Acclaimed author Constance Classen’s edited collection of sensual studies, The Book of Touch, is an intriguing contribution to the already excellent Sensory Formations series published by Berg. Other books in the series which I have seen include The Auditory Culture Reader (superb for anyone teaching the regulation, production and consumption of popular music culture) and The Visual Culture Reader (perfect for film and television studies). Other titles which I have yet to investigate from the series include The Smell Culture Reader, The Taste Culture Reader and The Sixth Sense Reader.


I can certainly recommend The Book of Touch. Alighting upon this reader is like speed reading Roland Barthes’ Mythologies for the first time. Wrestling (touched on here in the extract from Thomas Gregor’s 1985 anthropological study of wrestling among Mehinaku men in the Amazon) never quite seemed the same after Barthes had finished with his semiology of the sport. Similarly, anyone studying the virtual tactility of cyberspace and, with it cyberlaw, will be forever indebted to Part IX of The Book of Touch entitled ‘Touch and Technology’, which is prefaced by a short introduction by Classen and then followed by extracts which subject Marinetti’s early twentieth century Futurist agenda around speed to fascinating interrogation. F.T. Marinetti himself is extracted (from his writings on ‘Tactilism’) elsewhere in the book, but Classen’s argument in this section is that the technologies of modernity shaped a new way of seeing the world and of feeling the world. In particular, Sara Danius’ ‘Modernist Fictions of Speed’, from her book The Senses of Modernism published this century, is a real treasure, covering some of the same groundwork as the logistics of perception made public over the last thirty years by French urban theorist Paul Virilio.


The Book of Touch is part of a wider international project focusing on the cultural study of the senses. In popular journalism freelance football writer David Winner recently published what he envisaged as ‘a sensual history of English Football’ called Those Feet. In academia there is The Senses and Society journal (also published by Berg) starting in 2006. David Howes and the Concordia Sensoria Research team at Concordia University in Montreal are an integral part of this project. As Howes says in his series editor role for Sensory Formations, for many theorists down the ages, including not least luminaries such as Karl Marx and Marshall McLuhan, the senses have been more than a minor focus. The series is intended to help ‘scholars in the humanities and social sciences’ turn their ‘attention to sensory experience and expression as a subject for enquiry’. Constance Classen’s wide ranging and provocative reader will surely do that.

Professor Steve Redhead
Chelsea School, University of Brighton