My few readers will have to indulge me a bit as I seem to go into one of my introspective moods. This particular mood is caused by a subject I'm researching now for a paper. Generally speaking, I'm trying to link my understanding of social and personal responsibility to an understanding of the intrinsic value of friendship as a social good. But it's hard for me to think in abstract terms. I always have to tie these notions to actual examples, either from literature or life experience. I also try not to sentimantalize the topic.
When we think of friendships, we usually distinguish between those that are based on genuine caring reciprocity and others that are about usefulness. but I have come to realize that we may mistake one for the other, easily. Friendships formed in times of great personal loneliness and neediness may wear the guise of genuine intimacy but in fact they are just a sort of infatuation, burning intensely and shallowly, and then.. poof! .. gone. All that is left is a sinking feeling of some shamefulness. And its inevitable silence. It's not the shame of being duped, because no duping was ever intended. It's the realization of how much our self-judgment can depreciate under the pressure of life circumstances. Do you see how this realization necessarily problematizes the issue of personal responsibility?
Some of our most basic and powerful life choices are predicated upon the presence or absence of two uniquely human qualities: love and friendship. By “love” I mean what the Greeks referred to as “Eros”, by “friendship” I mean basically Agape.
It seems that as we progress from childhood to old age, the two concepts, Love and Friendship, tend to undulate considerably in their importance to our selves and in our life. Friendship is important in childhood. With teenage and young womanhood come puberty, sexual initiation and courtship. Love then takes a definitive precedence over friendship. As we progress through life, sometime around the midpoint of a natural lifespan, we become more acutely aware, yet again, of the importance of friendship as a good, an asset, in our wellbeing. The two forces of love and friendship are always present, but friendship is more dominant as a perceived goods in childhood and maturity.
The crucial importance of friendship in childhhood was captured with vehement insistence by Canadian author L. M. Montgomery in her book “Anne of Green Gables”. Eleven year old Anne Shirley longs for a bosom friend and invests in her friendship with Diana all the fervour, intellectual energy and gratitude of a child who had known all too well the loneliness and vulnerability of a friendsless orphan. And what child reading that story cannot relate to the desperation for an ideal friend, a kindred spirit, with the mandatory mutual admiration of each friend’s uniqueness?
And none described friendship in more astute and uplifting prose than Montainge, from the other end of his life. About his friendship with La Boetie: “ If any one should demand that I give a reason why I loved someone, I feel it could no otherwise be expressed than by the answer, “Because he was he; because I was I”.
Of the interim period, that comes between Anne’s childhood friendship and Montaigne’s mature one, we can insert Jane Austen’s courtship novels, in which friendship plays a minor role and mainly a negative force upon the happiness of the heroine.
Great friendships that are known for their uniqueness are rare: Achilles and Patroclus from the Greeks; David and Jonathan from the Bible. We have Montaigne and La Boetie in the sixteenth century. And we have Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens, a modern day version of Montaigne’s model of friendship, described by Amis this: “ My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May.”
People who have written about friendship have always found it necessary to differentiate it from erotic love. And this is an intuitive need, I think, as my introduction seems to suggest. It was the only natural entry into the subject of friendship, by first explaining what it is not.
"Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization -- you are done." (Ortega y Gasset)
Wednesday, April 18, 2007