“That the kiss is the icon of intimacy is so obvious it is in danger of becoming a cliché,” writes Ziyad Marar (Intimacy, 33). “How many romantic films end, or at least peak, with that image? The orchestra swells, the hearts melt in one long embrace. Just as clichéd is Julia Roberts’s prostitute in Pretty Woman, who refuses to kiss on the grounds that it is too intimate” (33).
It’s not hard to see why: “Kissing offers to blend and blur our identities for a moment. At the centre of this fully involving embrace, with extraordinary agility and sensitivity, mouths, lips and tongues meet to enable both mutual exploration and mutual yielding. An intimate kiss is a wordless but heightened conversation: private, reciprocal, emotional and filled with mutual desire” (33, 35).
Marar focuses his discussion of kissing, however, on kisses that fail in intimacy. He analyzes a few examples from Howard’s End, and then turns his attention (inevitably?) to Rodin, whose iconic sculpture of this icon of intimacy is disrupted by the implied storyline, taken from Dante’s Comedy:“It represents Francesca da Rimini, the thirteenth- century Italian noblewoman immortalized in Dante’s Inferno, after having fallen in love with her husband’s younger brother Paolo Malatesta. The Kiss represents their fleeting and vulnerable intimacy, soon to be cut short when they are later discovered and killed by Francesca’s jealous husband, Giovanni. Doesn’t the image become all the more intimate for knowing that it is a secret and hazardous kiss?” (40-41).
We can read the sculpture otherwise: “if we imagine Paolo feeling crowded out by Francesca, perhaps ashamed and guilty about his brother to the point where his mind has wandered, the intimacy surely drains away” (40).
Marar concludes:”Intimacy is a spectrum; it is not a binary concept that is on or off. It grows or shrinks under different conditions. The Rodin Kiss shows its elasticity by becoming more central or more peripheral an example of intimacy depending on the situation” (40).
Even an icon of intimacy can fail to deliver the real thing.