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Monday, October 24, 2011

On Homosexuality (Incidentally)

One issue I never tire of tiring of is the question of homosexuality whenever a relationship, of whatever sort, occurs between two men.  The latest example to tweak me in this way is from a very fine (so far) study of Montaigne--the second in as many years.


from When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing With Me: Montainge and Being in Touch With Life
Saul Frampton

     Montaigne's letter is clearly a moving testament to his friend. But the question that inevitably raises itself is to what extent was there more than friendship at stake--that is to say, was it a platonic relationship or a romantic one?
     The idea that the two men's relationship was a homosexual one is by no means implausible, but neither is it necessarily the case: Montaigne later adds to his essay a reference to: 'that other Greek licence . . . justly abhorred by our conscience', meaning homosexuality, a crime one of his schoolmasters, Marc-Antoine Muret, was accused of, for which he was forced to flee France. And Montaigne talks about friends as holding everything common: 'wills, thought, opinions, possessions, wives, children, honour, and life'. So his conception of friendship was not necessarily inimical to marriage, and La Boétie was married at the time that they were friends (although, of course, this in itself doesn't rule out a relationship between them, even an unconsummated one.)
     But what we modern readers perhaps fail to recognize in the intensity of Montaigne's friendship with La Boétie  is the influence of classical ideas of friendship, which descended from Aristotle and Cicero which saw friendship as a relationship of distinct significance--in the words of Aristotle, the existence of 'one soul in two bodies'.

What the heck is "an unconsummated" homosexual relationship?  This sounds to me like any friendship between two men--any form of admiration, any form of fondness other than perhaps familial.  It so dilutes the meaning of the word as presently employed as to make it meaningless.  An unconsummated homosexual relationship has no real meaning.

And why must every relationship come under this scrutiny?  Have we swung so far into the realm of gender studies that every friendship between two persons of the same sex is a homosexual relationship?  It is true enough so far as the etymology of the word is concerned--but does it tell us anything of vital importance about the relationship?  Or does it rather charge everything with a sexual undercurrent that may or may not be present?  If so, what service does it give to the topic at hand?  How does it lead to deeper understanding?

The friendship between men, in particular, is already burdened enough with societal debris and idiotic rules of comportment--we need not add to it the extra burden of having "unconsummated homosexual romances" to shadow it.  Is it not possible to have 'one soul in two bodies' without necessarily bringing those two bodies together to become one in themselves?  If not, then friendship has no real meaning or integrity--friendship becomes merely a pale shadow of a homosexual romance--a tepid, feeble, unrequited bit of foolish schoolgirl (or schoolboy) nonsense.

Would that scholarship would focus on what is evident before them, rather than rooting around in the closet to support one or other agendas. Every friendship isn't fodder for the gender mill--even close friendships are not necessarily subject to this form of scrutiny.  Or if so, the scrutiny will reveal little more than what is already known--people have relationships with each other that does not necessarily result in sexual activity--even intense, deep, passionate relationships that still amount to enduring friendships.  How does focusing on the fact that it is between the same sex really shed light on the relationship?  Where it does, and where that is evident and reflected in the text at hand--it is certainly germane to talk about--otherwise it is arrant nonsense.

(Please note--I do not intend to criticize this author, who, after all, is merely addressing the scholarship that he is aware of--but perhaps those scholars should look for more interesting, more fruitful ground for speculation.)

3 comments:

  1. Steven,

    Good point!


    "the question inevitably raises itself"

    Nonsense--no question raises itself--a person raises the question.

    He's trying to avoid the responsibility for raising the question himself.

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  2. I think he feels the question inevitably raises itself because by now, queer theory has so permeated literary studies that it seems inevitable. I think your point about friendship is great--it always seems to me that the dividing line between the 19th and 20th century, often marked by queer-theory-inflected-anthologies with the gender bending and advent of new terms to describe sexuality in the fin de siecle, is really the rejection of the idea of friendship. So we look for "latent homosexual desire" in Austen, in Shakespeare, here in Montaigne, because the conception of friendship prior to the twentieth century is so radically different from our own impoverished view. I have been glad to see a bit of a retreat from solely gender based readings and the rise of (oddly?) theological readings, from the likes of Terry Eagleton, no less. Love your blog, BTW--found it through Betty Duffy's site!

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  3. Dear Fred,

    Thank you--point taken and most interesting.

    Elizabeth,

    I agree with what you say, but most particularly re: the impoverishment of friendship. And the impoverishment of that concept seems to have a telling effect on society as a whole. We are not permitted to care deeply, to mourn, or to be impassioned about a person, male or female, without the assumption that the driving force is some sort of sexual connection whether played out or not. I suppose that is part of the legacy Freud (whose theories have long since gone the way of Surreys and Calling Cards) bequeathed us.

    And thank you for the nice words about the blog. I haven't been able to tend to it in the fashion I would like of recent date, but I will get back there.

    shalom,

    Steven

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