in the movies, this is famous: a clashing of cartilage as two noses smash together as if the two determined partners were watching opposite tennis games. the kiss moves us from the space of friendship to the space of intimacy: the spaces created by lovers, by parents and children. this kiss (kuni) is a gentle touch of the nose to cheek or nose to nose. when an adult or parent does it to a child, it is accompanied by a ‘snuffing’ as jean briggs so accurately describes it. when a child does it to a visiting researcher it need no accompaniment but the warm glow of affection.
brigg’s inuit morality play (1998) calls attention to parental versions. she distinguishes between , communicating tenderly with a child, and aqaq, to speak, sing or chant tenderly to a small child. the stereotype works precisely to the extent that it lies: it can not conceive of the tenderness associated with this form of intimacy, of the gentle softness which itself may slide to more erotic modalities.
here, at least, we are far from gogol’s famous phallic nose. and, once again, we are in the face of a face to face culture. the kiss invites speculations: does the use of the nose mark an attention to displacing the oral phase, a direction away from appropriating the world with the mouth to a notion — a markedly social notion — that other elements of the body are figured in affective gestures? that is, it may be that this form of kiss, particularly for young children, serves notice that the mouth and its all consuming, appropriative dimension must be bypassed if the social, at least a social that deserves the name of community, is to be achieved.
or shall we speculate in precisely the opposite direction and suggest that — perhaps for lovers as opposed to children — the nose-kiss, kuni, turns us away from the ear and mouth, those indicators of speech, toward the scent of the other as a more deeply embodied gesture of trust? it is not the grain of the voice that draws us to him, but a deeper sense of the body, a more intimate calling.
perhaps even our speculations are swept away, our critical faculties defied, by the intimacies that circle, invite and foreclose in the warmth of this most tender of gestures: kuni.