Expression of a Common Touch
In 1880, Charles Darwin published a collection of studies on the movements of plants. One of his experiments led him to describe a circular or elliptical movement with which the plant adapts to its environment, balancing out. He called it “circumnutation,” a kind of nodding around, and to see it, he did a pre-photographic time-lapse. He placed a glass surface before the plant and drew there a point marking the position of the plant’s highest margin every few minutes during several hours. He did this for more than three hundred different species. He would then connect these dots, to show the trajectory taken by each plant. This line showed the plant’s exploration of its medium, encountering signals on its surrounds and entangling with them. It echoes the antennae of a snail, those we played as children to touch and hide (probably drawing the silent ire of the snail). These antennae carefully touch the atmosphere in a form of sensing dance with the material nature of the world. The body of that snail, just as the body of that plant, does not stop at its figure, it involves all that space in between its senses and the world, it includes these margins. Margins which become the expression of a common touch, a place of exploration, recognition and negotiation. The margin thus becomes a mutually felt presence out of an exploratory and/or attentive disposition towards the world. We can then get rid of the idea of margins as mere lines. On the contrary, they are an ecology of signs marking the possibility of an encounter. Think of those red or blue vertical lines crossing from top to bottom the paper sheet of our notebooks. They are not properly the margins, they are the sign that makes us aware of a material space beyond. While children, we are told to respect those lines; as we grow older we understand the visual aid was merely the expression of a meaningful space beyond which we had to learn to acknowledge (and explore). Slowly, our hand learned to move on the page like the snail’s antennae, testing the ground. Just as when we write in the margins of a book we are reading, we are negotiating with the possible opened by its contents, words, images, and voids. Margins are spaces filled with beginnings, drafts, hints; all kind of minor existences which expand the body-world of the book, the plant, the snail or even ourselves. Margins are thus quite crowded, and we could even imagine tracing down its circumnutation, the movement of virtual existential marginalia as the expression of the politics taking place in the negotiation of mutually exploring dispositions, the expression of a common touch.