About Intimacy

Siegmar Zacharias

This text was written between April 20th and June 23rd in Berlin – This situation, the lockdown2020, makes me want to think about intimacy:

What does it mean to produce intimacy and to be produced by intimacy? We think that agency in intimacy is consent. Intimacy used to be something that you invite somebody into by opening up. It often carried a confessional mode or a mode of gifting somebody something inner most precious. An act of invitation that asks: Will you enter my world and touch me. Or asks: May I enter your world and touch you. Or asks: How do you want me to touch you? Or asks: How do you want to touch me. Touching in intimacy can be an act of seeing and hearing someone, being in touch with someone. Will you see me? Will you let me see you? Intimacy used to carry an idea of inner and outer and letting somebody or something in. Touch seems to be the portal for that connection. The thickness of our skin determines how we might be touched. The integumentary system consists of the skin, hair, nails, glands, and nerves. Its main function is to act as a barrier to protect the body from the outside world. It also functions to retain body fluids, protect against disease, eliminate waste products, and regulate body temperature. In intimacy we are opening up that barrier. We let the guard down, we let ourselves become porous to seep and to take in. Let ourselves be changed transformed, infiltrated/ infected inhabited by the other. While letting down the guard alludes to exposing oneself, the intimate interchange also creates the possibility to become otherwise. To become with and through the other. We impress on the other, we get impressed by the other.

If intimacy comes from intimatus (lat.: to make known, to announce, to impress) and intimus (lat.: innermost, deepest) it is formed around a logic of inner and outer around some idea of disclosure, sharing, getting to know something that is deep. Something that the one knows about themselves and the other does not. It has a relation to knowing and a relation to alterity. It implies a gesture of opening up consciously in order to achieve connectedness and understanding, shared sensations, and experiences. It can imply a movement toward being familiar with one another, attuned to one another, attached to one another. This shedding of a protective skin in order to open up to each other seems to be a conscious emancipatory consensual act. This act also always carries its anagrammatical possibility of minacity, of an impending danger. Intimacy doesn’t just carry the promise of pleasure and satisfaction and recognition and connection, it also carries the possibility of being undone as a singular being.

If intimacy means deeply knowing another person and feeling deeply known, if it produces an act of recognition an act of acknowledgement. What then might an intimate relationship with the unknown, or unknowable be? If intimacy produces being-in-touch, or it is an effect of being-in-touch, then maybe being intimate with the unknown, is just to stay present with it? To commit to the touch of touching and being touched in a way not recognisable to me or to you.

How are we produced by intimacy? We are produced as open to each other, co-dependent of each other. Intimacy is what Glissant calls “consent to not be a single being”. It is a voluntary witnessing of being undone leaking into each other acknowledging an outer depth that is not one person’s to hold but are forces that move through us, inhabit us. And if we are done by forces that go through us and we accept them as intimate to us then we are intimate with ancestors, with intergenerational trauma, with patriarchy, with racism and capitalism, colonialism, with plastic and with the virus. These are not chosen intimacies but given ones. They are given to us by our collective history. They are given and perform intimacy by entering our skin and forming us. Acknowledging this as intimacy makes us look closer at what we are produced as and what we reproduce. Acknowledging this as intimacy is not so much about when we said yes but what this way of being intimate makes possible and impossible. ……….. (to be continued)

Many weeks have passed since I have started this text and I kept thinking of how to finish it. Well, I can’t, not here, not now, because this work is ongoing.  I feel that now that the restrictions are lifting everywhere people are eager to have a break, to get on with it. To get out of this discomfort zone.

The seeming synchronicity of intimacy with the virus all over the planet, has made dis-synchronicities with other intimacies apparent. A planetary condition, and a condition of globalisation plays out differently locally, on different bodies, and on different social bodies. The intimacy with the virus produces a reservoir of new behaviours, laws, security measures, value formations and understanding of risk, social choreographies, and performative temporalities. It shows up in how your body is marked racially, sexually, in terms of gender and class. It shows up in what your care responsibilities are and what your familial formations or kinships are. It shows up in how your nervous system deals with financial precarity or health vulnerabilities or lack thereof. It shows up in your sleep, and it shows up in every touch and the lack of touch.
This embodiment shows up in sense experiences and proprioception – and even here the “proprius” starts changing from lat.: “one’s own”, as in the owned self, or owned knowledge of the self, to something passed down, given, handed down, impressed by others. Bodies are not owned but given. And bodies are oriented in space. The awareness of this orientation we call proprioception. It makes palpable, breathable and touchable which forces intimately, implicitly, complicitly form and orient bodies and the space between bodies, and the orientation of bodies in relation to each other. Intimacy with the virus can serve as a lens to look at these orientations, and to make collective efforts of re-orientation.

Producing intimacy with new formation gives me the energy to want to stay present with the discomfort zone and the possibility to re-orient away from you, with you, to you.
Because intimacy also carries the promise of an otherwise, of a becoming with … each other.
Let’s explore the gap between choice and obligation, the ethical dimension of intimacy. Intimacy-work then is not just an affective response, but carving out where the demand or obligation lies. It is an ethical doing to stay with ‘the trouble of our own complicities and implications’ and to experiment with modes of sociality in more than human assemblages, that can contribute to modes of reflection and cultural analysis as well as creating modes of connectedness, co-creation and interdependence, that in their experience can encourage response-able social encounters. What an intimate relationship gives us is the joy of acknowledging and committing to an entanglement with the other, or an invigorating experience of response-ability. ……….. (to be continued)