Saturday, May 30, 2009

Requiem for Friendship

The link to the First Things article by Anthony Esolen I posted last time doesn't work any more, more's the pity. If you happen to read this and know of a substitute link please comment and I'll put up a replacement. It was a good article.

While I was googling for that one, I found this interesting article also by Anthony Esolen called A Requiem for Friendship. ...Why Boys Will Not Be Boys. Basically it's about the loss of the concept of true friendship and the presently fashionable lit-ana tendency to recast legendary friendships in terms of homosexuality. Using Frodo and Sam's friendship as an example of the modern tendency to cast deep friendships as perverse and odd, the article goes on to make points about the value of language to express concepts and how the language of friendship and the concept of it have become attenuated these days, to our loss:

It is one thing to say that it has made friendships among boys more distant and difficult, and to suppose that that is a bad thing for the emotional lives of those boys. It is quite another—and it takes someone willing to see through our jaded dalliance with androgyny—to see that the loss of such friendships stunts the boys intellectually and goes a long way towards depriving everybody of the benefits that such intellectual development used to provide....

Our boys are failing in school. Has it occurred to no one that we have checked them at every turn, perversely insisting that they must not form brotherhoods, that they must not identify their manhood with practical and intellectual skills that transform the world, and that they must not ever have the opportunity, apart from girls, to attach themselves in friendship to men who could teach them?

For good reason boys used to build tree houses and hang signs barring girls. They know, if only instinctively, that the fire of the friendship cannot subsist otherwise. If the company of girls is made possible, then the company of girls becomes a necessity, if only to avoid having to explain to others and to oneself why one would ever prefer the company of one’s own sex. Thus what is perfectly natural and healthy, indeed very much needed, is cast as irrational and bigoted, or dubious and weak; and thus some boys will cobble together their own brotherhoods that eschew tenderness altogether—criminal brotherhoods that land them in prison. This is all right by us, it seems.


Faith said...

Boy just last night Rick and I were out (we went to the opera and then out for a glass of wine!) and we were talking about the tendency to wonder if close friends of the same sex are gay or not. It just sort of creeps into your perspective without realizing it. It is from being submerged in today's culture. And I got rather hot under the collar about the fact that nobody can just be really good friends without having that pall cast on things.

Melanie B said...

Thanks for this. What a great piece! I love the way he examines the effect of language on culture. Much to chew and ponder.

Laura A said...

I remember reading this when it came out. (I love everything Anthony Esolen writes.) And oh, I so agree!

Along these lines, C.S. Lewis had so many good things to say about friendship (mostly male, since he was one) in *The Four Loves* that I read from that chapter at least once a year. He would agree that the sexes don't always have to be thrown together.

For the record, I think female friendship is endangered, too. We're too busy, so we substitute entertainment activities instead.

Also, there's something I can't put my finger on that bothers me when I hear Columbia students in my neighborhood, or groups of young New Yorkers generally, talking on the street or in restaurants. It's not just the obscenity or the loose morals. It's a casual attitude towards all relationships, I think, combined with a religious seriousness about politics. It seems they don't do much deeper than the classroom, because they're so used to being in politically correct groups. It doesn't seem to bode well for friendship.

I would imagine that Thomas Aquinas is better in this regard.

Willa said...

Interesting to hear about the big city conversations, Laura. It's different here in cowboy country. The teens are so frantically afraid of being mistaken for g@y. They form friendships still but missing some of the richness.