reach out and touch someone
a friend told me recently about a notice affixed in a public washroom stall: "please don't 'hover.' there are more germs on a public telephone handset than a toilet seat." the notice, i suspect, will have little impact on washroom etiquette, but just might turn a few people off public telephones.
toilet seats and telephones: the most quotidian and frequent forms of touch take place surreptitiously. in the exchange of germs, the bodies of strangers embrace intimately as lovers. violently divided and reunited in so many ways, the world is always already an assemblage of singularities on a molecular level. no wonder biology is so rich with metaphors for anti-capitalist politics.
deleuze and guattari remind us that the (separate) organism is ontologically derivative. it is the product of a reiterative circumscription of corporeal boundaries, an imaginative enclosure lived, nonetheless, as real effects. the organism is an “order” in two senses: it segments and organ-izes an inherent biological indeterminacy, and it exists as a forceful command. “you will be organized, you will be an organism, you will articulate your body – otherwise you’re just depraved.”
the organism is subverted continually. sometimes, as with lovers, it is unmade intentionally (if only slightly). sometimes, however, the intention is the opposite. what is it, for example, that repulses us about public washrooms and public telephones? who is it that we’re afraid of touching? i can only speculate, but it seems to me that social divisions like class, race, gender, and sexuality can serve as the material with which corporeal boundaries are fortified. why else would the washroom be such a potent site of social inclusion and exclusion?
what’s my point? pulling a thread from the tangle i’ve made here, i want tentatively to suggest the relevance of “touch” to anti-capitalist politics. that the neoliberal war on everything at all public is concomitant with an intensifying process of social isolation indicates, to me at least, that the aversion toward the “public good” is experienced intimately, as well as intellectually.
we recline from the touch of others. the problem of public telephones (shared with who-knows-who?) is resolving itself with the proliferation of personal cellphones. there is no solution, as yet, for the problem of public washrooms. in this context, the old at&t slogan, “reach out and touch someone,” seems particularly anachronistic. no corporation would suggest such a thing today. and yet, without inviting nostalgia, it might be worthwhile to contemplate what it would mean, today, to heed the old telecom’s advice.