Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Jie Guo

Second Advisor

David Greven


This dissertation offers an analysis of the caress through the dual lens of phenomenology and psychoanalysis. I argue that the caress reveals the queerness and ambiguities of perception and that this gesture must be understood as an ethical gesture of opening toward otherness. I discuss different accounts of the caress (Levinas, Irigaray) and expose the misogynistic and/or homophobic bias at work in these theories of the caress. I suggest that Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of touch and other notions that he develops (Flesh, intertwinement, intercorporeality, encroachment, etc.) allow a redefinition of the caress that avoids Levinas and Irigaray’s pitfalls. In a reading of the novel The Silence of the Lambs and its movie adaptation (1988, 1991), I demonstrate how the body is intertwined with the environment and how the caress is an important symbol of this aspect. In my reading of silent movie The Hands of Orlac (1924), I show how the caress can have a negative aspect when the intertwinement with the Other becomes an intrusive presence or encroachment in Merleau-Ponty’s vocabulary. Finally, relying on different horror movies (May [2002], Mirrors [2013]) and on Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick, I critique Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage for offering an ocularcentric (privileging the sense of sight) account of the constitution of the subject. Instead, I suggest that an haptocentric approach (privileging the sense of touch) of the constitution of the subject offers not only a better account of the body as it is lived and of certain horror themes (the haunted mirror, the evil doll) but also an interesting theoretical framework to the concept of the caress.


© 2017, Marc Demont