Sunday, October 24, 2004

You've Got a Friend

I have two books I'm excited to tell you about but they must take a back seat for now to the Montaigne essay, "On Affectionate Relationships." I was looking forward to this essay because I have an affectionate relationship of my own that my Bookman and I will be celebrating 13 years of on Tuesday. I was looking forward to hear what Montaigne had to say about love. Of course the essay didn't turn out to be about love as in marriage, but love as in close friendships, best friend friendships. That's fine, my husband also happens to be a best friend. Montaigne, however, sticks with the stupid macho-man misogynist partriarchal line and declares that "women are in truth not normally capable of responding to such familiarity and mutual confidence as sustain that holy bond of friendship, nor do their souls seem firm enough to withstand the clasp of a knot so lasting and so tightly drawn." If not for that defect, a friendship in which bodies are also shared and involved the whole person "would be more full and more abundant. But there is no example yet of woman attaining to it." Funny, most women I know complain that men don't understand the friendship thing. The problem, I think, for Montaigne in allowing women the kind of friendship he is talking about in which "souls are mingled and confounded in so universal a blending that they efface the seam which joins them together so that it cannot be found," is that women and men would need to have a more equitable relationship. Montainge would not dare give ground on any of his masculine privileges and he is lacking in imagination to see is wife as capable of anything but raising his children, making his dinner and mending his socks. If you can get past the annoying sexism, it is a good essay on friendship. Montaigne examines different types of friendship in order to illustrate what he does not mean. For example, "what we normally call friends and friendships are no more than acquaintances and familiar relationships bound by some chance or some suitability, by means of which our souls support each other." But Montaigne's friendship is more what we might call a "soul mate" kind of friendship, one that is so perfect that it is "indivisible." It is a kind of friendship in which "That secret which I have sworn to reveal to no other, I can reveal without perjury to him who is not another: he is me." Throughout the essay Montaigne uses his friendship with Etienne de La Boetie as his example of what the perfect loving-friendship should be. It is a touching tribute to their relationship, one which any friend would be honored by. Next week's Montaigne essay: "Same Design: Differing Outcomes"