On the Shared Event of the Kiss

One thing that has bugged me about Deleuze’s book The Logic of Sense and Paul Patton’s excellent essay on Deleuze’s conception of the event is the example of ‘being cut’ that both use to explain the incorporeal nature of the event. From Patton:

In The Logic of Sense, he argues that they were the first to create a philosophical concept of the event, describing this as ‘… an incorporeal, complex and irreducible entity, at the surface of things, a pure event which inheres or subsist in the proposition.’ The Stoics drew a fundamental distinction between two realms of being, a material realm of bodies and states of affairs and an incorporeal realm of events. Events are expressed by means of language, in statements, but they are attributes of bodies and physical states of affairs. Thus, the knife opening up a wound in flesh is an attribute of the interpenetration of bodies, but the event of ‘being cut’ is what is expressed by the statement ‘He was cut with the knife’. The fact of being cut is a property of neither the flesh nor the knife, it is an incorporeal attribute of the flesh. It is an event which may be expressed in a variety of ways, for example in the statement that he has a wound. On this account, events are the epiphenomena of corporeal causal interactions: they do not affect bodies and states of affairs but they do affect other events, such as the responses and actions of agents. Pure events are both the expressed of statements and the ‘sense’ of what happens.

What happens if the knife was not cutting flesh, but another knife, and this second knife cut into the first knife just as the first knife cut into the second so that there was a single cut shared by both? I find the instrumental nature of this example uncomfortable and, quite simply, reductive. A better example would be the kiss.

A kiss qualifies as an event because it 1) pertains to an intermingling of bodies and the passions of bodies on one level of being, 2) is an actualisation of the singular and incorporeal ‘pure event’ of the ‘kiss’ on another level of being and 3) exists in two temporal registers of the time of the kiss in which every kiss of the past and future collapses around the singularity as it is actualised (instant of present actuality) and counter-actualised remainder of the pure event of kissing’s manifold future-past (Aion) and, depending on the particular actualisation, punctuates the ‘divine time’ of God and History (Chronos)(eg “You may now kiss the bride”). However, by using the example of the kiss the situation is opened up to being a communal and necessary social event, because the kiss is ideally shared between at least two people (more than three becomes problematic!).

One can be kissed, kiss another body or kiss with another person (or body in its broadest sense, but lets keep it anthropomorphic, ok?). Depending on the social situation a kiss could be part of a ritual greeting or farewell (ie kiss on both cheeks in some cultures) that reproduces and exists within structurations of gender, class, age, ethnicity, or the kiss could be an immanent feedback loop of desire that accelerates within the moment’s dance of passion. In both cases what determines the kiss are the rhythms of action around which the kiss is organised. The problem — my favourite problem — is one of temporality specifically in relation to power.

As Negri and Hardt argue in Empire “the passage from the virtual through the possible to the real is the fundamental act of creation” (357). They reinsert the possible-real couplet in the face of Deleuze’s Bergsonian discourse of the virtual-actual. This runs counter to Deleuze’s use of Bergson. Negri and Hardt offer this explanation in their footnote to this the above line:

“Bergson’s primary concern in this distinction and in his affirmationof the virtual-acutal couple over the possible-real is to emphasize the creative force of being and highlight that being is not merely the reduction of numerous possible worlds to a single real worldbased on resemblance, but rather that being is always an act of creation and unforeseeable novelty. […] We certainly recognise the need to insist on the creative powers of virtuality, but this Bergsonian discourse is insufficient for us insofar as we also need to insist on the reality of the being created, its ontological weight, and the institutions that structure the world, creating necessity out of contingency.” (468 fn8)

The relation between necessity and contingency can be thought of as two temporal series played out within the event of the kiss. Even highly structured kisses as rituals of greeting can have a contingent element, such as when one slips up and does something embarrassing. Or the kiss between lovers contracts all future and past kisses to be organised around the temporality of this singular kiss.

