Kiss; Where Word and Sight Rupture - Guest Post by Anu Karippal
Kiss; Where Word and Sight Rupture
Screen is a significant experience of the modern, a slice of intimacy. At times when I’m alone in the hostel room I have sneaked into my laptop screen, logged into Youtube to get a glance of a romantic scene. Aah, the pleasure. Screen knows my deepest, darkest secrets. It’s also true that I cannot stand the sight of a romantic scene for long, I feel disturbed. I feel I’m doing something wrong. The entire Bible dawns upon me at that moment and I close it. As I grew up, my parents would change the channel the moment a romantic scene or a hint of it appears making everyone feel that something forbidden has happened. Yes, a kiss. I have always been curious of the deep discomfort at the sight of kiss. A few months ago, I project I did led me to the same question. The question of discomfort.
“Lived reality is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle…” writes Guy Debord. Our lives once articulated through words and voice has now given away to screen. Susan Sontag writes photography has taken over what text/writing used to be once. In this context, I wish to look at visual discourse and logocentric discourse, our varying relationships with them and the particular moment of rupture between the two through kiss as the major fulcrum of thought. The Facebook page of Kiss of Love protest in Kerala was my major ethnographic field apart from Malayalam cinema. While the protest and its problem did not intrigue me as much, the kiss images put up on their Facebook page very much did.
In romantic love, and in the politics of love, there are several gestures. Hugging, holding hands, staring with longing eyes, arms outstretched, extending to the lover and also, the kiss. The kissing gesture unlike others seems to cross an invisible limit (as an excess of love, a spillage in Foucaultian sense) unlike the other gestures. People seem to be comfortable with the act of taking about kiss, but seem to feel extremely disturbed at the sight of kiss images.
Apart from a lot of people who openly despise the symbolic theme of kiss, what fascinated me most was the people who vehemently supported the event especially upheld kiss as the ideal non-violent theme and began skeptical of the protest the moment page began flooding with kissing images. We could easily get irritated by the turn of events criticizing these people and calling them hypocrites. But I feel the event is telling us something beyond hypocrisy. It wasn’t like people weren’t in support of the event, they were all up with the theme but people are unable to take in the intensity of a kiss image. In other words, people can easily talk about kiss but cannot stand the sight that opens up the dynamic between logocentric and visual discourse.
These are the few of the comments taken from the Facebook page of Kiss of Love protest.
Image courtesy- Facebook page of Kiss of Love protest
The disturbance felt at the sight of kiss image is obvious in the comments. I remember Austin’s book where he argues that action words are complete in themselves, that they perform. Austin argues that utterances are performative, to say something is to do something. I would disagree with Austin, utterances are not sufficient enough in performance. The above image shows a meeting held at Calicut to talk about the significance of the protest and the discussions involved in Austin’s term utterances. But people don’t seem to be affected by it neither are the security and police force worried about the words uttered and its performative aspect and not many attempts are made to contain the meetings. When the girl poses for a picture with paper inscribed I will kiss against Fascism, it doesn’t seem as dangerous as someone actually coming up and kissing. The kiss gesture has a distinct and intense impact on the people from the mere utterance “I will kiss” even when it’s a statement instigating tension in the minds of people. There is a sense of incompleteness with utterances and people here are convinced only by confronting the images of kissing gestures and not utterance. Gestures of extended arm, lips coming closer to kiss here become the performative body utterances that speak to people rather than words. According to Austin, gestures may under grid the happiness of performative utterance. But we see the contrary occurring in the context of Kiss of Love protest. Images clearly do what words cannot. Utterances themselves aren’t happy in Austin’s terms, for the words to be felt and known, gesture is necessary. Marcel Mauss is right in saying that the gesturing body itself becomes the instrument of persuasion. I would argue the images of kissing gesture in themselves become instruments of persuasion, creating disturbance and anger among the spectators.
Here kiss image also becomes a spatial concept unlike talking about kiss. Unlike cinema screen where there’s a belief that the kissing scene is shot or mechanically created, the images of a kissing gesture at protest brings in the experience of an event that has happened in one’s community, unlike a scripted kissing scene. Spectacle blurs the boundary between the self and the world. When we see something, we situate ourselves in it. People built a sort of intimacy with the material presented on the screen. Such materiality that screen embodies blurs the boundary between publicness and privateness of territorially bound acts. But speaking or listening about kiss act seem to stay within the territory, imagination takes place only within individual minds. But when kiss is showcased, people are aware of seeing it and also of other people seeing. A kiss image becomes a wider spatial phenomenon.
It also speaks something very intricate about human self, how we are comfortable in the idea of word of kiss act, completely in support of it but steps back on seeing the kiss images constantly. Somewhere the inner self feels disturbed, where our conscience and understanding of morality is intimately tied to sight more than language. Sight becomes far more unbearable than words and tends to be associated more with the idea of bad or sin.