“What to kiss means”, by Jean-Claude Kaufmann: the kiss or the romantic revolt

Would the kiss be a resistance? While at the height of the health crisis, the instruction “Limit kissing” separated the bodies, the need for kisses was all the more felt, observes sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann. His latest work revolves around the two underlying trends in our society, accentuated during the pandemic: growing individualization on the one hand, and “Revolt of kisses” on the other hand.

The author goes back to the origins of the kiss, a gesture that today achieves this feat. “Magic in an individualistic society: to form one body, to become one”. Thus, under the Ancien Régime, the kiss forges the social bond. While love rituals prefer harsher manners – throwing small stones at the one you choose, pinching his arm – the kiss on the mouth is political or religious: the vassal kisses the lord to signify his submission. and, at Mass, the parishioners give each other the “kiss of peace”, a symbol of the passage of the divine breath that unites the community. Further, in the Middle Ages, there is also another type of sacred kiss, according to the sociologist: that of the mystics, who seek, in a union both carnal and spiritual, contact with the divine.

At the end of the Middle Ages, the kiss switches to the private sphere

A change of epoch begins with the Renaissance, continues with the Enlightenment and accelerates in the second half of the 20th century.e century: the advent of the autonomous individual. For Kaufmann, this moment is crystallized by the kiss, which, at the end of the Middle Ages, falls into the private sphere. Intimate relationships often begin with a kiss and “The soul that we touch lip to lip and which invades us is no longer the divine breath, but that of the loved one”, explains the sociologist.

→ MAINTENANCE. “The kiss of peace is a sign of communion before communion”

Traces of this “sacred” aspect remain in the Hollywood kiss, which invaded cinema screens from the 1930s. An icon ritualized by the actors, it is “The deep expression of a love which eroticizes the soul and mysticizes the body (1), Edgar Morin analysis, cited by the author. from the 1960s, however, this romantic kiss becomes obsolete: with sexual liberation, the kiss is no longer “The climax, the sublime moment of sentimental soaring”. It is reduced to a trivial and derisory act, “Simple step in the sexuality journey”.

The kiss in the daily life of the couple

So, gone, the sentimental kiss? No, Kaufmann tells us in this resolutely optimistic essay, this communion of souls still takes place. Only, it is now seen in the daily life of the couple, in the morning kisses or in those of the evening. Because this is the author’s interesting thesis: far from accompanying this movement of empowerment of the individual by reason, the kiss thwarts it. It acts like a “Remedy” to individualism, which, if it promises individuals the control of their existence, leaves them alone to face a hard and cold world.

Jean-Claude Kaufmann therefore revalues ​​the tenderness of everyday life, “These little worlds of love” which settle in the well-being of the couple and “Unwittingly participate in a rebellion which is ignored”. These are pockets of resistance where the link that “Attach and engage” is recreated and confirmed by the fusion of the kiss. This rediscovers its integrative function of yesteryear: it calls, in a society of the individual, for a push towards the other, for an immersion “Beyond the self”, by which two beings let themselves be transformed. The kiss would therefore never have departed from its sacred dimension.



The author

Sociologist of the intimate, Jean-Claude Kaufmann sees in the minimal details of daily life the evolutions of a society. A pioneer of microsociology, he has written numerous books on the couple, such as Pas envy tonight. Consent in the couple (Les Liens qui libéré, 2020), Trapped in her couple (Les Liens Qui Libéré, 2016) or The Lonely Woman and Prince Charming (Nathan, 1999).

The context

As the health crisis limited them, we realized how important hugs were. However, despite the pandemic, the kiss has not left the couple or parent-child relationships. Now, what does he say about us? Jean-Claude Kaufmann wonders here about his function in society, from Antiquity to the present day.

What to kiss means, Jean-Claude Kaufmann, Payot & Rivages, 256 p., € 19


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