Ellen Esrock

Associate Professor, Communication and Media

Ellen Esrock researches how the sense of touch shapes our perceptions of visual art and literature.

“My research explores how viewers and readers use their somato-viscerosensory systems to exceed their somatic boundaries to mingle with things of the world, ” said Esrock. “To these ends I propose the concept of ‘transomatization,’ which contrasts with the embodied simulation, as formulated in philosophy and the cognitive sciences.  The models of bodily viewing and reading that I am developing draw upon current scientific research in emotion, perception, and language processing, as well as rich traditions of phenomenology and cultural histories of bodily empathy and imagination.” 

Esrock devoted her second book, The Reader's Eye: Visual Imaging as Reader” to mental imagery and is currently working on her third book, Touching Words and Images: Feeling and Breathing Through the Body. Her articles on touch include “Embodying Art: The Spectator and the Inner Body” in Poetics Today, "Embodying Literature" in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, and "Touching Art: Intimacy, Embodiment, and the Somatosensory System” in Consciousness and Emotion.

Professor Esrock was awarded Rensselaer's FishbachTravel Grant in 2009, Rensselaer Ramp Up grant in 2008, a Fellowship from The Italian Academy of Columbia University in 2003, and a Harvard Mellon Faculty Fellowship in 1986.  


Ph.D., Comparative Literature, New York University

B.A., Philosophy, Washington University St. Louis

Research Focus
  • literature
  • photography and visual art
  • visual imagery in reading
  • philosophy and science of touch