My favourite example of the line from Van Halen’s “Why Can’t This Be Love” (‘Only time will tell if we’ll stand the test of time.’) gains new meaning in this play of temporality. The double structure of the event — basically what is actualised as an instant and what is counter-actualised as the future past (what is left of the problematic ‘pure event’ of which the instant is only but one actualisation) — is represented by the Van Halen line and can be used to think through this notion of the kiss-event in a number of ways:
1) This kiss (or that is this actualisation of the pure event of every kiss) will demonstrate if we will always kiss as we have always kissed. Or the relation between the time of the kiss-event and the idealised structurated time of the relationship.
2) The time of the kiss in which every kiss conjugates as a singular differential repetition of a kiss which will never be actualised totally, but over time we shall discover if the time of destiny (casual series of bodily forces) can be sustained around this singular time of the kiss. Or the relation between the time of the kiss-event and the pure causality of bodily passions.
3) Only over a given period of time will it be demonstrated that everytime we kiss every kiss as as much of an actualisation of the singular event of the pure-kiss for this period of time to be sustained any longer. Or the time of the kiss-event as the only temporality of the (non)relationship.
And so on…

I have only discussed a singular shared kiss-event that exists within a relation of parity, but the event becomes infinitely more complicated when what is shared is asymmetrical and yet organised around a shared singularity. This is my problem with Deleuze’s example of ‘being cut’. Various measures of social structuration and passion intersect resonate and amplify as resonant standing waves of (positive and/or negative) passion or intersect and cancel each other out. The relative ‘cleanliness’ of the event becomes reconfigured as the event as a knot.

hmmm, more to add about the rhythm of active-passive belonging to anticipation and some other glib comments about Christian mass representing Christ’s suffering-event which is another example of a ‘shared event’ (or at least an event that Christians are meant to share, ‘here is my body and my blood’, etc.), but one in which the becoming of the event (passage from virtual to actual) is modulated and disciplined by being implicated in structurations of contingency (‘role of the dice’) as necessity (ala N&H’s argument), but too tired.

UPDATE 01/06/05
In response to Gemma’s comment, I thought I would add some more:

Hi Gemma 🙂

My invocation of the knot is not on the same register as the example of the ‘cut’. I think I need to explain it better. As a set of hard and fast working rules, I think about Deleuze’s events according to three axes. There is the location of the event between bodies or states of affairs on the surface of the bodies or states of affairs and the language of the utterance enunciated to describe such a state of affairs. There is the temporality of events consisting of the present instant of actuality and the temporal manifold of the future-past virtuality. There is the scale of events and their monadal relation to the world, Deleuze makes this point by asking the question, ‘which war is not a private affair?’

Basically I was trying to problematise and think about what happens when instead of a simple example of a state of affairs of something happening to something, my example of kissing is something happening between two somethings where it is possible for the two somethings to describe what is happening.

The incorporeal event exists between bodies and descriptions of what is happening to these bodies. The two levels are derived from the Stoics. To describe something that happens as ‘cutting’ or ‘wounding’ are both actualisations of the ‘pure event’ of the knife opening up flesh (ie the mixing of bodies), but to wound something has a different sense than something simply being cut. For example you do not ‘wound’ the steak you bought from the supermarket and are about to eat, but to cut a chunk of meat out of a cow is to wound it. Each describes a knife opening up flesh, but each description does not capture every sense that could possibly exist for what happens when a knife opens up flesh. There is a problematic relation of the actualised incorporeal event of cutting or wounding to the pure event of a knife opening up flesh. Deleuze takes the problematic relation of the incorporeal event to the pure event to its limit in LoS through his discussion of nonsense in Lois Carroll’s work. The circulation of sense as an effect of nonsense produces meaning in the process of signification. Nonsense is opposed to an absence of sense.

The virtual and the actual are primarily temporal categories. The virtual in Deleuze is not the same thing as the ‘common sense’ use of the word in everyday language, such as in terms of ‘cyberspace’ or some sort of mediated/represented realm. I have written about this on Jean’s blog in reply to an article that totally misreads Negri and Hardt’s use of the virtual in Empire (here).

