First, I’d like to acknowledge my blatant thievery. The title is a shameless appropriation from Derrida’s book on Jean Luc Nancy: On Touching. It’s a damn difficult read and I’ve never made it all the way through. It’s one of those texts that, unless you’re doing a dissertation on Nancy or Derrida, probably works best as a book to dip into, to taste and luxuriate in and close.
But this post really originated from a dream I had. It was a dream of an ideal kiss. I almost never have wholly positive dreams. If they start out that way, they quickly devolve into something darker and more horrific. But this one didn’t. I’ve come to understand that, when my brain allows me those perfect dreams that contain no anxiety, it is always marking a moment of drastic interior change. The last time I had one, it was of slipping into a bath filled with blue water. The vapours tendrilling off the surface were, I knew, were fatally toxic, but I had no anxiety about it. I slid into the water, lay back, closed my eyes and breathed in, and died. It marked the end of my fear of death and the lack of anything beyond it. I’m not sure what this dream marks yet, but it had exactly the same quality of… transportation. I wish I could think of a better term.
So, this kiss. This ideal kiss. It brings up all sorts of questions. Who was I kissing / kissed me? And what was it like? It would be easy to answer the first by saying that it doesn’t matter who it was. But although that’s partially true, it’s not completely accurate. It was someone I would have accepted a kiss like that from. Someone I could kiss that way: a someone, not an anyone. If you were to kiss a stranger like that, they are immediately ‘unstrangered’. You can have interacted with someone for a lifetime, but that one kiss can transform all you have known of them and all you share, put it under erasure (if you don’t know this concept, look it up. It doesn’t mean to ‘erase’ but to destabilize the meaning you once thought was complete and definite). Once you have kissed, all that information, all that knowledge is rendered on a different plane. As if all you have known through language and semiosis is now gilded, thickened with something that defies language. It’s not simply another layer of information. It changes the nature of what you know itself. It is an act of ontological transformation.
“The first kiss in this understanding is the principle of philosophy–the origin of a new world–the beginning of absolute chronology–the completion of an infinitely growing bond with the self. Who would not like a philosophy whose germ is a first kiss?”
(Derrida, quoting Novalis. On Touching: Jean Luc Nancy)
I’m not going to go on to discuss the second to last part of this quote. Derrida expands on the uncanny recursive phenomenon of a kiss and it’s very interesting, but that’s another post.
To be specific about the kiss, I’m talking about a first kiss. Not a social peck on the cheek, not a tentative kiss to discover whether physicality is possible or not. A first lover’s kiss. When I woke from this kiss, I tweeted it, and fell back into a dreamless sleep, but it began a vibrant twitter conversation on kissing, which made me ponder it further. And I tweeted: From a Lacanian perspective, a good kiss may start in the Symbolic, but it lives in the overlap between the Imaginary and the Real.
There are, assuredly, kisses that serve a Symbolic function. A social kiss hello, or a kiss goodbye to mark a parting. There is the kiss you give to someone simply to initiate a fuck. They serve as language and as social ritual. But the kind of kiss I dreamed about, the ‘good kiss’ of my tweet, moves past language, past social convention or even adherence to the social order very quickly.
It inhabits that quantum space between embodiedness and the transcendent abyss of the Real. Of course there were lips and mouths and hands and breath. The taste of skin and saliva. The urgency to reach and to drink and to offer up. And, in a way, there is a sort of language there. The kiss speaks not only of the presence of desire, but of its momentary yet eternal insatiability. This sort of kiss, like touch, is different from other erotic acts. It offers no satisfaction. Pleasure in being caught in the engine of desire, with no promise of orgasm, no height to reach, no terminal pause. It celebrates the pleasure of hunger, even when no meal will be forthcoming.
Who would eschew a kiss like that, even if it were to be the last experience one ever had?
It put me in mind of rethinking the Judas Kiss. In a way, all ‘good kisses’ are the kiss of Judas. The mainstream reading of Judas Escariot’s kiss with Jesus is that of betrayal and hypocrisy. But I’ve always had philosophical problems with that (Please note, I’m not a Christian. I’m an Atheist, but religious texts have posed some of the deepest existential questions and so they’re worth referring to).
Without Judas’ betrayal, there would be no crucifixion, no resurrection, no Christ the Redeemer. Of all the apostles, Judas is the only one burdened with an essential part in the narrative. He must put the wheel in motion that leads to Christ’s ‘passion’ and in doing so, damn himself to being the absolutely unforgivable villain. His sacrifice, in a way, is greater than Christ’s. The question is, did he know it?
This kiss. This dreamed first kiss is a Judas Kiss. Because it thickens the knowledge of each lover for the other, but also for the limits of it. There is never a second ‘first kiss’ to be had with that lover. You only ever walk across the threshold once, and then it is as if that threshold had never existed. This pleasure of the crossing cannot be repeated. It leaves you with a hunger for more, but there is no more of that first kiss.
There is only a second. And it’s different. It’s a betrayal.