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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "L'interne attouchement" (Montaigne), January 8, 2010
This review is from: The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation (Paperback)
About halfway in the text, introducing the works of medieval commentators of classic authors, Daniel Heller-Roazen gives a definition of his own work. "Glossators and their kind are incessantly in search of the animating element in their textual objects that bears no name: the dimension in them that, remaining unsaid, demands in time to be exposed."

Much remained unsaid about the "common sense" by which, according to Aristotle, the white and the sweet of milk can be the object of a single sensation. Discussion of the matter fills less than a single page in his work. The philosopher makes it clear that this shared faculty of sensation cannot be counted as a sixth sense: "there is no sense other than the five, and by which I mean sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch". The idea of an "inner sense" by which we perceive ourselves is therefore not Aristotle's own. It was proposed by medieval scholars who combined the Aristotelian doctrine of sensation with the teachings of the Stoics, who held that the sensation of external things could not be accomplished without a "self-sensation" that one is perceiving.

This "inner touch" of the Aristotelian tradition is not just an intellectual curiosa. It suggests that consciousness, of which the Greek authors and their Latin language heirs had no clear concept, may be closer to sensation than to cognition. The faculty by which we perceive ourselves as being may not be the Cogito of Descartes but rather an inner sense intimately linked to tact and contact. Sentio ergo sum: "I sense, therefore I am". According to this line of thought, animals, as sentient beings, have a perception of themselves, and we also maintain a sensation of sensing in the liminal states of consciousness such as sleep and awakening. And our contemporary world, where feelings of emptiness prevail and our senses are becoming duller by the day, may be characterized by a loss of existence.

Daniel Heller-Roazen's books are often linked to political and ethical questions. In The Enemy of All, he addresses the issue of piracy from the perspective of political philosophy and international law, with obvious ramifications to our present day's airplane hijackers and illegal enemy combatants. In Echolalias, the linguistic exploration of the forgetting of language leads to considerations about the fate of cultural diversity and the effects of globalization. This essay's political dimension is less obvious, and it is more innerly directed.

The pattern of presentation, however, is the same as in his previous books. After a literary prologue, the origin of a philosophical topos is found in Antiquity, most likely in Aristotle, the Greek scholar that generations of commentators referred to as, simply, the Philosopher. The Aristotelian tradition is then tracked, not only through the works of medieval commentators from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also in the writings of scholars in the Arabo-Persian civilization (As far as the history of civilization is concerned, the author notes, one may argue that Arabic, not Latin, is the second classical language). Quotes in the Arabic alphabet are woven in the text, and hebrew scripts also test the linguistic skills of the reader. Then comes the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, with the development of national vernaculars (the author has a particular taste for Romance languages such as Old Provençal). Classical philosophy, at last, brings the average reader to more familiar ground, although well-known authors are treated from an unconventional angle. The Enlightenment allows the author to indulge in his encyclopedic proclivity. Modern times opens an era of scientific discourse, with a particular taste for medical treatises and observations of psychic pathologies. The conclusion opens up the ethical dimension. The volumes are elegantly bound, with mysterious pictures that add to the uncanniness of it all.
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The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation
The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Paperback - August 28, 2009)
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