I wanted to take it to a slightly more complex level with the example of the kiss. I am not sure if it works in the sense of being more complex, because it is still something happening to something. The ‘happening’ is the event. Importantly, I am assuming there is a language of gesture expressed within the moment of kissing. A certain gesture of kissing pertaining to lovers — slow, meeting ‘halfway’, although lasting only a few brief seconds may feel like forever — is different from the kiss as a type of greeting or the kiss as a gesture of spite when one or both lovers are angry with the other. A possible asymmetrical relation emerges when, for example, one party kisses slowly and passionately while the other kisses to exactly get the kiss out of the way because that person paradoxically does not want to kiss, but they feel there is a force willing them to kiss. These different moments within the same moment modulate the sense produced as a moment. So the ‘kiss’ does not begin when lips (or noses or whatever) meet, the ‘kiss’ begins when the event of the kiss can be delineated, that is, when it is possible to say that a sense emerges of the moment within the moment between the two parties who are kissing. When one looks into another’s eyes and heads lean not towards each other, but a presupposed middle ground and middle time that is actualised as the kiss. Bodily movements, gestures of the body, a slightly-too-long and just-long-enough gaze, a slight smiling of the face and eyes when there is no discernible smile, a clasping of bodies, of arms and hands gently around shoulders or hips or framing faces or run through the other’s hair, and so on. All these things ostensibly happen before lips may meet and yet they constitute a necessary (or not) trail of the kiss. Something could be happening on a much larger scale.

Negri and Hardt raise an important point regarding the politics of this passage of the virtual to the actual. The becoming of the event, the process by which it is actualised — above, the coming together of bodies before lips grace each other — is an extraordinarily political duration. Sense is not purely immanent. Each enunciation or gesture produces another sense, but such enunciation and gestures exist in social stratifications. Deleuze writes: “Structure is in fact a machine for the production of incorporeal sense.” (71) ‘Structure’ as in the thing studied by structuralists. There is a feedback loop produce within the duration of the kiss that modulates the event of the kiss. There are causal relations between bodies — as the dance of forces — and there is the quasi-causal relation between gestures and other expressions (incorporeal events), but there are also the sedimented meanings of such gestures that exist with social stratifications, in the memories of experienced lovers, and in the imaginations of the inexperienced. So there are not only the structurated and sedimented past that produces sense as a kind of machine, there is also something immanent to the duration of the kiss — a dialogue of not-quite-coupling between lovers — that modulates the sense produced.

For example, the song by Offspring “I Want You Bad” is a conjugation of previous experiences in a singular retelling of the sense of the objectified (‘bad’) female and particular sedimentation of (‘bad’) relations. But like Run DMC say, it is not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good. This sense of badness is fed into the future as a perpetual always-already actualisation. Or as Brian Massumi writes in one of my favourite passages from Parables of the Virtual:

“Orders of substitution and superposition are orders of thought defined as the
reality of an excess over the actual. This is clearest in the case of
anticipation, which in a real and palpable way extends the actual moment beyond
itself, superposing one moment upon the next, in way that is not just thought
but also bodily felt as a yearning, tending, or tropism.” (91)

However, the Offspring song speaks of desire (‘wanting’) and so inserts itself in a libidinal economy with corresponding circuits of desire. Contra Deleuze, it is necessary to reintroduce a principle of resemblance, or what Negri and Hardt mean by what is ‘possible’. The compliment of anticipation is expectation. You expect what is possible according to a calculus of reason by which the past and future form an extrapolation or bridge that over-runs the present, both in sense of ‘running over’ as would a car over a pedestrian, but also like water running over a dam’s wall. A violence is enacted against the present which is determined by what Negri and Hardt call an ‘ontological weight’ of what is determining.

Say, for example, Dexter (from the Offspring) left his wife and wanted to get it on with a ‘bad’ woman. There would be this tropism of ‘badness’ operating within the present governing, to a certain extent, his actions. There would also be the dialogue that emerges within a social situation between Dexter and a woman that is akin to the duration of the kiss-event before lips actually meet. This what I meant by a knot. The present actuality is a knot of sedimented memory that extends the moment beyond itself as an extrapolation of desire — where desire is both motor and fulcrum — but it is also the immanent dialogue with the world in which variation can emerge with each ‘roll of the dice’.