledge and artistic creativity.
The unifying impulse of Sensible Flesh is both analytic and recuperative. It attempts to chart the important history of the sense of touch at a pivotal juncture and to understand how tactility has organized knowledge and defined human subjectivity. The contributors examine in theoretically sophisticated ways both the history of the hierarchical ordering of the senses and the philosophical and cultural consequences that derive from it.
The essays consider such topics as New World contact, the eroticism of Renaissance architecture, the Enclosure Acts in England, plague, the clitoris and anatomical authority, Pygmalion, and the language of tactility in early modern theater. In exploring the often repudiated or forgotten sense of touch, the essays insistently reveal both the world of sensation that subtends early modern culture and the corporeal foundations of language and subjectivity.
"Once explored, the importance of touch seems too obvious to have been neglected for as long as it has."—Leah Marcus, Vanderbilt University
"Elizabeth Harvey has developed a brilliant idea for a collection into a successful multidisciplinary exploration of the complex individual and cultural phenomena known as touch. . . . As histories of corporeal experience in the period become at one more specific and more focused, this signal collection will stand as a tribute to the general power of such a particular focus."—Studies in English Literature
"A probing exploration of the construction of touch in early modern Western culture, which both historicizes tactility and sensualizes history. . . . Critical reading for anyone interested in pursing a full-bodied 'archaeology of perception.'"—Senses and Society
"This fascinating collection of essays on the subject of touch in early modern culture makes a timely contribution to our understanding of the body in the early modern period."—Sexualities