Touching On: Eyes, Hands, and Screens

by Brian Bergen-Aurand


Once Upon a Time.

The mise-en-scène of the blind is always inscribed in a theater or theory of the hands. ~Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind

It is a question of touch, of touching the screen or being touched by what one sees on screen, or both. It is a question of the relation between how we touch screens and how screens touch us. The relation between seeing and touching screens is always one of desire and corporeality, of memory and loss, of comprehension and response. Screens implore us to touch them, not just to look at them or gaze upon them, but to touch them, perhaps, even to regard them–to look upon and care for them. At the same time, we look to them for something, look to them to show something, to respond to us. Then, it is no longer a matter of looking but of something other than looking, something prosthetic–going out before us to touch on our connections to the past and the future.–a form of testifying to what might have been and what might be.  Sometimes, the images on screens make this relationship between grasping, caressing, comprehending, and responding the subject of their focus.

These five films touch on the relation among eyes, hands, and screens.


In Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, Mexico/Spain, 2006) the Pale Man (whose eye sockets are in the palms of his hands) sits silently before a feast, awaiting careless children who nibble at his food. Awakening to devour those tempted by his succulent fare, this figure makes literal the concept of the grasping, seizing, com-prehending (completely+take hold of) gaze.


Blow Up. Michelangelo Antonioni. Italy/UK/USA. 1966.

Blow up asks if seeing is believing and why images take hold of us. A fashion photographer (creator of false impressions) is captured by the thought that his candid photographs of a couple in a park bear witness to a murder scene. The more he exposes the images, though, the less he sees until he too disappears from view in the end.

He said, “You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing.”

She said, “I saw everything.”

Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais, , 1959) brings the erotics of memory and memory of erotics into contact. What is the relation between witnessing and perceiving? How does witnessing substitute narrative for perception? One can see or one can testify, but one can never do both at the same time. Yet, can one, as this films suggests, testify to or for what one has never seen?

“I was making films in my head.” Black Sun (Gary Tarn, USA, 2005) documents the 1978 attack on and blinding of visual artist Hugues de Montalembert. At the opening, it is a report on the trauma of the assault; however, quickly the poetic essay becomes a meditation on visions that depend on not seeing and on the invisibility of people who are blind. Montalembert narrates his story and reactions to the visuality and sociality of blindness over a montage of urban images that slide in and out of focus. Faces and people come and go through the amber-tinted frame as the focus oscillates between sharp and soft. All the while, the hyponotic soundtrack draws us back to the idea that this film, too, is being made in Montalembert’s head, in my head.

Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 2009) features a blind flimmaker who falls in love with his wealthy producer’s wife. Their clandestine love affair ends in a beautiful sadness that engenders a “beautiful” future through the child of another secret affair. The traces of love lost live on through this other young man and a touching out-of-focus screen kiss memory. In the closing moments, as he is recutting his ruined masterpiece, the director quietly explains, “Films have to be finished, even if you do it blindly.”

It is performative, something vision alone would be incapable of if it gave rise only to representational reporting, to perspicacity, to theory or theater, if it were not already potentially apocalypse, already potent with apocalypse. by blinding oneself to vision, by veiling one’s own sight–through imploring, for example–one does something with one’s eyes, makes something of them. One does something to one’s own eyes. ~Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind


Broken Embraces. Pedro Almodóvar. Spain. 2009.

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