Fifth part – Complexity of Tactile Relations. By Giancarlo Galeazzi

Giancarlo Galeazzi, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Istituto teologico marchigiano of the Pontifical Lateran University

Thus the relationship based on physical contact (and specifically on touch) must be seen as irreplaceable. And it is complex, as is apparent from the dialectic between experience of the tangible and experience of the intangible which can be understood in a dual sense. The theological sense: in the above-mentioned essay, Patrick Goujon argues that “touch is overwhelmed by the experience of the intangible” to the extent that “the Gospels reveal what, in our existence, is intangible and goes beyond the experience of touch as an act of graping (…) God cares for us without holding onto us, like a father happy to see his sons and daughters leading their own lives.” The anthropological sense has been clarified by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, recently abetted by the philosopher Aldo Masullo who observed that to touch another man is to touch his body, to feel onself touch it, but never to feel his experience of being touched, and so never to feel, not his body, but he himself. We do not exist if we do not feel that we exist; but I will never be able to feel another’s sense of his existence, just as nobody will experience mine, as Masullo stresses when he defines the sense of self as the “archsense” and “untouchable”. In  his book, L’arcisenso, Dialettica della solitudine, Masullo delves into the question of solitude, aware that he is listening in on the inner life of another person but never able to gain access to it; hence the dialectic solitude and solidarity: we are alone but we can be companions, companions in solitude; we can share our uniqueness; we can stay apart and yet together.

In effect, proximity demands closeness no less than distance, as stressed by the Lacanian psychoanalyst and thinker, Massimo Recalcati, whose books include Il segreto del figlio. Da Edipo al figlio ritrovato (Feltrinelli, Milano 2018) in which he draws on his clinical experience and on interpretations of figures such as Oedipus, Hamlet, Isaac and (especially) the anonymous prodigal son in order to insist that a son may be found again and may find himself again. And the father’s embrace is the strongest expression of this recovery, a contact unstinting and enveloping, where the hands of the parent (in Rembrandt’s great painting) are a male hand and a female hand, of father and mother, of justice and mercy. The “good” brother is not included in the reunion; he looks on critically and has no part in the tactile encounter – a spectator, who feels none of the joy felt by the father which expresses itself in potent physical gestures (from the embrace to the meal) which enable the prodigal to return home, to feel at home.