Touch:

(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

(All quotes by Diane Ackerman unless otherwise indicated)

“Skin can take a startling variety of shapes: claws, spines, hooves, feathers, scales, hair. It’s waterproof, washable and elastic. . . . But, most of all, it harbors the sense of touch.”

“The top layer of skin is dead, sloughs off easily, and contributes to that ring around the bathtub. This is why safecrackers are sometimes shown sandpapering their fingertips, making the top layer of skin thinner so that the touch receptors will be closer to the surface.”

“Language is steeped in metaphors of touch. We call our emotions feelings, and we care most deeply when something ‘touches’ us.”

“Every other sense organ you can focus on, but touch is everywhere.”

“Every other sense has a key organ to study, for touch that organ is skin, and it stretches all over the body.”

“Touch is the oldest sense, and the most urgent.”

“Touch receptors can be blanked out simply by tedium. When we put on a heavy sweater, we’re acutely aware of its texture, weight, and feel against our skin, but after a while we completely ignore it.”

“Our palette of feelings through touch is more elaborate than just hot, cold, pain, and pressure.”

“Scientists have discovered that most of the nerve receptors will respond to pressure, as well as to whatever they specialize in.”

“We may feel self-conscious much of the time, but we’re not often conscious of our physical selves, or we’d be exhausted in a typhoon of sensation.”

“It takes a troupe of receptors to make the symphonic delicacy we call a caress.”

“Not surprisingly, the tongue is more sensitive to heat than many other areas of the body.”

“Touch, by clarifying and adding to the shorthand of the eyes, teaches us that we live in a three-dimensional world.”

“Touch fills our memory with a detailed key as to how we’re shaped. A mirror would mean nothing without touch.”

“Touch teaches us that life has depth and contour; it makes our sense of the world and our self three-dimensional. Without that intricate feel for life there would be no artists, whose cunning is to make sensory and emotional maps, and no surgeons, who dive through the body with their fingers.”

“The internal organs don’t have many pain receptors (the skin is supposed to be the guard post).”

“When touch isn’t there, our true isolation comes through.”

“Despite the fact that we’re territorial creatures who move through the world like small principalities, contact warms us even without our knowing it.”

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